Writing Secrets: Writing and happiness
I haven’t written anything for a while, as you’ll know if you’ve innocently asked how my writing’s going.
I probably snapped your head off, for which I’m sorry.
I keep telling myself that five books are enough – surely, I’ve shown that I can do it. Except … one never has truly done it. Our past books are hopelessly imperfect in comparison with the book one could write in the future.
It’s great to have time. When I’m not working, I can read, or go for a swim in the sea. (Rationalise, rationalise…) In any case, it’s hard to write when you’re using all your creative energy to mentor the writing of others.
Those are the excuses. The truth is that I’m conflicted. Writing breaks my heart. I hate the process of having a book out there in the world. But it is also true that I feel incomplete without a writing project. I feel anxious and jumpy, as though there were something I ought to be doing.
Which is probably why a recent article in The New York Times leapt out at me. Writing makes you happy, it informed me. New research shows that “expressive” writing can improve happiness and lead to positive behavioural changes.
The article focused on writing about oneself, and joined a “surprisingly vast” bank of existing research which shows that this kind of writing can improve mood disorders, reduce symptoms of cancer, improve health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
The idea, apparently is that we all have “a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves”. By writing, and then editing, our own stories, “we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health”.
According to several studies, the effects are very real. On the basis of anecdotal evidence, though, I believe we can expand the beneficial effects of creative effort beyond the therapeutic and autobiographical. And probably beyond writing. I believe we all need a creative outlet, no matter how skilled (or unskilled) we are. It doesn’t matter whether we’re likely to become world renowned. The fact is that we need to stretch ourselves creatively in order to be well-adjusted and happy human beings.
I suppose the point of all this is: keep writing. It doesn’t matter what form it takes or whether you’ll ever be published.
Writing, when you intend the product to be read by more than just yourself, is not easy. For me, the process is sometimes agony. It extends me beyond my limits. But it also provides moments of intense euphoria.
More generally, though, I know that writing makes me a happier person. It’s tough and it takes a lot out of me, but in the end I suppose it keeps me balanced. It gives me the best version of myself.
Weekend Retreat, Temenos, McGregor – 24 to 26 March
Creative Saturday, Muizenberg, Cape Town – 1 April
30-Day Writing Workout, online – 2 to 31 May
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