The thing I have heard the most during the years I have been counseling clients is, “I want to be happy.” I have heard that refrain even more than I have heard, “I want to find my soul mate.” Even when people are tired of living alone, they want to be happy more than they want to find a partner.
I came across a quote by an unknown author who said, “When I was in grade school, they told me to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down happy. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, I told them they didn’t understand life.”
People speak of happiness as if it’s something tangible that they can reach out and grab like the brass ring on the merry-go-round. They even speak of it as if it is something that can be pursued like a business plan for an entrepreneurial enterprise.
What most people don’t understand is that happiness is an outgrowth of something; it doesn’t stand alone and it can’t be captured like a citadel. It usually comes to someone who is engaged in doing something that he is enjoying without actively pursuing enjoyment or happiness.
Happiness is that elusive feeling that sneaks up on you and warms you from the inside out. It can’t even be defined but it often accompanies a feeling of euphoria for no apparent reason. You can find yourself smiling and not even be aware that you are doing it.
Many people think they have to reach a certain goal in order to be happy. Their thoughts are often, “When I’m old enough to vote, I’ll be able to . . .” “After I graduate, I’ll be able to . . .” “As soon as I get my first paycheck, I’ll . . .” “When I get married and have children, I’ll . . .”
It is always something beyond their grasp. What they don’t realize is that true happiness is derived from appreciating what you have. It’s the ability to live in the present and enjoy as many moments as you can.
I think Dale Carnegie said it best when he said, “Success is getting what you want . . . Happiness is wanting what you get.”
The future hasn’t happened yet so the most you can do is dream about it and plan for it. Your yesterdays are all in the past so all you have are the memories to sustain you. Neither the past memories nor the future’s hopes and dreams can bring you happiness but they can fuel your determination to pursue your objectives.
And maybe we should look at those objectives. When did you form those aspirations? What was going on in your life at that time? Were they your dreams or someone else’s ambitions for you? Did you have dreams of your own and, equally important, can you be happy living someone else’s dream?
Most people, when they are living someone else’s dream for them, feel a sense of responsibility to be successful at it but they don’t feel that elusive quality of happiness. They move through life doing what is expected of them rather than doing what makes them happy.
My mother used to tell me that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. She was right. I find pleasure in little things. Give me my books and my music and I’m a happy camper. I don’t need gobs of money and I’m not forever coveting things I don’t have or envying others for what they do have.
But there are some things that I must have. I must have a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment. I must feel that I am making a difference in the lives of others. They don’t have to like me but they do have to benefit from my commitment to fixing everyone’s problems.
It’s an occupatiional hazard. When I start talking to someone and they are telling me their problems . . . about anything . . . my mind is already zeroing in on the solution. I usually don’t voice these problem-solving thoughts but they still persist. I’m at my happiest when I can help someone find happiness. I’m even happy when someone else can help them find happiness.
I’m also happy when I accomplish a task that I didn’t think I could accomplish, especially when it’s not in my field and I have no frame of reference. It gives me such a bone-deep sense of gratitude that I was able to overcome an obstacle, meet a challenge, stretch my capabilities, that I walk around with a huge smile on my face.
I guess my mother was right. It doesn’t take much to make me happy. But for me to reach the zenith of happiness, I would like to try to teach everyone how they can be happy. I’d like to teach them to enjoy what they have to the fullest and not look for things that are unrealistically beyond their reach.
While I agree with the poet, Robert Browning, that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, I think the most difficult and frustrating thing a person can do to himself is to keep trying to grasp things that are unrealistically beyond his reach.
If a person has an IQ of 120, he can use all of it, some of it, or none of it, but he cannot expect to expand it to 185. That would be unrealistic, and yet, that kind of unrealistic goal is exactly what I see other people pursuing.
People are forever wanting MORE but they can’t even define what MORE means to them. They keep thinking that more will make them happy but they find that even when they get more, they are still not happy so they think they need still more.
I have a very simple philosophy of life. Find something that gives meaning to your life, that you feel passionate about, and that you derive great joy from doing, and you will discover that you’re holding the key to happiness.