A Life of One’s Own: Part 3
In my two previous posts, I’ve noted 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 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. This series of blog posts highlights some of key aspects of this remarkable book. This specific post focuses on recognizing obstacles to happiness.
The Misery Cycle
Early in her endeavor, Milner says, “It was gradually dawning on me that my life was not as I would like it and that it might be in my power to make it different.”
Milner said one of the indicators her life wasn’t where she wanted it to be was she “lived with the general feeling that all would work out for the best, but this would be broken by occasional outbursts of misery in which I felt quite definitely that everything was hateful.” She noted, “These moments never lasted very long. Usually after a night’s rest I would be back again in my vague optimism, never considering that my life was my own to live, that if I did not manage it as I wanted it no one else would.”
We can find ourselves in this misery cycle: (1) Everything is fine. (2) An episode of misery (and blaming others) indicating everything is not fine. (3) Followed by everything is fine again. But nothing has changed. We go back to our routines until the next flare-up of misery. We keep running this cycle without grasping as Milner ultimately did: “my life was my own to live, that if I did not manage it as I wanted it no one else would.” This is the point of so much psychology: In order to find happiness and A Life of One’s Own, we have to take responsibility for our own lives and no one can do this for us.
Three Obstacles to Happiness
Milner began to realize “that something was the matter” and having “the feeling of being cut off from other people, separate, shut away from whatever might be real in living.” She notes three indicators of anxiety and obstacles to happiness:
- Being dependent on other people’s opinion’s of us: “I was so dependent on other people’s opinion of me that I lived in constant dread of offending, and if it occurred to me that something I had done was not approved of I was full of uneasiness until I had put it right.”
- Not living in the present moment: “I always seemed to be looking for something, always a little distracted because there was something more important to be attended to just ahead of the moment.”
- Self-consciousness and self-doubt: “Whatever I did I seemed never able to forget myself. There was an ever-present doubt, ‘Am I doing this all right?’. . I was not one of the people who could say, ‘Of course I don’t know anything about so-and-so, but I do know what I like. I never did know.”
Milner said the first stage in discovering A Life of One’s Own and what made her happy was recognizing “life was not as I would like it and that it might be in my power to make it different.” We can begin to do this by simply observing our misery cycles and the relational anxiety that keeps from living in the present.
Then she says, “In the second stage I set about trying to find what were the facts about it, as a preliminary to discovering how to make it different.” This was done by recording preoccupations, happiness, likes, dislikes, wants, etc. I wrote in more detail about this in my first post in this series.
Stillness. Observe. Record. Too often, we’re so busy trying to fix things that we’re not even aware of what’s happening in our life.
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.