The secrets of happiness are open to all. Yet we don’t always practice them. Even if we do, a happy life isn’t guaranteed. But wisdom offers help. If we engage with it, we’re likely to flourish and taste delight.
Everyone wants to be happy. Though not all agree what happiness is. According to one song, it’s a gift I possess through embracing life’s wonders. In another, it’s a butterfly that escapes when I try to catch it. Happiness is the urge to smile or appreciation that my life’s going well. For the Book of Proverbs, those who find wisdom are happy.
Secret 1: Relish Simple Pleasures
We all have different tastes. What makes me happy may not do the same for you. I like macaroni cheese; you may prefer a vindaloo. Yet taking time to savour a favourite food, gives a sense of well-being.
My pleasures include learning through reading, TV costume dramas, and walking with our grandchildren. Many relish exercise, valuing it for its own sake. I don’t, though I feel happier once it’s over. Ideally, I’d maintain a balance between what I like and what’s good for me. Activities which benefit my physical or mental health don’t always make me happy in the moment but they bring a more deep-rooted happiness.
Beauty in nature gives joy. When work is demanding, my best holidays include wide open spaces, swimming in the sea, and discovering secrets of plant and animal life. Art and music, a child’s smile or a close friendship also enchant. Treasuring such things refreshes me.
Some pleasures become absorbing. We lose ourselves in books or video games. We may enjoy an activity so much it becomes a passion. That’s often great. But am I investing more in a pleasure than is good for my life and relationships? It’s a question I need to ask occasionally.
Pleasures don’t always lead to happiness. We can turn ourselves into their slaves. Or allow them to distract us from showing justice or wisdom. And it’s possible to become so sated with pleasures, nothing satisfies. One thing’s for sure, pleasure isn’t the only secret of a happy life.
Secret 2: Make Friends with Yourself
Day after day I live with myself. For a happy life, I need to get on with this person. We’ll face stress together, enjoy chatting and maybe fall out occasionally. So, to like who I am, I need to understand my way of feeling and thinking. Knowing I respond to others in fair and kind ways matters too.
Learning to know ourselves is a lifetime’s journey, but taking personal development seriously gets us a long way. If we’re struggling with our identity, wishing we were like people we admire holds us back. Working out who we are brings contentment.
Self-understanding helps us choose goals that match our personality and situation. Making choices that fit our personality moves us closer to a happy life. So, we need to create space for reflection. Certainly, there are dangers in introspection. We can become self-centred or focus too much on negative events. But learning what drives and limits us strengthens our relationships with ourselves and society.
Reaching a balanced view of our qualities helps us make friends with ourselves. It also brings modesty, though we may be ambitious too. Inherited strengths and natural abilities are gifts we can develop but not create. Thus, we’ll cultivate gratitude for who we are and what we have. Humility and thankfulness increase happiness.
Secret 3: Nurture Outgoing Love
Within the law, I’m free to do what I want. Yet doing so can shorten happiness. If my smoky barbecues and loud music annoy my neighbours, they may shout at me or refuse help when I need it. Enjoying myself without considering the needs and desires of others, can backfire. Doing right by them as well as myself is one of several secrets of happiness. I need to exercise self-control.
Everyone needs help and support, whether from family or a dentist. Forming positive connections makes life happier. We like it when others smile or show appreciation. And if they don’t, reaching out with kindness, patience and gentleness brings its own joys.
Certainly, we may experience hurts and even rejection. If we do, we need to resist the temptation to become wrapped up in ourselves. We may retreat briefly, but love moves us outwards again. It’s trusting nature makes us vulnerable but also shows us the path to life.
Expressing love does us good. Yet true love has no ulterior motive. Being friendly and kind to gain a reward, destroys trust. If we expect others to make us happy, as if they exist for our pleasure, they’ll soon earth us in reality. Yet when I and another value each other for who we are happiness is often a spin-off.
Of course, we’re all different. Some find energy through socialising while others feel awkward in large gatherings. Yet everyone can listen and show kindness. Like my parents, I’m quite reserved but I enjoy getting to know people. Indeed, my relationships usually give me joy.
Secret 4: Adopt Goals that Promise Fulfilment
We want a happy life, but a sense of purpose matters more than happiness. Giving energy and skills to something larger than the self brings satisfaction. Some fulfil their potential in a job. Others find meaning in their relationships or through joining an action group.
Meaningful activity improves relationships and helps us feel positive about ourselves. On the other hand, responsibility brings stress and anxiety. We may argue with a colleague or feel misunderstood by a line manager. Some days everything seems to go wrong. Yet expressing who we are through helping others or a cause, contributes to our happiness overall.
In my teens, I felt the greatest purpose in life was to serve God, sharing his love. I became a Christian minister, though many who feel as I do pursue other callings. Much of my work was mundane: moving chairs, filing papers, even rodding drains. The poet George Herbert got there before me. For him, leaden chores like ironing shirts turn to gold when done for love of God and others. With this in mind, basic tasks connect to a larger purpose. Many embrace that as one of their secrets of happiness.
Secret 5: Seek Joy in the Divine
Encountering happiness through work, money and relationships is enough for many. Yet much we enjoy can quickly unravel. Many find a sense of security through faith in a God of love. Caught up in the purpose implied by God’s love, they discover joy. And that joy’s roots grow deeper through believing they’ll always know life with God.
In my teens, I sensed God reaching out to me. When I responded I felt accepted, as if I deserved God’s love. At first, I could hardly believe God valued me. I began practicing the way of Jesus, grew in self-confidence and found a sense of fulfilment. Certainly, I’ve known disappointment as well as exhilaration. But developing a spiritual dimension to my life has made me happier overall.
We can view all our experiences from a perspective that evokes joy. Seeing God as providing what’s good and beautiful in life makes a difference. Instead of taking our food, skills and environment for granted, we value them and delight in their Giver. Indeed, seeing material blessings as signs of God’s love awakens in us a desire to care and be generous. And trust in God’s faithfulness, allows us to rejoice in God’s presence even when we’re sad or ill.
Living the Secrets of Happiness
So, five secrets of happiness? Nothing I’ve said is new. But knowledge is not enough. We need to engage with it and integrate it into our lives. That’s the real secret, the one thing that increases our happiness.
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