Just two minutes of creative writing about positive and negative life-experiences can improve your health and well-being.
James Pennebaker discovered that writing about trauma or upheavel in your life for fifteen minutes on four separate occasions, resulted in 50% less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness, and well-being.
This study has been replicated many times, with different writing subjects such as writing about the happiest moments in your life, or writing about future life goals. Each study resulted in less trips to the doctor, and greater happiness.
Psychologist Laura King wanted to know what the minimum amount of writing time was necessary in order to improve health and happiness. In her study participants wrote for two minutes, on two separate occasions, on either a traumatic or happy life event. The result was greater reported happiness and less trips to the doctor in the following month.
But why does it work? “We don’t know why it works, but it really works,” King says. Pennebaker explains that writing about a life event makes it simpler in our minds, so people, ”don’t have to obsess. People sleep better, they’re more socially connected, they laugh more.”
As humans we are naturally born storytellers, and the stories we tell help us to live and learn. Laura King, explains, “When we write about ourselves, we’re writing a story that ultimately serves as our identity, …When we take a moment to think about our lives as a story, we get these insights that we would not have otherwise.”
Perhaps the reason why writing can improve our physical health, lies in the interconnectedness of body and mind. If we work to tend the wild gardens of our minds, then our bodies will benefit too, and vice versa.
So far there hasn’t been much research into the effect of longer writing periods on the mind and body, and James Pennebaker actively warns against it, saying that two much writing might lead to ‘naval-‘gazing,’ and an unhealthy preoccupation with the negative aspects of our lives.
However we also don’t really know how to maximise the health benefits of creative writing. Perhaps if we write about the whole spectrum of human emotion, not just the negative things that happen to us, then we can achieve balance in our writing and lives. There may also be health benefits to engaging in a long term writing project such as a memoir. Louise De Salvo’s book, Writing As a Way of Healing, describes the pleasure and the sense of accomplishment we get from editing, and rewriting, our raw emotion. And the way that long-term focussed attention helps us to understand and accept the past.
In my personal practise of writing, I use the meditative techniques of watching my emotions as they arise, concentrating on the sensations in my body, and breathing. This seems to give me a strong and safe foundation, so I don’t get swept away by negative thoughts, but simply watch them, write them and then let them go.
Writing in this meditative way, I find that the longer I write, the more heightened my consciousness is, the more relaxed, and happy I begin to feel, as I clear out all the negative junk that has built up in my mind.
But on busy days, it’s good to know that all we need is two minutes. Carry a tiny notebook with you, lock yourself in the bathroom if necessary, and always remember that you do have enough time!