Your journal creates an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and explore difficult emotions.
Many people keep a journal in their teenage years, either by choice or due to a school assignment. Perhaps it’s been years since you’ve considered putting pen to paper and expressing your thoughts and dreams. But journaling can have benefits for anyone at any stage of life.
For centuries, people around the world have turned to journals as trusted friends.
Reflecting on daily experiences, relationships, and personal values can help you get in better touch with your thoughts and feelings. It can lead to greater peace of mind.
“I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn,” wrote Anne Frank, who kept a now-famous account of her daily life and dreams for the future while in hiding during the Holocaust.
A journal also offers a safe space to express difficult emotions, making it easier to work through distressing thoughts that you might struggle to share out loud.
Are you interested in giving journaling a try? Do you feel a bit stuck when it comes to getting started? Try the 64 prompts below to kick-start your creativity and write your way toward well-being.
You can certainly learn more about yourself by reviewing what you do each day, but journaling often goes beyond keeping a log of daily events.
Journal prompts offer specific themes and topics to reflect on, which can be helpful when you:
- want to make writing a habit but never know what to write about
- have a lot of conflicting thoughts to sort through
- feel as if you could write all day and want help narrowing your focus
Some prompts can even help you collect your thoughts on a recent conflict with a friend or partner. For example, writing about specific relationship challenges can help you get more clarity on your emotional needs and how to make sure they’re met.
Journaling generally proves most helpful when you do it regularly, though you don’t necessarily need to write every single day. If you’re short on time, you might aim for 3 days each week and pick one prompt to write about each day.
Evidence-backed benefits of journaling
Research from 2002 suggests that when your writing focuses on exploring and making sense of what happened, writing about a traumatic or stressful experience can help you heal and recover. Although expressing your emotions also has value, writing only about distressing emotions may not offer the same benefits.
We’ve organized these prompts into categories that focus on relationships, emotions, how you feel about work, and more.
Love and relationships
Having strong, supportive relationships can help improve overall well-being, protect against mental health concerns like depression, and boost resilience, which refers to your ability to weather life’s many challenges.
Writing about relationships with loved ones provides the opportunity to:
- explore the ways these bonds strengthen you
- express your gratitude for loved ones
- recognize when relationships no longer serve you
- explore what you want out of future relationships
Consider giving these prompts a try:
- Who do you trust most? Why?
- What are your strengths in relationships (kindness, empathy, etc.)?
- How do you draw strength from loved ones?
- What do you value most in relationships (trust, respect, sense of humor, etc.)?
- What three important things have you learned from previous relationships?
- What five traits do you value most in potential partners?
- How do you show compassion to others? How can you extend that same compassion to yourself?
- What are three things working well in your current relationship? What are three things that could be better?
- What boundaries could you set in your relationships to safeguard your own well-being?
- What do you most want your children (or future children) to learn from you?
- How can you better support and appreciate your loved ones?
- What does love mean to you? How do you recognize it in a relationship?
- List three things you’d like to tell a friend, family member, or partner.
Work and career
If you work full-time, you spend the majority of your waking hours on the job. That makes your career a pretty significant part of your life.
Having a fulfilling job can promote a sense of purpose and satisfaction with life. On the other hand, having a job that demands too much of you or fails to utilize your unique talents can wear you down and lead to burnout.
Taking some time to explore your current career can help highlight what you enjoy about your job and when it might be time to pursue a change.
Here are some prompts to consider:
- How do you use your personal strengths and abilities at work?
- How do your co-workers and supervisors recognize your strengths?
- How does work fulfill you? Does it leave you wanting more?
- What part of your workday do you most enjoy?
- What about your work feels real, necessary, or important to you?
- Do you see yourself in the same job in 10 years?
- What are your career ambitions?
- What three things can help you begin working to accomplish those goals?
- What can you do to improve your work performance?
- What does your work teach you? Does it offer continued opportunities for learning and growth?
- Does your work drain or overwhelm you? Why? Is this something you can change?
Exploring your values, opinions, and personality traits in writing can teach you more about who you are as a person.
This in-depth reflection can strengthen not just the relationship you have with yourself, but also the connections you build with others.
Some ideas to explore include:
- What values do you consider most important in life (honesty, justice, altruism, loyalty, etc.)? How do your actions align with those values?
- What three changes can you make to live according to your personal values?
- Describe yourself using the first 10 words that come to mind. Then, list 10 words that you’d like to use to describe yourself. List a few ways to transform those descriptions into reality.
- What do you appreciate most about your personality? What aspects do you find harder to accept?
- Explore an opinion or two that you held in the past but have since questioned or changed. What led you to change that opinion?
- List three personal beliefs that you’re willing to reconsider or further explore.
- Finish this sentence: “My life would be incomplete without …”
- Describe one or two significant life events that helped shape you into who you are today.
- When do you trust yourself most? When do you find it harder to have faith in your instincts?
- What three things would you most like others (loved ones, potential friends and partners, professional acquaintances, etc.) to know about you?
Journaling can help you express and begin to navigate difficult and painful emotions. That’s part of what makes it such a valuable exercise.
Burying unwanted emotions and thoughts can seem helpful at first. Pushing those feelings away means you avoid the pain and discomfort they cause, right?
Not always. In reality, avoiding emotional distress can intensify it. That pain lies dormant below the surface of your everyday thoughts until you can’t keep it back any longer. When it finally comes bubbling up, it may feel more overwhelming than it did originally.
These prompts can help you explore and process challenging emotions productively:
- What difficult thoughts or emotions come up most frequently for you?
- Which emotions do you find hardest to accept (guilt, anger, disappointment, etc.)? How do you handle these emotions?
- Describe a choice you regret. What did you learn from it?
- What parts of daily life cause stress, frustration, or sadness? What can you do to change those experiences?
- What are three things that can instantly disrupt a good mood and bring you down? What strategies do you use to counter these effects?
- What are three self-defeating thoughts that show up in your self-talk? How can you reframe them to encourage yourself instead?
- What go-to coping strategies help you get through moments of emotional or physical pain?
- Who do you trust with your most painful and upsetting feelings? How can you connect with them when feeling low?
- What do you fear most? Have your fears changed throughout life?
Note: If writing about painful emotions makes you feel even worse, there’s no need to push yourself. It may help to establish a regular journaling habit before you turn to more challenging topics.
Living your best life
Writing about the little things that add meaning to daily life makes it easier to notice just how much they boost your mood and overall well-being.
Recognizing what you enjoy most about life reminds you to keep making time for those things. It can also promote feelings of gratitude and contentment, as exploring what you love about life can help you realize that you may already have much of what you desire.
Here are some prompts to try:
- Describe your favorite thing to do when feeling low.
- What three ordinary things bring you the most joy?
- List three strategies that help you stay present in your daily routines. Then, list three strategies to help boost mindfulness in your life.
- How do you prioritize self-care?
- Describe two or three things you do to relax.
- What aspects of your life are you most grateful for?
- How do you show yourself kindness and compassion each day?
- Write a short love letter to some object or place that makes you happy.
- What place makes you feel most peaceful? Describe that place using all five senses.
- List 10 things that inspire or motivate you.
- What are your favorite hobbies? Why?
Personal growth and life goals
Getting in touch with who you are now doesn’t just help you recognize key strengths and values. It can also help unlock a deeper understanding of who you want to become and what you want from life.
As long as you live, you can continue to pursue change and growth.
Try these prompts to explore your dreams and outline potential paths toward change:
- What parts of life surprised you most? What turned out the way you expected it would?
- What three things would you share with your teenage self? What three questions would you want to ask an older version of yourself?
- List three important goals. How do they match up to your goals from 5 years ago?
- Do your goals truly reflect your desires? Or do they reflect what someone else (a parent, partner, friend, etc.) wants for you?
- What helps you stay focused and motivated when you feel discouraged?
- What do you look forward to most in the future?
- Identify one area where you’d like to improve. Then, list three specific actions you can take to create that change.
- How do you make time for yourself each day?
- What do you most want to accomplish in life?
- List three obstacles lying in the way of your contentment or happiness. Then, list two potential solutions to begin overcoming each obstacle.
If you’ve never kept a journal before, writing on a regular basis might feel a bit challenging. Even with prompts to help prime your thoughts, you might find it tough to get started.
The best way to start is to pick up your pen and start scribbling away. Your journal is just for you, so there’s no need to worry about your handwriting, grammar, or spelling. The important part of journaling is getting your thoughts onto the page.
Some people find that it helps to start with a “stream of consciousness” approach. This means writing down whatever comes to mind on a topic, exactly as it pops into your thoughts, without stopping to worry about punctuation or complete sentences.
A few more tips to help you find your flow include:
- Find a quiet place to write. Outside noise and other distractions can disrupt your thoughts, especially if you’re new to journaling. If you can’t find a quiet space, try listening to instrumental music (anything without vocals) as you write.
- Don’t worry about getting it “right.” When it comes to journaling, you can’t really go wrong. If your writing helps you process emotions and learn more about yourself, that’s what matters.
- Write regularly. You might set aside 15 or 20 minutes to write several days a week. It’s OK if you can’t find time to write every day. Writing at a specific time each day, such as after dinner or just before bed, can help the habit stick.
Journaling can help ease stress and uncertainty and teach you more about yourself and what you want from life.
That said, writing may not always feel fun or easy. It’s normal to experience a little discomfort when writing about painful emotions and frustrating experiences. But venting this distress can often lead to healing and growth.
When your writing continues to bring up distressing feelings or memories, a therapist can offer guidance with exploring these emotions and experiences in more depth.