In December of 1926, distinguished British psychoanalyst Marion Milner embarked upon a journey to discover what it was in life that made her truly happy. To begin, she started a diary in which she was to regularly make note of the things that brought her joy each day, as well as the things that did the very opposite—a process she would later call “preliminary mental account-keeping”— but in doing so Milner realised that the process couldn’t possibly be so simple, and before long, alongside the lists of likes and dislikes, there were also entries containing philosophical questions and in-depth theories about life. The diary continued for seven years, and this is just one entry from January of 1927. Milner’s search for happiness evolved to become A Life of One’s Own, a pioneering book published in 1934 under the pseudonym, Joanna Field.
The Diary Entry
28th. This diary is to discover where one can put one’s faith, as shown by experience. Also where one does put one’s faith. One can’t put it in the physical forces of nature—drowning or falling or burning—one’s death may be sheer accident. Some people believe there’s no such thing and that God wills a ship to sink or a thunderstorm.
Can one put it in the voice of the herd, tradition, accepted codes?
Can one put it in any body of doctrines expounded by men? e.g., Church teaching?
Can one put it in one’s own reasoning power or logic?
Can one put it in desire, all passionate desire?
Can one put it in satisfaction, sense of reality?
Then what is to be the criterion of the success of your faith?
Happiness, satisfaction, feeling of worthwhileness?
But I think happiness is like effect on an audience (when acting), if you think of it all the time you will not get it, you must get lost in the part, lost in your purposes and let the effect be the criterion of your success.
Can you guide your wants by each of these in turn and see which brings happiness?
Snags: there are too many variables and probably you must live by them all in various degrees.
I think particular is safer than general, guessing where a particular woman bought her hat and writing down a particular daydream is more useful than the above attempted logical analysis.
A selection of Marion Milner’s diary entries can be found in A Life of One’s Own, an insightful book which is essentially the result and record of those seven years of introspection. First published in 1934, it has since been reissued a number of times, most recently in 2011.
From: A Life of One’s Own, Marion Milner (Joanna Field), © Marion Milner 1981. Reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Group through PLSclear.