WRITING FOR WELL-BEING
Writing about emotionally upsetting events has been shown to produce salubrious effects, including reduced health problems, enhanced self-regulation, and better adjustment after a trauma. Emotional catharsis (i.e., expressing pent-up emotions) was first suggested as a crucial factor in the health benefits of disclosive writing, however later studies indicate that the writing style is what most strongly promotes its health benefits.
Particularly, putting together a sensible story with increased use of insight words, causal words and words associated with cognitive activity is more associated with subsequent health benefits than merely using emotional expressions. Furthermore, even writing about another person’s trauma confers similar health benefits, which suggests that self-regulation might be a key player in this association.
Notably, writing about “a” trauma, whether real or imagined, promotes increased affective regulation, which in turn enhances physical health. In simpler terms, emotional writing helps convince the individual that they are capable of handling and coping from emotionally intense challenges.
Extending this research, the authors of the current paper seek to investigate whether the same health benefits can be obtained from writing about non-traumatic events, specifically writing about one’s life goals. Writing under this context implicates reorganizing one’s priorities, clarifying one’s goals, and deciding on values, which are all cognitive-related actions; at the same time it could help recognize and resolve past conflicts.
Results from this investigation lend support to the claim that writing about one’s life goals could yield potential health benefits. Notably, the authors found that disclosive writing is associated with less upset and more positive feelings, and with getting sick less often. Furthermore, there is also evidence of psychological benefits as suggested by the small increase in subjective well-being among the study participants. Those results are in par with those obtained during writing about trauma, suggesting similar action in affect regulation.
It is interesting to note that writing sessions combining topics of past trauma and positive aspects of the trauma did not yield similar results. The authors suggest that switching between the two topics might have interrupted the participants’ flow of self-disclosure, and in addition the writing task could have felt contrived rather than spontaneous.
In conclusion, it is writing about our deepest thoughts and feelings that is key to the benefits of writing regardless of the topic.
King LA. The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2001;27(7):798-807. doi:10.1177/0146167201277003