“But, perhaps, I keep no journal.”
“Perhaps you are not sitting in this room, and I am not sitting by you. These are points in which a doubt is equally possible. Not keep a journal! How are your absent cousins to understand the tenour of your life in Bath without one? How are the civilities and compliments of every day to be related as they ought to be unless noted down every evening in a journal? How are your various dresses to be remembered, and the particular state of your complexion, and curl of your hair to be described in all their diversities, without having constant recourse to a journal? My dear madam, I am not so ignorant of young ladies’ ways as you wish to believe me…”
Mr Tilney – being generally brilliant – in Northanger Abbey
Unfortunately Mr. Tilney’s witticisms really aren’t that relevant to what I wanted to write about, however during (yet another) re-read of my favourite Austen novel, I was struck by the idea of journaling, and what it reveals about our society / our lives as twenty-somethings. Unlike Jane Austen’s heroines, my journal does not contain records of the curl of my hair, or the various compliments paid to me in a ballroom (more’s the pity). Like most of my friends, it is more usually a chronicle of day to day anxieties with a hefty sprinkling of existential crises thrown in for good measure. Welcome friends, to the quarter-life crisis!
Coming home to Australia after two hugely challenging, utterly brilliant, years of travel and living in London, I indulged in a few tears and a longer-than-usual emotional outpouring in my journal. Leaving so many amazing friends and my fantastic church community over there has been really, really hard. So try as I might, those horrible questions of “what am I here for?” and “what will make me happy?” begin to surface. And I know that all my friends: guys and girls, unemployed or totally killing it at their job in a law firm struggle with the same questions.
Re-reading that journal entry as I was dealing (I’ll admit, poorly) with the idea of leaving London, I notice my tendency to veer towards despondency and self-pity – and I am kind of horrified by it. I am super aware that, in spite of my current state of unemployment, I have less right that almost anyone to be discontent. I was born into one of the most privileged societies and generations in the history of this earth: We are better educated, in better health, better traveled, more connected than our ancestors – but are we any better or happier? On the contrary, the sheer amount of self-pity, boredom, and sense of meaninglessness we find in the journals of our generation is, arguably, unprecedented.
Something is not adding up. So I stop myself from asking “what is life?” or “what will make me happy?” in my journal and start to examine where exactly I am actually looking to find happiness or contentment – This is the kind of deep/dark place too much free time leads you too – I give you fair warning! But if we don’t stop and answer these questions now in our twenties, when will we? Mostly I think we just busy ourselves with adult life and try to ignore those great, big looming questions, which we just occasionally let spill out when we’re getting maudlin with friends over a glass of red wine!
Timothy Keller shares this thought in one of his sermons and, while it’s not exactly popular thinking, I think there is something worth considering in it. “Happiness can never be found directly, it is always the by-product of seeking something more than happiness”. We might not call it that, in fact, I’m far more likely to write that I’m looking for “financial security” or “a great relationship” or even “spiritual fulfillment” – but in the end, I’m looking for what I think will make me happy or content.
Now when my journal starts to veer into a chronicle of worries about my need for “a stable job”, “income”, “friendships” or whatever I’m freaking out about that day, I try to stop and re-focus. Are these all good, even great things? Yes. Should be looking for, being intentional in seeking them in my life? Yes. But should I look to any of these things to bring me lasting joy or contentment? I think perhaps not. Have our parent’s financial security or celebrities success in their field ever brought them genuine happiness? I dislike being that despondent, self-pitying twenty-something in my own journal, in fact, I won’t stand for it. So in spite of circumstances, I want to step away from the ‘discontentment diary’ and choose joy and thankfulness instead. Easier said than done I realise. We’ll see what the next few months of journal entries end up looking like!