Sophomore year of college (2012-2013) was one of my life’s incredibly difficult years. When first year ended, I visited family in Karachi happy and proud of my grades and new, amazing friendships. That summer two traumatizing incidents happened, but I didn’t get the space or support to address my emotions. I remained caught up at my internship and with family time.
When I returned to campus to start Sophomore year, I was hoping to forget bad memories of the summer and make better ones. However, as it happens with most people in Sophomore year, I too lost my close friends that I had made in first year. I tried to fix my friendships, but there was only so much I could do while still being traumatized from the summer.
So, I directed all my energy to student jobs and studies. I was working as a technology consultant and language tutor on campus while serving as a section editor for the college newspaper and elected secretary for my class. On top of that, I decided to take five instead of the normal work load of four courses per semester.
I began avoiding events where I’d meet my old friends, and generally steered clear of socializing unless it pertained to my coursework, campus jobs, or extracurricular activities. Everyday, I was on auto-pilot running from one class to another, rushing to the newspaper meeting after the class board meeting, pulling all-nighters to finish an unbelievable amount of coursework after my work shift at the library ended at 2AM. I had no time to understand how I felt or what I needed to heal.
Then came the final blow that dismantled me like a house of cards: my boyfriend was cheating on me.
Here was my first heartbreak (also, thankfully the last), and it couldn’t have come at a worst time. I began to blame myself for what happened over the summer, lost friendships, and lost love. I also had piled up so much work on my plate that there was no time to process emotions; my grades also suffered, and one day I collapsed.
I still remember my classmate T–now my best friend–screaming at me because I would not leave my room and I wouldn’t talk to anyone. Thankfully, T lived in the same dorm and she regularly dropped by my room, where I would be lying listless and refusing to socialize. Each day that I pushed her away, T relentlessly returned the next day with more compassion than before.
A–my other best friend now–joined T, and so did R–a friend I made through my old blog. Together, these three women were determined to get me back on track. And they were joined by an old close friend of mine, now the love of my life, my husband Noor.
It was Valentine’s Day in 2013 and my heartbreak was fresh. T and A ordered in Chinese food and asked me to come over. We had a lovely dinner and we danced away the night to Bollywood tunes. At the end of our rendezvous, T and A gave me a Valentine’s gift I wasn’t expecting.
What seemed like a book was actually a journal: The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal: A Five-Year Record by Gretchen Rubin. A journal that would increase my happiness in the coming weeks and months.
In the last five and a half years of using this journal, I have increased my gratitude and self-awareness. I notice the people and activities that are regulars in my journal entries. It first happened when at the end of Sophomore year, I became close to G, who served on the class board with me. At the time, I wasn’t looking to foster friendships–in fact, the opposite, I wanted to be left alone.
But G introduced me to running and P90X (Power 90 Extreme) workouts, and soon my gym dates with G became a regular entry in my happiness journal. Those entries helped me become aware of the positive influence of G and running on my life. I understood that I couldn’t avoid friendships, especially not the ones that made me happier than I was the day before.
My journal entries have also led to some crucial decisions in life, like that of dating Noor. We had been friends since 2008 and I didn’t want to risk our friendship by dating him–what if it doesn’t work out? But I simply couldn’t turn blind to an increasing number of entries about how he made me happy or grateful everyday. If I could write about him everyday because of how unbelievably happy he makes me, I could surely trust our friendship to survive a bad decision–if it came to that. I took the plunge and never regretted.
Just like the journal helps me recognize a pattern in my happiness, it also helps me recognize visible gaps. When more than a few days pass by and I don’t have gratitude or happiness to write about in my journal, I reflect over my daily plans and relationships to wonder why they are no longer bringing joy.
After moving to Amsterdam, I was stuck in an uninspiring work environment. It didn’t match my ambitions and made me exhausted, but the day to day hustle blocked my self-awareness. Seeing the empty pages in my journal, however, opened my eyes to how unhappy I had been at the job I was doing. I would have had this realization at some point, but having the journal helped me realize the problem and act on it much more timely than otherwise.
I had never thought that writing one line about my day’s happiness and gratitude could be as life changing as it has been. When T and A gifted me this journal, I was unfamiliar with terms like “self-love,” “self-care,” and “gratitude journaling.” I was at rock bottom and I didn’t know that this journal, among other things, would pull me up.
Years later, I can see how those journal entries individually and combined have helped me stay centered, appreciate the people who love me, maintain positivity, and remove myself from toxic relationships and environments. There are periods of time when I forget about my journal, but I always come back to it to find my center and happiness.
It’s been nerve-wrecking to write this personal post and share it online. I second-guessed myself multiple times, but if my story can inspire anyone currently struggling to start a gratitude journal and find light, I would consider my nerves and fear worth it.
Have the best weekend, lovelies. xx
The journal I use can be found here.