What really makes a happy life?
For some, happiness is equated with success. But happiness, which is subjective, is more important than success – no question about it.
Yes, it has often been said, happiness is not chasing your own tail – which will just make you anxious and dizzy going in circles. Rather, as others aver, happiness is just around with you – it is found in being content, discovering the pure joy of being with the people you love, or embracing the little moments that make life worth living.
I have no qualms about such a profound truism. However, minus “chasing your own tail,” I think there’s a need for some sort of grounding on how to spot palpable sources or indicators of happiness in life. To say the least, a life of meaning and significance is a happy life.
After having strayed into a lot of roller-coaster rides of “ups and downs” and soul-wrenching experiences, I have tried to contrive some ground rules for making, not just finding, a happy and meaningful life. Here they are.
1. Find your purpose. Whatever the circumstances of your birth your coming into this world could not have been a mere accident. There is a reason, a purpose, you were incarnated into this life – just like everybody else. To find your purpose in life is to see your self-worth or significance through the prism of your individual gifts, which are innate, inherent and God-given. With these gifts, you can contribute something for the greater good of society and the development of human life. When you find your true purpose in life, everything starts to make sense, and life becomes meaningful and satisfying.
2. Fill your life with love, compassion and generosity. Love is a universal and ultimate human calling. Real happiness can only be derived from authentic love – be it for your dear ones, for your passions, or for your meaningful undertakings. Life is too short; one is thus fool to set aside and ignore the wonderful blossoming of love. After all, at life’s end, as St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “We will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done...but by how much we have loved.”
Now, out of blissful love we are induced to be compassionate and generous to others – this is because “goodness diffuses itself” (bonum est diffusivum sui). As has been said, when we make others happy, it finds its way back to us – making us truly happy as well.
3. Live with acceptance and gratitude. The virtue of acceptance is best expressed in this prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Acceptance is recognizing your own God-given greatness (you are a “complete miracle” of God) and your potential to become more fully human. Acceptance is likewise acknowledging your own imperfections and limitations – and in doing so you become considerate of the flaws of others. However, accepting your own limitations does not mean that you stop developing yourself. Rather, taken positively, acceptance becomes an opportunity for exploring ways to make up for your flaws or to improve yourself – by “knowing the difference between what we can and what we cannot change.”
On the other hand, living with gratitude is joyfully accepting and appreciating who you are (your divine origin, your individual dignity and purpose), what you are capable of (knowing, free will, and loving), what you have (your blessings), and who you have been and are with (family, friends, significant persons in your life). Living with an “attitude of gratitude” is focusing on everything that is going right in your life instead of everything that is going wrong.
4. Live in the present moment. When you don’t like what is going on because you are discontented with the “here,” and then sulk; while craving for a better future, or just waiting for the “there” to arrive, you are depriving yourself of the present joys and opportunities for growth and improvement. However, living in the here and now does not necessarily mean disregarding the future. In fact, it is being mindful of the future, because a happy tomorrow is a well-spent today. More importantly, living in the present moment is “making and doing the best of the moment” with a more fulfilled tomorrow in view.
5. Let go of hatred and resentment. Forgive all, especially yourself. Bitterness and anger can only be a hindrance to happiness. When you are mad at someone, the pain is on yourself more than it is on the person you are mad at. When you hate someone, your bitterness consumes only you, not the person you hate. So let go of your anger and resentment, and you will set your soul free of pain. But, when you forgive – be it yourself or others – it releases you from a painful burden, thus enabling you to make peace with yourself and move on.
6. Have faith, connect with the divine, and pray. Faith is not only an assent of the mind but also of the heart. It is believing and trusting, not only in ourselves, but in something greater than us. Where reason ends, faith begins. Faith is experiencing “transcendence,” which is rising above yourself and connecting to a higher reality that is God. It is accepting the “God-ness of God” and “humanness of man.” It is acknowledging our human imperfection and relying on the perfection and wholeness of God.
Connecting with the divine is not just going to Mass or spending more time inside a church. It is rather enlivening God’s all-powerful and all-loving presence even in the most ordinary affairs of life. Here’s a beautiful reflection about prayer: “What is prayer? Prayer doesn’t only happen when we kneel or put our hands together and focus and expect things from God. Thinking positive and wishing good for others is a prayer. When you hug a friend, that’s a prayer. When you cook something to nourish family and friends, that’s a prayer. When you send off your dear ones and say, ‘drive safely or be safe’, that’s a prayer. When you are helping someone in need by giving your time and energy, you are praying. When you forgive someone, that is prayer. Prayer is a vibration. A feeling. A thought. Prayer is the voice of love, friendship, genuine relationships. Prayer is an expression of your silent being. Keep praying always.”
Have faith. A prayerful life is a happy life.