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The Joy of Personal Growth

Openness, balance, engagement, and determination.

Key points

  • Always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn about yourself.
  • Joy can emerge from experiencing personal growth and learning about yourself.
  • People able to grow and develop are more creative in their approach to life and its obstacles.
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Many psychologists have speculated on what it means to live a good life. Studies have proposed different ways of measuring happiness and well-being. Some focus on enjoyment and pleasure, while others are centered on meaning and purpose, relationships and belonging, a combination of these, or some other concepts. There is no one agreed-upon definition of what it means to be happy.

Does that mean that each person should decide for themselves what it takes to lead a good life?

I agree that each person should have that freedom. Yet at the same time, I would argue that there is a deeper similarity that emerges across people when they are more fully developed emotionally and personally which is often overlooked: the joy and wonderment that emerges from experiencing personal growth and learning.

This is something one often sees in therapy clients as people get to know themselves better. They come to understand the tricks of self-deception they have been playing on themselves and become comfortable acknowledging their strengths and failures. They begin to take an active interest in learning about themselves. They become more content with who they are while also striving to be more than they are. They are curious about themselves and the new possibilities ahead. They take joy in learning about themselves.

This is something that has become ever more important to me, and that I now see as one of the most fundamental aspects of "the good life." It is a process that is common in all truly happy people. It is also unique: In many of the "typical" ways of thinking about the good life, we see ourselves as passive receivers of happiness, but this is much more active and about the effort we put in.

By developing ourselves in this way, we become someone who can treat events in our lives as learning opportunities. Such people do not feel that they are in competition with others and always must try to prove themselves. When they meet new people, they are interested in them and what they have to say, and do not feel the need to score points or try to be cleverer than others; instead, they're open to learning from them.

These are not simply people who are adjusted to their culture, but who are able to live within it, often harmoniously. But they do not conform. They will seek to balance their own needs for autonomy in a socially constructive way that takes into consideration the needs of others. Such people will be more determined to do their own thing, whatever it is that is right for them, but not in a way that tramples over others. And they will not bend easily to others who want to trample over them.

Such people are also more creative, in the sense of how they approach life. They can see new patterns and different options for navigating obstacles. They drop their defences, become more able to think about whatever is troubling them, and look at things from new perspectives.

This is an active process, one that requires engagement, commitment to development, and a willingness to be challenged by confrontations with reality. To be truly honest with ourselves means letting go of the stories we tell ourselves—the comforting narratives that bolster our self-esteem—and diving deep into the choppy waters of self-knowledge.

That can be the hardest part. Before we experience the joys of personal growth, we often must overcome the fear of it. But once that process has started—we have made the commitment to ourselves, decided that reality is better than fiction, and begun to experience true personal growth—it is hard to turn back. Personal growth means leaving ourselves behind to find ourselves.

Ask yourself: Does any of that sound familiar? Have you taken delight in learning something about yourself that showed you that you had been previously deceiving yourself, wrong in your views, or misguided in your opinions? Have you experienced the joy of personal growth? Always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn about yourself.

This is an adapted extract from my new book Think Like a Therapist: Six Life-Changing Insights for Leading a Good Life.

Facebook image: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock


Joseph, S. (2002). Think Like a Therapist: Six Life-Changing Insights for Leading a Good Life. Piatkus/Little, Brown. London.

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