Before Facebook, WhatsAp, Twitter and Instagram gave us the opportunity to share every thought with the rest of the connected universe the moment it pops into our head, people used to keep diaries.
And they kept them to themselves. Some diaries even had a lock and key to keep out nosy readers.
Great leaders throughout time understood that their diaries would be read by historians after they died, and used them to give their version of how history should be written. Beyond that, diaries helped them stay organized and sharpened their memories
George Washington kept diaries throughout his adult life - some related to weather and farming; some documenting his travels; and some related to specific events. His final diary entry was the day before his death.
During the Revolutionary War, Washington kept both a weather diary and war journal.
“I lament not having attempted it from the commencement of the War, in aid of my memory …” he wrote to start his journal on the war.
In some cases, more recent leaders have lived to regret their diaries. It was the discovery of diaries kept by former Defense Secretary Cap Weinberger that allowed former Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh to determine who knew what and when during the Iran-Contra scandal.
Diaries weren’t just for the rich and powerful. Throughout time, people have found them useful for not only organization and recordkeeping, but also in providing a moment of reflection each day during which they could document their thoughts and actions.
It’s not enough to just take a moment at the end of the day to collect your thoughts. Taking the next step and actually writing them down can help reduce stress, researchers found.
A 2001 study published by the American Psychological Association found that writing down our thoughts and feelings helps relieve the stress that comes from keeping those emotions secret, even if we never share what we have written with others
“The rationale for our research is that among the irrelevant demands that compete for resources are cognitions about ongoing stressful events, and that expressive writing about these experiences reduces their draw on resources,” the study said.
Previous studies have shown that people who write about stressful or traumatic experiences have fewer doctor’s visits, better immune functions and improved psychological well-being. And yet, diaries were losing popularity long before the advent of the Internet.
For reasons that I don’t understand, diaries were seen as sort of a girls’ thing when I was growing up.
In 1972, the band Bread released one of the sappiest songs ever recorded, about a guy who finds his girlfriend’s diary underneath a tree and discovers that she loves somebody else. In a 1970 episode of the Brady Bunch, Cindy accidentally included Marcia’s diary in a stack of books donated for a book drive, risking exposure of her secret crush on Desi Arnez Jr.
You don’t hear much about diaries anymore.
I suspect that the concept may seem absurd to those who determine the validity of any expression by the number of “likes” it generates. What is the point of coming up with some witty observation or cutting putdown if you’re just going to keep it to yourself?
It’s not about gaining acceptance or winning the argument, but rather just getting it all of our system so we can lighten the burden a little bit and move on. Diaries are both self-indulgent and completely harmless to others. And, nobody cares if you mess up the spelling or grammar.
Walt Rubel has been a journalist since 1982, working in Las Cruces since 2002. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.