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Journaling Throughout History: Why You Should Harness the Power of Journaling

Updated on June 26, 2014
KoraleeP profile image

Koralee is a retired legal assistant/paralegal turned online writer and author who works part-time as a virtual legal assistant.

What is Journaling?

Journaling, commonly known as keeping a diary, is the art of writing down your:

  • Thoughts,
  • Feelings
  • Goals
  • And events of your life.

We should be really thankful for journaling, and the people who keep a journal. Without them the history of the world would be lost. We owe a lot of what we know today to our ancestors, and ancient civilizations who took the time to make their journal entries.

Since the beginning of time, civilizations across the globe have kept journals.

Continual Journaling

Do you keep a journal of your life?

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Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Egyptians recorded everything from prayers, to Royal Documents of long-term importance to personal autobiographies.
Egyptians recorded everything from prayers, to Royal Documents of long-term importance to personal autobiographies. | Source

Journaling – Ancient Egypt and Hieroglyphs

Although they didn’t journal per se, the ancient Egyptians kept written records, similar to a journal.

It is believed from archaeological discoveries that Egyptian hieroglyphs may be the oldest form of writing. The earliest evidence of their hieroglyphic system is thought to be from 3300 or 3200 BC, and they used them for the next 3,500 years.

Different groups of the ancient Egyptian civilization used hieroglyphs, for different recording keeping and documentation purposes.

Priests Used Hieroglyphs to write:

  • Prayers
  • Magical texts
  • Texts related to life after death and worshiping the gods.

The People of Ancient Egypt used Hieroglyphs

When they prepared their tombs, many people had autobiographies and hieroglyphic guides of the afterworld written on in the insides of coffins and surfaces of their tomb walls. They believed these texts helped guide the dead through the afterlife.

Civil Officials Used Hieroglyphs to Write

  • Royal Documents of long-term importance
  • Record historical events
  • Document calculations, such as the depth of the Nile on a specific day of the year.

In the process of keeping these records, the Ancient Egyptians gave us insight into their lifestyles and beliefs.

The History of Journaling – 10th Century Japan

Journaling is an ancient tradition that dates back to at least, 10th century Japan.

The Kagerō Nikki: Journal of a 10th Century Noblewoman - is an autobiographical narrative covering 954 to 974.

It was written by the second wife of Fujiwara no Kaneie, a high official in the Heian Court. Interestingly enough, her name is not known, she is only referred to as "Mother of Michitsuna". Her journal also contains poems shared between the herself, her husband and friends at the beginning of their relationship.

It is believed she kept a journal to describe what her life and role as a lady of the Heian court was really like. She mostly recorded her thoughts and feelings. However, it is surprising to some that she apparently had access to her husband’s correspondence with rivals, he hated, and they wonder how she got them.

For more thoughts, history and information on the motivations of the author of the Kagerō Nikki, you can read an article written by Caitlin Howell, on the University of Wisconsin Madison website, titled Motivations of the Author of the Kagero Nikki.

To Myself (Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν)

According to Wikipedia, the oldest extant diaries came from the Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures.

However, earlier work To Myself (Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν), written in Greek by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the latter half of the 2nd century AD, displayed characteristics of a diary, because he wrote about his daily life.

To read a translated copy of The Mediations by Marcus Aurelius you can go to The Internet Classics Archive Education website, and read it online, or download a copy.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

 2nd Century Writing with Characteristics of a Journal
2nd Century Writing with Characteristics of a Journal | Source

Captains of Navy and Merchant Ships

The logs and journals kept by sea captains are a first-hand account of the day-to-day activities of the exploration party, giving a picture of life aboard ship.

They include details such as:

  • Scientific information gathered during the voyage
  • Detailed daily accounts of the weather
  • Meteorological observations

Officers of the British Royal Naval Ships Kept Journals

It was common for sea captains to keep logs and journals of their travels on all continents.

The British Royal Navy has a record that consists of 164 volumes.

These officers and merchant ships kept these records between 1757 and 1861, according to The National Archives of the UK Government website.

The areas covered in the journals are the:

  • Pacific
  • Antarctic
  • Australia
  • Americas
  • West Coast of Africa, China, St Helena and other areas.

Captain James Cook

Was a British Captain in the Royal Nave, Explorer, Navigator, and Cartographer
Was a British Captain in the Royal Nave, Explorer, Navigator, and Cartographer | Source

Captain Cook’s Journal - First Voyage First Voyage

If you want to know more about Captain James Cook’s journal he wrote on his first voyage, you can read about it on the website.

The free ebook, written by James Cook, titled Captain Cook's Journal During the First Voyage Round the World is an interesting read.

It contains a lot of information about, Captain Cook’s life, his exploration and travels to places such as Tahiti, his voyage from Torres Strait to Batavia, and Batavia to Cape of Good Hope.

What Would We Do Without Journals?

As you can see, since almost the beginning of time, man has kept records and journals. What would we do today if we didn’t have these journals?

Why you Should Harness The Power of Continual Journaling for Yourself

When it comes to journaling, you may think that it’s something only the rich and famous, explorers, or politicians do. Because they have interesting lives and have lots of time.

But you don’t have the time, and nothing exciting ever happens to you. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Kung Fu-tzu Confucius Quote

“The palest ink is better than the most retentive memory.”

  • Writing down our actions, and how we feel is the easiest and most compelling way to remember and keep a record of our life.
  • Anything written is always more accurate than what a person remembers. Our memory fades over time, but if we write it down and preserve it, we'll always remember.

Embrace The Power of Journaling

The power of journaling is for you, and it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you live, or your financial status. It is somewhere for you to record your thoughts, facts about your family and daily life.

We often think we’ll always remember things that happen on specific dates, but we don’t. Two or three years later, you may think it was August, but there’s a possibility you saw Aunt Mable at the end of November when she told you cousin Martha was due three months later.

Your Journal Clarifies Situations

Keeping a journal clarifies problems and lets you keep track of your progress.

During times of trouble, It often seems like you’re not getting anywhere and nothing of any significance happens. Until you re-read your journal six-months later.

When you review your written words, you may find a solution to what feels like an impossible situation or answer a troubling question.

Journaling Allows us to:

  • Get to know ourselves better.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Solve problems more effectively.
  • Resolve disagreements with others.

Health Benefits of Keeping a Journal

According to an article on Psych Central titled The Health Benefits of Journaling, scientific evidence supports health benefits we get from journaling:

Since the act of writing assesses our left brain (the analytical and rational side), the right side of our brain (the creative, intuitive and feeling side) is free to do what it does best. So when we write, it removes mental blocks and lets us use all our brainpower to understand ourselves, others, and the world around us. Thus giving us power.

How Journaling Benefits Your Family

When you pass away, think of how much comfort your journal could give your children. When they miss you, they could read your journal to feel close to you.

If you started a journal today, you can pass it down to your children, and grand kids. Just think how much they will cherish learning about your every day life 30, 40, or 50 years from now.

How Amazing Would it be to Have Your Ancestors Journals?

Wouldn’t you love to have daily journals from your great grandparents and their family? Although they probably just struggled to survive, don’t you think it would be amazing to know:

  • What did they do each day?
  • How they got through hard times.
  • How they emotionally got through the deaths of children because of harsh weather and lack of a health care system?
  • What new products were invented while they were alive, and they made their lives easier?
  • How they prepared their food?
  • How they survived in rough weather?
  • Did they have friends, and if so how did they meet?
  • Did they fall in love with their spouse, or did they get married for convenience?
  • What were their personalities were like. Were they funny, serious, ambitious, easy- going, etc.?

Having an ancestor’s journal to refer to your family history would be exciting, and your great- grandchildren would feel the same way about your journal.

A portrait of your ancestors with a Journal is the Perfect Scenerio

But most of our ancestor's journals are lost, or never existed.
But most of our ancestor's journals are lost, or never existed. | Source

Genealogy and Journaling

For those of you into researching your genealogy or are thinking about getting into it, you know how much easier having someone’s journal makes the process.

Sometimes it gets confusing because something gets missed. For example, sometimes women are listed by their married name, and it’s hard to figure out how they fit into your family. Especially when back in the day some families had 13 children.

How to Keep a Journal

Just as you should write down on the back of photographs the date a photo was taken along with the names and ages of those in the picture. You should also make specific entries in your journal.

Although it may seem unimportant, later when you go back to see how your life unfolded at that point and time, you’ll get the complete picture.

Make sure you keep track of your aspirations, challenges, likes and dislikes. Keep track of the people who helped or harmed your progress. As they will likely maintain the same behavior in the future.

You can keep your journal on your computer, or write everything down in a notebook. Your journal will give you direction because it records where you’ve been, where you’re at now, and where you’re headed.

If you start your journal now, you’ll get more insight into yourself and your life than you could ever imagine.

How Do You Feel About Continual Journaling Now

If you don't currently journal, do you think you might start now?

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    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      3 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      I got a good chunk of the first draft of my novel completed during Nano, but I need to spend more time on it. It's so easy to get distracted with other writing projects. Yes, I'm still journaling but I don't think I'll ever publish them. I believe you're two hours ahead of me. I agree about the power of the computer and Internet to be able to communicate with anyone in the world 24/7 365 days a year. Thanks, and have a great morning too.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      3 years ago

      Did you write the book you were planning ? What do you do besides hubs on HubPages? I am glad to see your comments and I know only to well what it feels like when your busy. Are you still journaling yourself ? Have you ever organized your journals and published them? Thank you for sharing and caring. It is 3:15 A.M. here. I forgot to mention the beauty of the computer which I never had when I was young. You can talk to anyone at anytime and they will finally get the message. I don't even know if the time is the same. Wishing you a early wonderful good morning.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      3 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Wow, you have quite a history with journaling, and ups and many challenges to overcome to do it. That's cool how much you crave writing - I understand that feeling; and perhaps you were an old sea captain in a past life lol. I'm still here, but I'm quite busy. I'm working on another Hub article, I guess I should hurry and publish it. Thanks for stopping by, and sharing.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      3 years ago

      Your hub couldn't come at a better time in my life. I have written many incomplete diaries or journals over the years. Being a male it wasn't the coolest thing when younger. Peer pressure. I still journaled on. I would have so many thoughts that in time I know I would forget. Unfortunately at a time where computers weren't the in thing. I used pencil and pen. Marker until it smudged. Typed with the old manual typewriter. Later the electric with a correction ribbon. A word processor until it broke. I have used cassette tapes and stored them away. A faster and easier way. Some have been damaged through the temperature changes. Writings have been ruined do to dampness. I have boxes of writings discoveries to rediscover. I have tried digital recorders which I love. Now even the computer which I have tried before until it crashed. Unfortunate

      for me I don't have my information backed up. I have gone through many setbacks and total disasters but I still crave to write. I wonder if I was an old sea captain in a past life who kept a log. Until my ship went down and my log went with me to the bottom of the sea. Where only the fishes know my story. Thank you for writing this hub. I noticed you haven't had any activity in awhile. Have you traveled to another site? Have a great day.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      6 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Thank you BNadyn for sharing your insights into journaling.

      It's great what you're doing for your children...and starting your blog as a type of journal for them is a brilliant idea :) and I hope you get back to the physical journals as well.

    • BNadyn profile image


      6 years ago from Jacksonville, Florida

      You brought up a lot of good points here - I do wish I could read journals from my ancestors and even my own parents! I began my blog as a kind of journal for my kids to be able to look back on. I also had a physical journal for both of them that I wrote in every few days but have stopped a couple years ago. After reading this, I want to start again. It's something nice to pass down and you're right, writing it down is a better way to preserve things than memories that fade over time.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      6 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Hi Bill tollefson :). I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. I'm really enjoying journaling, it's really quite exciting. I just wish I started years ago :(, but better late than never, I guess.

    • Dr Bill Tollefson profile image

      Bill Tollefson 

      6 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Really enjoyed reading this HUB. Good information to think about. I think journaling is an excellent tool.

      Keep sharing.

    • KoraleeP profile imageAUTHOR

      Koralee Phillips 

      6 years ago from Vancouver British Columbia Canada

      Hi FlourishAnyway - That's amazing that have her journal. I can image the connection you feel.....That's so exciting. Thanks for sharing. I hope you keep one too :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      I'm fortunate enough to have my husband's great-grandmother's journal. She details how she met her husband and what she truly thought of her sister. It also provides insight into a different era -- the everyday stuff. Very valuable personally. Although I never met her, I feel very connected to her and so does my daughter.


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