Note: I had started on writing a book a while back, but had not prioritized completing it for the longest time. After much deliberation and soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that now is the best time to accomplish this. I expect this book to be completed and published by the middle of next year. This is the introduction to the book:
I remember being depressed when I was 20 years old. Like many others at that age, romantic relationships formed a big part of my life experience. Upon a traumatic relationship breakdown, I went through months of feeling helpless, hopeless, and incompetent in handling myself. I wasn’t a happy person, and had no clue on how to get out of that deep hole that I was in. As a result, I wasn’t keeping up with my studies, suffered with my health, and neglected the existing relationships that I have in my life. I was merely surviving, barely scraping through the day just to live another day. It was a mess.
At this moment of writing, I am filled with an odd feeling of gratitude. Things are different now. In the past decade, I have been investing a lot into figuring out myself. More importantly, I have been learning the tools necessary for me to have a happy and joyful life. I now remember that event as the beginning of a long journey towards personal development. I’m happy to see a significant progress towards being empowered to make the necessary changes in my life, to live according to my values, to have a clearer sense of purpose, and to develop meaningful relationships and career. It has been a fulfilling journey thus far.
Being happy and fulfilled is one of the most important and sought after experiences in life. It is the foundation to the “why” in our actions. It is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It fills you with passion for experiencing life. There isn’t a reasonable person who would want to perform a routine without believing (which may be different from the outcome) that it will provide them with happiness, or at the very least, some relief. In an ideal world, every person deserves to be happy.
However, reality tells a very different story. In 2014, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that about 1 in 5 adults experienced a mental disorder in the United States during that one year duration itself.1 In Malaysia (where I am from), the figure for “mental health problems” rose from 10.7% in 1996 to a shocking 29.2% in 2015!2 That is 1 out of 3 persons in my country experiencing some kind of mental health concern, commonly depression and anxiety.
That is indeed a very worrying number.
That same concern applies to the way we work. For the most part of the urban population, we will be spending at least 1/3 of our lives doing work (measured in hours of the day or years in our lifetime). Considering how much valuable time we are investing into this portion of our lives, I’d think that it is vitally important that work is done in a way that fulfills us. But, the percentage of employed working-age adults across 155 countries who are engaged – meaning they are enthusiastic and very involved in their work – stands at only 15%3.
These numbers show that a significant amount of people in the world are living a life that is unfulfilling, unproductive, and unhappy. Why is this so?
That is the same question that I have been asking myself in the past decade. What started as an inquiry for my personal development also then grew to become a subject for academic understanding and career path.
Studying psychology as a subject matter and completing my undergraduate and postgraduate thesis in studies of happiness, sitting through hundreds of hours of therapy with individuals from all walks of life, and facilitating groups for personal development gave me insight into what people really needed in their lives to become the best versions of themselves. The crux of the matter is this: to live a fulfilling, productive, and happy life, what is needed most are skills to navigate through the seasons and challenges that we face.
As a 30-something who had gone through my 20s experiencing challenges faced by young adults for the first time, such as how to manage and grow relationships, finding a purpose in my daily actions and career, and how to regulate my emotions, I can understand how lost and alone it can feel to not receive the kind of support to know what to do in life. When I look around, it seemed like everyone knew what they were doing and what they wanted. But, hours and hours in therapy with clients tells a different story: while it may seem like things are in order, people are actually struggling with getting a grip on themselves. We are desperately looking for the support and guidance to live a fulfilling life, and for the most of us, we fail to find that holy grail.
The reality is, a one-size-fits-all approach to personal development is not possible. There is no magic advice that can be given by a guru which will immediately transform your life. This is because we each have different strengths, aspirations, past experience, and chapters of our unique lives that have yet to be told to the world. What is very possible, however, is to bring awareness of the skills that can be developed and applied in your day-to-day life so that you are able to live a life that is to the best of your abilities. As a result, you’ll find that your individual potential can be realized, and life will be more meaningful, joyful, and fulfilled. That is the purpose of this book.
The material gathered for this book comes from years of experience as a psychologist. You’ll find that the skills highlighted in the book may come from empirically-driven approaches from existential, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral psychology. It also comes from understanding the lived experience of the many clients that I’ve seen throughout my career. Lastly, as someone who is also in your shoes, I hope that my personal experience of living through this part of life can be useful to highlight that just like you, I too go through the same challenges, and that you are not alone.
I hope that you’ll get as much value reading through this book, as much as I did writing it. Let us begin.