So I was already keeping a journal for quite some time at this point.
What made me continue and evolve it to what it is today is a certain phase of my young adulthood.
Working for a big marine contractor has great benefits: the projects are great, you get to see the world a bit, it certainly never is boring and the rewards are not bad.
But to me, some of these benefits turned into something terrible when I was exposed to a bad combination of them all. That period of my life is what made me really focused on pursuing personal happiness. Life is not about money, career growth, achievements or anything like that at all. The main focus of life should always be happiness.
I was sent to a country in the Persian Gulf to be a part of a project (spoiler alert: the construction of a huge oil refinery). It was a pretty exciting time for me. I had never been to the Middle East, and working on such a massive project was entirely new to me. I was extremely motivated to be a respected, well-oiled cog in the machine. I wanted to be challenged!
Things started alright, but it didn’t take long before I felt the most miserable I ever felt.
What influenced the state of misery I was in:
- I worked at least 6 days a week for at least 12 hours a day. No matter how much you like your work, doing it for 12 hours straight – day in-day out – will drag you down.
- I lost all social aspects of life. I was put in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend, and pretty soon things started going south within that department.
- I lost all my hobbies. I was unable to do any of the things that made me a happy person. No music, no running (*), no friends to hang out with and no video games to take my mind of the daily rat race.
* I went running once… I’ll never forget being chased by wild dogs twice, while screaming like a little boy
Look, I do want to point out that I can handle challenges quite well. I always continued to do my job, and my reviews were always good. This page is certainly not meant to be some kind of wallow-in-self-pity blog post. I do want to stress, however, just exactly how unhappy I was during this period.
One of the worst days I ever tracked was during this time. It was exactly that day that made me completely focussed on tracking my happiness.
I was absolutely miserable. I momentarily lost connection to the parts of me which I liked. My humor was gone, I lost my motivation, I ran away from challenges and was socially invisible.
The thing with challenging and defining moments in your life is: the moment they are in the past, you start to romanticise them. “It wasn’t so bad”, “The work was still very cool and exciting”, “Being in such a different country is still pretty bad-ass”.
It’s sort of like going to a theme park as a kid. Even though you literally spend hours waiting for your turn on a ride – being bored as hell – the minute it’s over, you can only remember the sweet 60 second ride. But what about the endless waiting and boredom? Yeah, nah, it was great! “When do we go again?”
You forget the nasty parts of an experience pretty quickly. Knowing that I was certainly going to romanticise this period, I decided to focus my journal on exactly what made me so unhappy. I made the following changes to my journal, which are still the fundamentals of what I consider to be tracking happiness:
- I started to focus on rating my days on a happiness scale from 1 (miserable) to 10 (very happy).
- I started to specifically state the factors in life which made me happy or unhappy. You could think of these aspects as labels: I was labelling my days.
- I started doing this at the end of every day.
To this day, I am still rating and labelling my days on a daily basis. You can probably see how this has given me a ton of data to help me find exactly what brings me happiness. If not, please head over to my ‘Happiness through…‘ post series.
By the way, that first miserable day where I started to really track my happiness was February 9, 2015. On a scale of 1 to 10, I rated that day a 3. Yup, I was really, really miserable.
But at least now I know exactly what I need to avoid if I don’t ever want to be that miserable again.