After taking a detour away from my happiness class and toward the Happy Habits series, I’m circling back to this week’s assignment for my Art and Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana
What if there was a simple procedure that could help you obtain the following benefits?
- A reduced need to go see a physician
- Improved immune functioning
- Fewer physical ailments or symptoms
- Less distress
- Less negative affect
- Less depression
- Improved GPA
- Less absenteeism from work
According to social psychologist and prominent researcher, James Pennebaker, a simple procedure to provide you with these benefits is right at your fingertips. Literally. All you have to do is write about hard, difficult, or traumatic experiences. Here’s an example (summarized) of his instructions:
For the next three days write about your very deepest thoughts and feelings about an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. When writing, really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might want to tie your writing into your relationships with others or to your past/present/future, or to who you’ve been, who you are, and who you’d like to be in the future. You can write about the same topic every day or a new one every day. Keep your writing confidential. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, etc., just write for 15-30 minutes straight. (adapted from Pennebaker, 1997)
I’ve been impressed with Pennebaker’s research for three decades. However, I also think it’s important to remember that Pennebaker is a social psychologist; he isn’t a clinical or counseling psychologist, a clinical mental health counselor, or a clinical social worker. As a consequence, I’m not asking you to leap right into his assignment without support. In fact, most researchers, including Pennebaker, believe you can gain the same benefits by talking about painful emotional experiences with a counselor or psychotherapist. One additional caveat: Pennebaker has also found that when writing or talking about traumatic experiences, often people feel distressed or emotionally worse to start, but over time they begin feeling even better than they did at the beginning.
To do this assignment, I just want you to think about Pennebaker’s method and his claims, and then tell me (a) what you think of his idea, (b) whether you would ever like to try his technique, and (c) if you would prefer writing or talking about your emotionally difficult events.
If you eventually decide to try Pennebaker’s method, be sure to remember that you could feel worse first, and that having someone you trust to confide in about how you’re feeling through the process might be a good idea.
If you want to dive into Pennebaker’s method, you should use one of his books as a guide. Here’s one example: https://www.abebooks.com/Opening-Writing-Down-Expressive-Improves-Health/22531442075/bd?cm_mmc=ggl-_-US_Shopp_Trade-_-new-_-naa&gclid=CjwKCAjw4pT1BRBUEiwAm5QuR4ZmBWoiw2FhWHexwZiPtAnyDc9frTptZr9dimZhEWcsE4HUl70gzxoCd60QAvD_BwE
Thanks and happy Sunday.