A well-known poem by Linda Ellis, “The Dash,” speaks of this symbol:
“For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.”
We are each, right now, standing somewhere in the middle of our own individual dashes. As Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “We may feel we are at the beginning or end of our lives, but when we look at where we are against the backdrop of eternity . . . we can recognize that we are truly in the middle” (“Always in the Middle,” Ensign, July 2012, 4).
Because it’s human nature to think of our lives in terms of beginnings and endings, the new year gives us the perfect opportunity to make sure we are making the most of that dash, filling in the details of our lives so our loved ones and our posterity are not left wondering what happened in between.
Here’s why: because, in addition to the value of leaving a legacy, great personal and family benefits also arise from personal reflection and journaling.
Personally, you’ll benefit from the practice of reflecting over your life, collecting your thoughts, and making sense of your experiences. The very act of writing things down is therapeutic; it can provide a sense of purpose and control. It may also reveal patterns in your life, increase your gratitude, foster a stronger sense of self, and even make you happier and more successful in your daily life.
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Harvard professor Shawn Achor cites research that shows how “explanatory style—how we choose to explain the nature of past events—has a crucial impact on our happiness and future success. People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary . . . while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see these events as more global and permanent. Their beliefs then directly affect their actions” ([New York: Crown Publishing, 2010], 187–88).
The pen (or keyboard) is in your hands. You get to choose how you interpret and explain the events of your life—both for your own benefit and for the benefit of current and future generations. And not just at some future date. Right now.
A study published in the Journal of Family Life in 2010 (“Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being”) found that teens who knew more stories about their extended family were more resilient in the face of adversity. They showed "higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning” (“Children Benefit if They Know About Their Relatives, Study Finds,” Emory University press release, Mar. 3, 2010).
Citing this research, Bruce Feiler wrote in the New York Times that children with the most self-confidence have what’s called a strong “intergenerational self.” In other words:
“They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”