If you fail a test, get rejected for a job, or aren’t invited to a party, do you immediately forget about it and think about all the good things in your life? Or do you wallow in misery, feel like a failure, and fall into a funk? If it’s the latter, you are not alone. Social scientists posit that negative experiences impact people far more than positive ones. They are recollected with greater clarity for longer periods of time, and can trigger anxiety and unhappiness long after the events which caused them. They can ruin a perfectly good day, even years later.
Happy moments may feel good, but they pass without much critical thought and fade more quickly from memory. Professor Roy Baumeister, in his scholarly article, “Bad is Stronger than Good,” suggests that it takes “many good events…to overcome the psychological effects of a (single) bad one.” He uses a ratio of about five good ones for every bad one.
There may be evolutionary reasons for this unhappy aspect of our lives, but the very fact that negative has a greater impact than positive is an important reason to keep a journal! I hadn’t read of Baumeister’s study when writing “The Journal Project” but it fits perfectly with my own empirical evidence: keeping a journal of positive everyday moments can improve your outlook on life.
While a journal can be used to sort out negative feelings or difficult experiences, there is great value to honoring the moments when you feel happy, the ones that make you laugh or give you joy. It’s important to actually write the stories, precisely because you are more likely to forget them and therefore need a record. If you think of memories as currency in a bank, then storing up positive experiences is a buffer against hard times, a source of positivity that you can revisit as needed or wanted.
A journal of stories about your family, or your life, is a powerful tool. Use it!