A Diary Can Reveal the Meaning of your Life. No Kidding! -Why Not Give It a Try?

This article is my own work. However, ‘the very idea’ would not have come about without discussions with Pamela Combastet. These concern the course, which she runs, from time to time, on diary writing in Auzon, France (where we met). I hope Pamela will see her way to including some of her own diary material on this site. However, she is a very busy women, so I am not holding my breath. PS I am signed up for the next course…..

Here are two pages from my own diary. The photo is not too clear, so I will explain in some detail later, what the diary records. Enough detail, such that using the photo as a ‘sketch’, the reader will be able to follow how a diary can reveal the meaning of one’s life. The reason is, that everybody’s life has a meaning. But it is often only implicit in what they do, that is, how they live their life. The diary helps make the meaning explicit and also clear – even to the person actually living the life. However, as usual, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Left Page

Left Top – Month – January Year – 2024

– Date and Day – 22 Monday

Left Column

152.8 (weight) -.02 (change)

96.1 (am temperature)

3 (units of alcohol)

(2) (target units of alcohol)

Centre Column

Tennis (cancelled)

4pm meet? (online)

8pm Call X

Right Column

1w, 1w (1 hrs walk)

Right Page

Left Top Year 2024 Month – January

Left Column

151.8 (weight) -.02 (change)

96.0 (am temperature)

16 (units of alcohol)

(10) (target units of alcohol)

Notes Totals of categories

C – Cycle 9hrs

T – Tennis/Badminton 0hrs

Walk – 5 hrs

Other – 0 hrs

G – Garden/Indoor Gym 0 hrs

Alc – Alcohol Actual 24 units, excess 11 units

PAFS – Permanent Atrial Fibrillations 168hrs

SM – Silent Migraine Episodes 0

Centre Column

Tennis (cancelled)

Xray results

4pm Meet (online)

B dinner 7pm

Right Column

3c, (3hrs cycle)

D B-day visit cemetery

So, what do these diary entries reveal about the meaning of my life?

  1. Good Health means a lot to me. This is shown by the concerns for my weight, my temperature and my alcohol consumption. Being overweight and excessive alcohol intake are known health hazards. A high temperature suggests the possibility of some illness, for example, ‘flu. The atrial fibrillation measure reflects its permanence, a sign of bad health. I also measure my blood pressure on a daily basis. However, it is recorded in a notebook, rather than in the diary. The latter provides a suitable summary format for informing others, for example, my GP.
  2. Fitness means a lot to me. This is shown by the concerns for the amount and type of exercise I take. Brisk walking, garden/indoor gym and cycling of any sort are good for aerobic and muscle flexibility fitness. Fitness also contributes to Good Health.
  3. Sport means a lot to me. This is shown by the concerns for the amount and type of sport engage in. The diary includes cycling, but I also engage in tennis (3 times a week) and in badminton (once a week).
  4. Getting-Things-Right more generally means a lot to me. This is indicated both by the measures and their recording. Also, the use of both to guide my future behaviour.

The last meaning is more abstract than the first thee meanings. It is important, because it illustrates how a diary can reveal all types of meaning.

Frequently Asked Questions

These questions expand on the above, with a view to helping readers start their own diaries to be fit for their own individual purposes. The replies include hints and tips on diary keeping with this end in mind.

  1. What is a diary?

A diary is a record of entries that describe a person’s life over a period of time. This is typically day by day. In a diary a person can be truthful by noting thoughts and reflections, associated with things that have happened to tem. A diary can be free from the judgement and criticism of others.

2. What is the purpose of a diary?

A diary is a way of organising a person’s thoughts. Also, making them more understandable and accessible. Both to ourselves and, if we so decide, to others. A diary can be used to record daily events. Also, to express thoughts and feelings about specific experiences. Last, to share personal opinions.

3. What sorts of commercial diaries are available?

All sorts imaginable – large/small, cheap/expensive, 1 week 1-7 pages, each day 7-28 lines and so on? Have a look at the diaries in your local stationary shop or online, to get an idea of what is available.

4. What sort of diary should I use/start with?

It all depends on the amount you are likely to write each day. Of course, to start with, you do not know this…… One way of starting, then, is to use a notebook instead of a diary. Add comments, when you feel like it and at the length you desire. Add the date for each comment. After a month or so, you will begin to get an idea of the frequency and the length of your notebook entries. Once you feel comfortable with the idea buy a diary, which suits your requirement. Transfer the entries from the notebook to the diary.

5. Can I use a notebook instead of a commercial diary?

If it suits your purpose (see 4.), then of course. Better to add the date of each entry though, to ensure the time context. You never know when it might come in handy.

6. Should I share my diary with others?

This has two senses. You can share the making of a diary with one or more others of your choice and if you so choose. It is up to you and the other people. Like any joint enterprise, however, it is probably wise to get some agreement between participants, before you start. For example, some diaries end up being published. In such cases, participants would be sensible to apprise themselves of the intentions of others on this matter and others too.

The second sense of diary-sharing is not the diary’s production but its circulation and communication. Again, this is up to you. However, it would still be wise to have some agreement/understanding with others as to the confidential nature of the information.

7. What are the most famous published diaries?

It all depends on one’s taste and preferences. However, the following are often included.

  • ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank. …
  • ‘Journals of Sylvia Plath’ by Sylvia Plath. …
  • ‘Reagan Diaries’ by Ronald Reagan. …
  • ‘Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman’ by Sarah Morgan Dawson. …
  • ‘Diary of Virginia Woolf’ by Virginia Woolf.

8. Can diaries reveal the more ethereal/spiritual/religious aspects of the meaning of people’s life?

Of course. But it all depends on the nature of the diary entries. This is well illustrated by the example diary, referenced earlier. Had the diary entries included – good health of the soul, instead of good health of the body; spiritual fitness, instead of physical fitness; yoga instead of sport, and being happy, instead of getting-it-right, one would expect the revealed meaning of the described life to be different.