Lately I’ve been reading Samuel Pepys’s diary. He was an interesting, learned, curious, and often naughty fellow (by our standards, not by the standards of his day) who lived from 1633 to 1703. His diary provides one of the most important records of London life in the 1660s. Lest you think this was a dull time, Charles II had just been recalled from exile to re-establish the English monarchy after Cromwell’s “Protectorate” decade. Theaters for the first time had women playing female parts, literature and music flowered, and fun was back in fashion.
Though all was not frivolity. London was visited by a plague epidemic in 1665 (the last major one before the rats became immune to the disease), and endured the Great London Fire of 1666. Then there was the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which Pepys, as an administrator of the Royal Navy, watched with keen interest.
What strikes me about this guy’s life is his great energy and enthusiasm for everything around him. Pretty women, good food, interesting politics, companions boring and delightful, pleasant gardens… he writes about it all honestly and energetically. He was not a well man, being plagued with painful kidney stones throughout his life, and losing significant eyesight before age forty. And yet, his diary is full of energy and optimism.
Turns out old Mr. Pepys might have been onto something profound. Expressing ourselves through writing is powerfully good for us. Regular self-expressive writing, even in small doses, can reduce stress, reduce symptoms of depression, improve our immune functioning, and–this really got my attention–help us heal wounds more quickly.
To quote the article linked above: “People with asthma who write have fewer attacks than people who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”
You might think, “But I’m not much of a writer, words aren’t my thing.” Doesn’t matter. What matters is getting down on paper (or screen) what’s going on with you, especially the tough stuff. When we write about it, we take a minute to see the picture instead of feeling trapped inside of it. A few moments of scribbling about our perspective, and we’re reaping big benefits.
So as we come up to the winter holidays, with the New Year right behind them, would you consider getting yourself a journal, or creating a journal document on your computer? Your life is interesting, and worth ruminating on. You will enjoy reading those reflections in years to come (well, mostly), and you’ll be healthier and happier for your jottings.
This will be my last blog post for the year, and I’ll resume posting on January 4. With that in mind, the give away will be a $100 Amex gift card. The question is… if you had to write about one incident from your life for people to read about 350 years from now, what would it be and why?