2 Lessons I’ve Learned about Happiness From Keeping a Journal
Back when I was in school, I used to tease my then-girlfriend for keeping a diary as I thought it was a very silly and childish thing to do.
But fast forward a few years later, lo and behold, I started keeping a diary of sorts myself.
Journaling may not exactly be like keeping a diary, but it’s similar in the sense that both usually involve writing down your thoughts and feelings.
Some of my journals from the past 5-6 years
I was surprised to discover that writing about my thoughts and feelings in a book could actually be an enjoyable experience. And since then, I have often wished I started keeping a journal when I was studying in school.
Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned about happiness from going through my old journals.
Stop trying to control everything
Desires are a natural part of the human experience.
But it’s one thing to desire something and quite another to have an obsessive attachment for life to unfold in a certain way which was the case with me when I go through my past journals.
In retrospect, even when lots of good things happened in my life, I couldn’t fully appreciate these things because they didn’t conform to the idea in my head about what my life should be like or how it's supposed to unfold.
I guess it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I was a control freak when it came to life. I operated under the assumption that if life turned out exactly as I wanted in my head, I could be happy.
But the funny thing is that many times when I did get what I wanted, I wasn’t always happy.
It took me many years before I finally realised that I can’t always accurately predict what will make me happy. I’ve also realised that sometimes the plan life has for me can eventually be far more fulfilling than the one I have in my head, though it can sometimes be unsettling and filled with detours.
These realisations have been liberating because now I understand that it’s completely okay when life doesn’t unfold as I would like it to, and so now it doesn’t bother me like it did in the past.
Moreover, when I read my past journals I can see that many of my desires have changed over time. Many things I once considered very important to my happiness, don’t have much, or any significance in my life right now.
This understanding has helped me to accept and flow with the natural unfolding of life rather than mentally fight and resist it, which was what I used to do for many years.
As the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus puts it,
“Don't seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.”
ALSO READ: A Complete Guide To Journaling
As I examine my life today, many of the things I desperately wished for in my journal years ago have become a reality.
In retrospect, I spent quite a lot of time longing for the fulfilment of these desires and would subconsciously put off my happiness until I fulfilled them.
As humans, we crave instant gratification of our desires. But we all know this is not always possible. Some things require time and a lot of effort, and fulfilling certain desires are even beyond our control.
What I clearly understand in hindsight is that being patient and grateful for what you already have is a more fulfilling approach to life than to put off your happiness until you fulfil certain desires.
A common pattern I can see when I look back on my journals has to do with wanting and desire.
It may not have been evident to me when I first started journaling, but going through my journals now, years later, it's become clear that there is far more to life than being on a tireless chase to fulfil one desire after another.
As author Neale Donald Walsch eloquently puts it “The secret of life is not to have everything you want, but to want everything you have.” Or to put it slightly differently, the secret of happiness is not to have everything you want, but want everything you have.
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