Why I started keeping a daily “one-sentence journal” (ok, a not-quite daily journal).

August 1 marked the first anniversary of my One-Sentence Journal.

For a long time, I’d been alarmed by how little I remembered about my own past. In particular, because one of my resolutions is to “Appreciate this time of life,” I felt the impulse to keep a record of the pattern of our days (not to mention the funny things my children said) so I’d remember this time of life later.

The idea of keeping a proper journal was far too daunting, so I decided instead to keep a “one-sentence journal.”

Each night, I write one sentence (well, actually, usually it’s three or four sentences, but by calling it a “one sentence journal” I keep my expectations realistic) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man, and the girls.

Right now, I can’t imagine forgetting the time when the Little Girl said politely, “Can I have some more pajamas on my pasta?” when she meant “parmesan,” but I will, I will.

And I’ll forget what it was like to have a child who still sleeps in a crib, or one who is reading Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays for the first time. I’ll forget the huge amount of meat that the Big Man once grilled in a single evening.

My hope is that, years from now, when I’m trying to remember what life was like at this point, I can look back at my one-sentence journal.

Of course, I’ve missed a lot of days. Although I’ve been trying to keep it up for a year, it still hasn’t quite solidified into a habit. I’ve let ten days go by, without thinking about the journal once. But still, I’ve managed to get a lot of memories down on paper.

When I get back from vacation, I’m going to use my beloved Lulu.com to print out three “books” of the journal’s first year – one for the Big Man and me, one for each of the girls.

My path-breaking happiness formula holds that to be happy, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Keeping this journal is a project that adds to my happiness in all of these ways: it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events); it gives me a reason to thinking lovingly about my family; it’s manageable, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it makes me feel like a good mother who is passing happy memories along to my children; and it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress.

Once again: LifeRemix!

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • http://maffalda.blogspot.com Maffalda

    Do you feel like you have to handwrite it? If not, you can create a new google calendar and register your one-sentence-entry in one click. I just did that.

  • http://th1nk-p1nk.blogspot.com Janna

    That’s a great idea! Especially if you’re too busy for a full-out journal. Hm, I might have to try that.

  • Kaja

    Gretchen, This is a brilliant idea! I just started something similar to track how efficiently I use my time at work. Your one-liners sound about twenty times more rewarding, so I think I’m going to expand my parameters to include downtime.
    For those inclined to serious journaling, or just interested in the medium, I highly recommend “Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal” by Alexandra Johnson.

  • Cat

    Excellent idea. I’ve been keeping an online journal (just a Word document) that I write down the funny things my kids do and say – but am going to expand this to a 1 sentence a day journal.

  • Rick Cecil

    Great idea. I’ve always liked keeping a journal–and used to keep one pretty religiously way back in high school and some into college, but life got busy–or I got lazy–and I no longer keep a journal. I think this “one liner” journal could actually be feasible. Now…how to implement it…I like the idea of keeping something digital, after all I spend most of my time on a computer, but there’s something much more personal about actually hand writing a journal. Again, great post, great idea. [r]

  • Rick Cecil

    One more thought: This sounds like something that would be great for Twitter or a Tumblog.

  • http://lesliet.typepad.com LeslieT

    This year is my twelfth year of writing in the Journal 10+, which gives you 4 lines for each day (with overflow pages available for those special days that need more). It’s beautifully organized, with 11 years arranged vertically on the page, so it’s really easy to look back and see what you were doing 1, 2, 3, etc. years ago at the same time. And there are separate sections in the back for tracking anything you think is important – special events, birthdays, travel, weight, medical records, etc.

  • http://web20asia.com Web 2.0 Asia

    Hey, I’m a Korean guy (found this via Guy Kawasaki’s blog) – just wanted to let you know your blog was read by someone who’s some thousands miles away, hoping it will make your day “happier” :) Twitter can come in handy as the other person said but then Twitter isn’t best suited for private conversations within a small group, so sticking to the good ol’ handwriting might just work fine…

  • Flavia

    I do the same and I relate my days to individual Tarot cards that I pick in the morning or the night before. I never have trouble writing something that relates to the card of the day.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/hansenb/ Brandon Hansen

    What a great idea. Journal keeping is hard, but extremely valuable. I was taught at a young age to keep a regular journal and now have three journals – one personal, one business and one for entreprenuer ideas and plans. Unfortunately, I do not keep them updated as I should and the idea of a “One Sentence Journal” is great. Thanks

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    More great ideas — I love the idea of keeping a beautiful journal, but unfortunately my handwriting is so illegible that I have to stick to typing my entries. But then it’s nice to be able to print it out in book form, so although it doesn’t seem as civilized and personal, there are advantages.

  • melissa

    I love this idea. my husband and I are going to start doing this. He constantly complains that he never remebers anything. We are going to each keep a 1-sentence journal and then trade at the end of the year to see what eachother’s entries were.

  • http://www.21st-century-citizen.com Kevin

    Yet another great insight Gretchen. I forget why I love your writing so much and then you hit me with one of these —
    Thanks again.

  • http://www.21st-century-citizen.com Kevin

    BTW – “The Power of the 1-Sentence Journal” — that’s the title of another book project for you.

  • http://novicetoexpert.blogspot.com Mary K

    I love the idea of a one-sentence journal done religiously if that’s all I can get in—I also know the dismay of reading old journal entries and heartbroken I could not recall the details. Why didn’t I take the time to write down the colors, the smells, the shadows? That’s why it would be important to not to be cryptic in those one-sentence journals.

  • http://www.crest.delfinworld.com Ben from Isarel

    Hi, I found this blog via Guy Kawasaki’s blog – Just wanted to let you know that your blog was read by someone who’s some thousands miles away (and half way to Korea) :-).
    Any way, I am going through a process that might take me closer to happiness, maybe it can work for u2? It includes meditation reading and learning by a great coach.
    Yes, it is affiliation program, so there is another reason for being a bit happier about helping others when you get to help other and also at the same time help yourself.
    I know some people feel resistance inside to this point, this is ok. You can donate any income from this program for a great cause you want to support, and what a great way to collect money or in other word helping others to help others…. :-)

  • http://www.lulu.com Henry Hutton

    That’s an interesting idea, and wanted to thank you for publishing through Lulu. Let me know if I can help in any way…
    Henry Hutton

  • http://www.bilingualbaby.wordpress.com Leila

    I like the idea of having a 1 sentence journal. Journaling always seemed so daunting- I could never figure out what was worth writing down and remembering later.

  • Caitlin

    When I was younger (and before I could do my own journal writing) my parents helped me keep a “Best Part / Worst Part” journal, which sounds similar to this. I had to come up with a brief summary of the best part and worst part of each day. Looking back on them is a lot of fun… especially because even the worst part of a 3 year old’s day is usually adorable.

  • http://www.realignedliving.com Matt @ Realigned Living

    I’m gonna try this to see how it works – it’s a cute idea in theory, but I’m so used to writing paragraphs and paragraphs about my life instead of… one sentence. 😛

  • http://illogicalparadox.frih.net Mimzy

    Hi, just wanted to say that I love your blog and the idea of it. I’m one of those people who’s much too analytical to be happy a lot, but something you wrote made me change my mind:
    “My path-breaking happiness formula holds that to be happy, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”
    Lots of my friends seem to think that being happy is the result of simply ignoring all the problems in your life, but I’ve never wanted to live that way, so I chose unhappiness instead.
    But in a way, you’ve reminded me that people who think about everything can be happy, too.

  • http://quinncreative.com QuinnCreative

    You are exactly right about writing one sentence a day. After I figured out that it was the only way to keep track of what happened when, I discovered that it also served to keep track of my emotions and what pushed my buttons. Over time, I developed a class, “One-Sentence Journaling” and a one-month journal (4 x 6 index cards) for people who want to be able to spread the cards out and see what a month looked like to them. The class opens the door to journal keeping for people who don’t have much time. If I’m allowed to post a link from your post, the cards are here: http://quinncreative.com/id40

  • http://www.moleville.co.uk/ Jake

    A great concept (and great website too may I say, I’ve only just found it today). I too look back over the days and read out in my head the words I would have had used to describe life if only I had actually got round to doing it. So a one-sentence journal is a bit of a compromise, get something down which in the future may trigger other events.

  • http://www.neatandsimple.com/ Ariane Benefit, Neat & Simple Living

    Awesome! Brilliant! Genious!! I did all the other great comments! : ) We are so lucky you decided to create a blog and share your pearls with us!

  • http://www.neatandsimple.com/ Ariane Benefit, Neat & Simple Living

    Awesome! Brilliant! Genious!! I did all the other great comments! : ) We are so lucky you decided to create a blog and share your pearls with us!

  • Caren

    I have been doing this for about 7 years.
    I had, in the past, written long journal entries about my feelings. I noticed that I never kept it up for more than 6 months or a year. Also, I could not stand to go back and read what I’d written as it always depressed me. I shredded all my old journals and decided my new one should be more historic and less emotive (although there is a place for such an expressive journal.)
    I started by punching holes in 365 pages of blank paper and writing a date at the top of each. I put them into 4 loose leaf notebooks, one for each season. Then every night I write down a sentence or two about the day and I read what happened on that day for the last 7 years. It’s been amazing to see how circular life is.
    This is a very low cost/hi fun journal. I keep the entries as light and as positive as possible, even funny if that’s appropriate. If I miss a day, no sweat. I include lots of things about my family and imagine that some day they might enjoy reading about themselves.

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  • http://www.confidentgirlsguys.com Monique Howat

    You don’t look very happy in your picture.
    Also it wasn’t immediately obvious who you were until I searched your website and put two and two together when I found the words:
    “My books.”
    Oh and I like what you’re doing!

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  • http://www.gelattina.com romeo marquez

    I like this idea a lot!
    Information overload makes Good memories easily forgotten and we need as much help as we can get to keep them forever…
    I am debating myself about the best way to keep track of the journal
    i would like to use something on line, google calendar or gmail seem like a good idea.
    but i also would like something that might make easy to download all the info at once, so 3 years into this habit i don’t have trouble gathering all my entries to print them.
    how are you doing this? is it ALL in paper? or with a word document? is it in your outlook?
    i will start this habit immediately, but i will appreciate very much if you or anyone else here might have something to say about it…

  • http://www.aishaiqbal.blogspot.com aisha

    Great Idea… but do you have a sample of a one sentence entry? I have a hard time figuring out how basic, or complex it should be.

  • rj

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  • Ross

    Deepak Chopra’s take on happiness. What do you think?

  • Sarojini Pattayat

    I am feeling well by finding a way to feel joy.