The Journal as an Autobiography

There are many reasons for keeping a journal. Some people like to use it as an emotional outlet, pouring their joy and frustration onto the page.  Others explore philosophy, theology, or other deep topics in the pages of their journals, merging their experiences with the thoughts of great authors, religious leaders, and charismatics. A journal can also be an autobiography, recording daily life and the events and people who shape you on a daily basis.

There are some people who come into your life who you never forget: your fist love, a best friend, or a trusted mentor. Also, there are events that are so important or life changing that you never forget them or where you were when they happened. For example almost everyone remembers where they were when they heard about the terrorist attack on 9/11 (I had just taken a math test).

While those important people and big events can serve as milestones in a person’s life, what about the everyday things? The majority of life isn’t spent on mountaintop experiences or with unforgettable people. A journal can help capture those seemingly unimportant things that go on everyday and yet subtly shape us.

But what reason do normal people have for keeping an autobiography? Not everyone is going to become a politician or rock-star and have adventure after adventure. Not everyone goes through enormous difficulty and comes out with some life-altering wisdom to impart. I think there are 3 reasons that everyone should keep such a journal, even if you don’t think you or anyone else would be interested.

  1. Journaling about the mundane forces you to think back over the days events and take stock of your actions and reactions. It expands your writing abilities. It gives you the chance to record things you otherwise might forget in a week or so. It allows for a fresh, unsullied snapshot of you.
  2. It is a record of how you have grown. As you grow mentally, spiritually, and emotionally your writing will change to reflect these changes. Your responses to events will change, as will your depth of understanding. A journal serves as a record of how your understanding changes over the years.
  3. It captures the culture of the day. You may have heard the word zeitgeist bandied about a lot recently. This German word translates to “the spirit of the times.” The zeitgeist of an era is the trends of thought, experience, and attitudes of a people over a certain time period. A journal is an informal record of such a trend. By itself it is a very incomplete portrait of the culture  of the time it was written, but when combined with other records it can form a truer picture of what it was like to actually live in a certain time period. For example, the diary of Samuel Pepys is an important book that records life in London in the 1660’s.

When you consider a journal from an autobiographical standpoint, it becomes more than just psuedo-philosophical ramblings or angst driven poetry. It becomes a snapshot of your state of mind, a record of your growth, and a part of the spirit of your time. And that’s something that anyone can appreciate.


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