This advice to talk about our joys struck home with me when I saw it the other day. Not surprisingly, I immediately thought how it applies to writing – specifically to life writing – and how happy stories spread joy.
In The Heart and Craft of Lifewriting, I discuss the way many people tend to shy away from discussing success and joy.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,” some people say. “I don’t people to envy me,” or “I don’t want them to think I think I’m better than they are,” or “I don’t want to make people sad because they missed out.”
These are valid concerns. Compassion for the feelings of others is important. But let’s look at the flip side, at what is lost if you soft-peddle success and happiness:
You are only writing part of your truth. If you are writing for posterity, or for the world at large right now, your success is part of who you are. Surely it’s something you’re proud of. Let them know.
Happiness keeps your story authentic. People who know you’ve achieved something, financial or business success, a happy marriage, or some other positive state will know something’s missing if you downplay the sunshine in your story. It tends to come across as false humility and lack of trust. This is, of course, assuming you were happy. Not all stories are, though we do hope for a glimmer of happiness by the end. Add it where you can.
Reading about how you achieved success, happiness and joy inspires others. We hear and read about gloom, doom and suffering constantly in the media. We need to hear good news. It gives us hope!
People can learn from your example. Explaining in more detail or less how you managed to achieve your fortunate condition may provide a clue for others to follow your example.
Writing about happy things is good for YOU! A quick web search will verify that simple lists in gratitude journals help dispel or fend off depression (in at least some cases) and generally improve your state of mind. They help you stay positive and foster creativity. You don’t even have to share the contents or turn them into story to get these benefits.
Have I convinced you to write some joy? Hopefully into your story? Follow these guidelines:
Include shadows with the sunshine. Everything brilliant emerges from some sort of struggle or stretch. Tell of the tribulations and challenges you encountered along the way. Report feelings of fear, doubt, or dismay. Don’t leave out your concern about not wanting to brag.
Be honest about jubiliation. Who would believe you weren’t popping champagne corks, real or figurative, when you got that big promotion?
Give credit where credit is due. Nobody scales Mt. Everest without a team of Sherpas. Give your Sherpas credit.
Use humor. Poke fun at yourself. This doesn’t mean putting yourself down, but keep both heart and fingers light.
My latest book, Adventures of a Chilehead, is the story of my life-long love affair with hot chile. It’s full of humor and joy, and I had a ball writing it. The capsaicin in chile releases endorphins. Writing about those happy memories released more. So remember some joy, write yourself happy, and share that good stuff with the world.
Write now: write about a happy experience you shared with at least one other person and write that story in an email or letter. Send it to that person. You’ll both feel happy you did.