Stories Humanize Us
Our universal love of good stories comes from their ability to absorb us on a journey in which we safely experience serial attempts at solving problems until, in the end, the character solves the problem by learning something. We the audience identify with the main character, experience the many attempts at solving the problem, and enjoy the ultimate resolution, thereby learning more about how to be a successful person. Stories teach us how to thrive at being human.

Writing Leads To Happiness
Writing a story is an intense, lengthy, impactful neuroplastic exercise in learning the solution to the problem that was bothering you in such a way that you change your brain around the solution. That’s why you can write your way to happiness.

Where To Begin
How do we start down the road of writing to happiness? First, let’s accept that we are writers. We’re not talking about publishing deals and bestseller lists. For us, writers are people who are comfortable putting words down on a page and who are willing to look back at it to make it better if necessary. It requires a bit of thought. It requires something more than typing.

Which Species Writer Are You?
There are two known species of writers. Plotters sit down and figure out every twist and turn in a long outline before they write a word of prose. Later, they will struggle to bring vitality and life to the story. Pansters are the second species of writers. Pantsers sit down and write by the seat of their pants without an organized plan and stop writing when they get to the end. Later, they will struggle to bring focus to their stories. We are all both types of writers, at different times.

Techniques For Opening The Door.
Journaling is another favorite way to open the door. The rules are simple: Set your alarm for 20 minutes, put pen to paper, and keep it moving until the alarm sounds. Then underline the most important things in the pages. Put down the pen. Journaling is best done at the same time every day, and mornings are great. Handwriting is more effective than typing, so even if you are a speed typist, use the pen. If you don’t know what to write, just write. “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until something else sneaks up on you.

A moment of Transformation
We writers avoid our deepest challenges in real life because we doubt we can overcome them. But our protagonist is fictional, unblocked, free of our own traumas. This is the very point where you must trust your protagonist beyond the extent to which you trust yourself. Trust her. She’s fictional and free from all the other baggage. Trust her to take a leap or see a piece of wisdom or find a special tool that her creator, you, didn’t know she had. This is the meat of writing to happiness. This is the very moment of transformation. All you need to do is to trust that your character will figure it out, though you may spend a week or two stomping around waiting.

How Movies Unfold
Movies adhere fairly strictly to three-act structure. In Act One, we meet our main character and the world in which she lives. We identify the theme and major elements and have everything we need to send our hero on her journey. Then something big happens to throw the protagonist into Act Two.

Act Two spins the character into action, generally with some upward movement until things fall apart into a complete crisis, a pseudo death. In Act Two, the protagonist makes plans for reaching the goal and is progressively challenged until all is lost.

In Act Three, from the ashes of all is lost, the hero faces the ultimate confrontation and resolves it. She is changed by the experience.

Act One is usually one quarter of your total number of pages, words or scenes, whichever applies. Act Two is half of the story, often with a dramatic moment at the midpoint, smack in the middle at the 50% mark. Act Three is, again, a quarter of the length.

Go Write
Build yourself your best environment, put on your special outfit, place the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, pour cups of your favorite beverage, prepare an infinite supply of sharp yellow pencils, fire up the printer, put on your favorite music, dance yourself into a frenzy, become your fullest pantser, and go write. Rite with abandon. Write with frenzy. Write all id, no superego. Lose yourself. Go write. 

Why does expressive writing work?
I think that it helps non-natural writes to construct a story, and as any natural writer knows, constructing a story makes you make sense of the material. The closer expressive writing subjects came to writing a story or a narrative, the more positive were the results.

If you write out what happened to you, you are likely to move toward putting events in a chronological order. And if you have a chronological order, some events will become cause and some will become effect. Things will begin to have a reason for happening.

Maybe other participants in the event will mark their presence known, thus changing the perspective of the writer. Adding another person’s view gives us distance on the event, which has a defusing quality. Over time, as we develop a narrative, we have a comprehensible explanation and, because our brains have limited real estate, we can take the explanation, tuck it away in a nice, efficient place in our memory, and stop ruminating about it. Because it makes sense, it takes up a lot less room in our heads and frees us (and in particular, our brain’s working memory) to either think other thoughts or, best of all, have some free space to just be present in the moment.

Expressive Writing
In the end, expressive writing can produce some miracles and many a smaller change, but the meta-analysis is decidedly mixed. The Pennebaker branch of the writing tree can confuse writing and typing. There are benefits to be gained by sitting down and putting a lot of words on a page, but it isn’t qualitative the same as throwing down a garbage draft and then working the structure to create a well-developed story.

A Happiness Formula?
Happiness became an algorithm A formula. Digitized. Data-farmed. Most of the major factors in your personal happiness are completely out of your individual control. Here are a few facts: Mostly, you’re born with a set point on happiness that isn’t subject to tactical interventions. We can’t choose to be born with a high IQ or a gorgeous face or a rich family. We can’t choose our genes, and we can’t choose where we are born or under what social, political, and familial circumstances. If we could choose, we’d probably choose the wrong things anyway. Most people would choose to be rich or beautiful, neither of which turns out to be useful. We only control a small amount of the territory known as our happiness, so we had better concentrate on the things we can affect. What can we work on to achieve the deeper happiness that we all desire? My personal big four are: Optimism. Attitude. Meaning. Purpose.

Don’t Waste Your Brain Cells
Your brain weight about three pounds and has about 1.1 trillion cells. The most important cells are the neurons. The function of the neurons is to encode or register information and pass it along into a network of neurons in the brain. Neurons transmit information by electrochemical processes over a junction between neurons called a “synapse.” In order for our brains to process all the information we input, we need enormous numbers of neurons to make enormous numbers of different patterns. We each have about a hundred billion neurons. Each neuron makes between 1,000 and 10,000 connections.

The Power Of Reading
Reading is like going to the gym for your brain. Areas of the brain concerned with language go to work, increasing the interactions of neuronal networks in the brain. Reading is learning, and neuroplastic change takes place. We can create more white matter. We exercise and expand our working memory. Unlike hearing or watching a story, while reading, we can stop and process it at our own speed, which lets us keep the elements in our working memory for as long as we want them there. We increase the connectivity in the brain, which means we are improving how different parts of the brain work with each other.

Creatively Rewriting Ourselves
Creative writing is different than almost all our other activities because it adds more areas of the brain to the activity. More of our brain is engaged. More brain with fewer filters means more neuronal engagement, which in turn creates more connectivity, which in turn creates more connectivity, which causes more neuroplasticity, which means we have more learning, which means we have more change. Again, your brain is on fire in a way that is more intense and unique compared to all the other ways you use your brain.

That’s why you can write to happiness. Because writing is that much more intense, active, and involving. While you are writing fiction, you are not just “like” the character before you, you are character. You ponder the choices, make the decision, play out the scenarios, and gain or suffer the consequences. This is so much more than merely simulating some possibilities. This is living the possibilities, and the choices, the changes in perspective, the wisdom, the failures, and the rewards – all in the first person. When we write fiction, we throw Miracle-Gro on transportation theory…We are the character. What that character learns, we learn. Our brains change to include the new knowledge, the new wisdom, the new perspective. We write our way to a better us. And this is why our writing to happiness must follow the rules of good storytelling.

Selected Exerpts