One of the most influential books in my life is Marion Milner’s A Life of One’s Own1. Milner was a British Psychoanalyst. She lived from February 1, 1900 (we share a birthday) to May 29, 1998. When Milner was 27 years old, she began keeping a record of “what kinds of experience” made her happy. Seven years later, Milner published her findings and described her method:
(a) “To pick out those moments in my daily life which had been particularly happy and try to record them in words.”
(b) “To go over these records in order to see whether I could discover any rules about the condition in which happiness occurred.”
Regarding her enterprise she said, “The need for such a method in these days is obvious, a method for discovering one’s true likes and dislikes, for finding and setting up a standard of values that is truly one’s own and not a borrowed mass-produced ideal.” I’m guessing, if this was true in the years 1926-1934, it may be truer today as we’re bombarded with ideas about how we should live and how we should think. Do we know what we like? Do we know what we think? Do we know what makes us happy? Or have we embraced some sort of “mass-produced ideal” and simply absorbed what others believe we should think.
Milner did not write a book about how to be happy. Instead, she presents a methodology in which we can discover what makes us happy and to find our own life. She moves the emphasis from the common self-help approach of “you must do this” and asks the better question “what happens if you do this?” — and then became attentive to the results. You become an observer of your own life and gather raw data from your “lived” experience and your senses verses the conscious or unconscious acceptance of the way everyone around you thinks or lives.
Her approach is certainly not a rejection of learning from others, but a way to make our own thoughts and feelings part of the learning process verses the quick run to a book or the expert. We can think too!2
Her starting point was observing and recording.3 What do I think? How do I feel? What do I like? What do I dislike? What causes me anxiety? What preoccupies me? What brings me happiness? What do I want? The objective is to gain a better understanding of who we are, what values are important to us, what do we believe, and what is our opinion instead of borrowing these values from everyone else. It’s important to have “A Life of One’s Own”.
1 A Life of Ones Own. Marion Milner (Joanna Field). First published 1934. The Estate of Marion Milner. 2011 – Routledge. Series Editor: Emma Letley. All quotations is this post are from this book.
2Obviously Milner was not promoting a lack of learning or study as she was extremely well-educated with a thriving career as a psychoanalyst.
3 This is not a quick process: Milner’s effort took seven years, several hundred pages to summarize, and along the way – involved “doubts, delays, and expeditions of false trails”.