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Want to Change Your Life? Gretchen Rubin Says it Only Takes One Sentence a Day

The happiness expert and bestselling author explains why keeping a short, daily journal can have such a profound impact on our lives.

By Gretchen Rubin


If you’re like many people—and like me—you periodically get the urge to keep a journal full of  lengthy, thoughtful entries. You picture yourself sitting in a sunny café, writing on thick paper with an elegant pen, recording beautifully phrased observations and reflections. It sounds so appealing. But then it never happens. 

Because, if you’re like many people—and again, like me—you often start and then abandon the project of keeping a journal because of the time and energy it requires.

Several years ago, as part of my Happiness Project, I hit on a solution: the one-sentence journal. Instead of aiming to write several pages, I wrote just one sentence. And it worked. 

Limiting the entries to a single sentence is key, because it means that keeping this journal is manageable; writing one sentence is attainable even for a very busy person. In my decade-long study of happiness, I’ve learned that while setting a big aim is good, taking a practical step toward that big aim is better. A journal where you write one sentence regularly is better than a journal where you write five pages never

When setting a new goal, it’s tempting to set the goal so high that it’s impossible to reach it consistently. Eating more healthfully, starting to exercise, learning a language…the initial enthusiasm can turn into guilt and anxiety when we don’t follow through. By making a goal manageable, we set ourselves up for success. And the one-sentence journal, as simple as it is, has the potential to be life-changing. Let me explain.

First, research shows that a great way to make ourselves happier in the present is to reflect on happy times from the past, and one sentence is enough to keep memories vivid. You might use a one-sentence journal to record the sweet or funny things your child says or does, something you’re grateful for each day, or how you’re feeling about a career or life transition. These memories hold value because they show us how rich our lives really are. 

Research also suggests that by writing, we can gain a greater sense of perspective, control, and meaning from our experiences, so keeping a one-sentence journal can help us manage a transition or cope with a challenge, as well. Also, when we’re feeling anxious, writing in a journal allows us to capture that anxiety on the page, and in this way, better manage it. 

On January 13th, join Gretchen Rubin for a fun and informative conversation about the power of journaling as part of M.M.’s Inside Time virtual event series. RSVP Now.

Additionally, a one-sentence journal can be a concise, effective way to keep a big goal active in our minds and to hang onto ideas or insights. A one-sentence journal might be your record of  ideas for a book you want to write, questions and ideas for a major home renovation, or observations of the changes in the natural world.

And of course, the one-sentence journal doesn’t need a particular theme or purpose, other than being a way to memorialize whatever’s on your mind. It can sweep in everything that you’re thinking about, and in this way, be a record of the ebb and flow of your interests and concerns.

While most people keep a one-sentence journal for themselves, I’ve also talked to people who keep a one-sentence journal as a keepsake item to give to someone else (in which case, make sure your handwriting is legible).

Studies suggest that when we write down memories—or take photographs—we tend to focus on happier experiences and events. By shining a spotlight on the positive aspects of our lives, we direct our attention in a way that gives us a boost of happiness with very little effort.

The One Sentence Journal by Gretchen Rubin

The Know Yourself Better Journal by Gretchen Rubin

Also, many people tend to look to the future and focus on all the things that they haven’t yet done and that they need to cross off their to-do lists. A one-sentence journal can serve as a great reminder of everything we’ve already accomplished. Trust me on this: A ta-da list can be just as useful as a to-do list.  

But do you need to write in a journal every day? Weirdly, I’ve noticed that for me, it’s often easier to do something every day than to do it only some days. For instance, I find it easier to go for a walk every day than to go four times a week. When I do something every day, there’s no debate, no procrastination, no wondering, today or tomorrow? The action quickly becomes part of my ordinary routine, a matter of habit. For this reason, many people find it helpful to write in their one-sentence journal every day.

However, that kind of consistency isn’t necessary. While some people love the “don’t break the chain” approach and get great satisfaction from never missing a day of writing in their journal, the practice is still valuable when you write your one sentence on most days or even some days. Because the truth is—and you’ll glean this from journaling—what we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while.

Read on.

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