Journal Your Way to Joy


Many of us are familiar with a gratitude journal — the notion of writing down reasons to be thankful on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. I first learned about it when my mom began keeping one when I was 18 years old after I had emergency surgery. My mom kept her daily practice of gratitude for a decade and still has those books. I like the idea of being mindful and expressing appreciation. There are multiple ways to achieve this – from the classic route of writing it down to more modern, digital styles.

Happiness Jar 

At the start of 2020, I created a happiness jar for our family. As Christmas/New Year’s gifts to friends and family, I gave them happiness jars as well.

I had seen the jar idea online – encouraging families to write down happy moments throughout the year using slips of paper. Each slip of paper goes into the jar. Then on New Year’s Day the following year, we take them out and read them to reflect on the year we have experienced.

I know, I know… I picked one heck of a year to start a happiness jar project, didn’t I?

Finding Happiness During a Pandemic and Post-Hurricane

From January through mid-March, it was easy to find and write down sweet or hilarious moments and put them in our happiness jar. Even for the first few weeks after the pandemic hit, we found joy in ordinary moments. As time went on, we stopped writing and filling our jars in May, June, and July. The same was true after Hurricane Sally hit.

At different times this year, I found myself and my children slipping into a state of sadness about our quarantine, at-home time, and about our world. We took time away from focusing on the happy and instead journaling about our sad, disappointed feelings.

We instead thought of ways to help others in greater need. My kids and I had deep conversations on current events and scenarios. By shifting our focus from our limitations and can’t-dos to what we have and could do, we have been able to move past the difficulties and experience joyous moments again. We took a break from our journaling practice, but we found our way back to it.

Digging Through the Past

Since our family spent more time at home this year, we’ve been digging through old photos and past literature. I put together a slideshow for my youngest daughter’s birthday. I chronicled my favorite moments from birth to eight years old. It was an incredible experience, and I moved her to tears as she watched it on her special day.

I also began to look through documents where I wrote about my children as a young mother – funny stories about taking them to the grocery store, having poop explosions in diapers, and speaking outrageously. As I shared them with my kids, we laughed together for an hour. Under normal circumstances, I would not have found time to do these things if it weren’t for a pandemic, no school after a hurricane, and other times spent at home.

Using Your Memory Feed and Digital Tools

If slips of paper in a jar, using a gratitude journal, or digging through pictures isn’t your style, modern technology can help you chronicle your happiness. Social media sites like Facebook have a memory feed that will bring up your past. Now that I’ve been a Facebook user for more than 12 years, I love seeing my early posts and pictures from years ago.

Google photos will often pop up on my cell phone to show me a picture I took from a year ago or five years ago. I enjoy seeing these glimpses into my past. They help me appreciate my current stage in life. Look into the digital tools you use regularly and see how they can help you record moments of joy.

Creating a Memory Collection

Now that I’ve spent months journaling my feelings, sorting through the past, and making current memories, I am now in the middle of organizing these items together into a collection. I am researching options now to turn these memories into a book that I can give my children and extended family as holiday gifts.

The book will contain funny stories. It will include poems and songs I wrote for my kids as babies. Our keepsake will have photos and wacky quotes that are unique to us. What a special collection and holiday gift this will be! Capturing our memories from the best and even not-so-great incidents to create a time capsule of our family history.

Giving Thanks, Continuing to Journal and Find Joy

With Thanksgiving approaching, many families gather at the dinner table to enjoy a feast. A common tradition includes each person stating something that they are thankful for before the meal begins.

I love this practice, but why save it just for Thanksgiving? Why not incorporate it more into your routine?

Take the PMC 30 Days to Gratitude Challenge. Give thanks on a random Tuesday at dinner or in the car on the way to soccer or dance practice. We need to remember what we have and appreciate it.

2020 has not been easy, but I know that we can find and choose happiness even during tough times. That is a skill I want my children to have as well. I want them to understand that when difficulties come their way, they can choose a positive, thankful attitude. We can journal our way to joy.

Previous articleNonprofit Spotlight: Manna
Next articleSchool is Okay
Mandy Fernandez has lived in Pensacola since 2009. She's originally from southeast Louisiana and has also lived in Ohio and Alabama before finding a home in this region. Mandy is the mom of two daughters (ages 15 and 10) and has been married for 20 years. Mandy is an award-winning essayist and short story writer. She is also the author of Kazoo Makes the Team, the beloved children's book about the Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball team mascot, Kazoo. Learn more about her at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here