VIKTOR Frankl, the celebrated author of “Man’s Search For Meaning,” once wrote: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”
Yes, success can be an obsession, but happiness is more important than success. And, rightly so, happiness can be derived from finding meaning or significance in life.
After having strayed into a lot of roller-coaster rides of “ups and downs”, soul-wrenching experiences, and restless treading on numerous life principles, I came up with the following “Seven Cardinal Rules For A Successful, Happy, and Meaningful Life”:
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.
According to Emily Esfahani Smith, “purpose (in life) is less about what you want than about what you give, and its key is using your strength to serve others.”
When you find your true purpose in life, everything starts to make sense, and life becomes meaningful and satisfying.
2. 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 – which you can do with serenity, courage and wisdom 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. Gratitude is freshly waking up every morning with a deep appreciation of your blessings and with an invigorated spirit to embrace the wonder and beauty of life.
3. Fill your life with love, compassion, and generosity. Love is a universal and ultimate human calling. Real happiness can only be derived from authentic (i.e., pure and unconditional) love – be it love for your dear ones, or for your passions, or for your meaningful undertakings. Life is too short; one is thus a 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 (especially for the least, the last, and the lost ones).”
Now, out of blissful love we are induced or impelled to be compassionate and generous to others – this is so because “goodness diffuses itself” (bonum est diffusivum sui).
Martin Seligman aptly wrote, “The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living. The meaningful life adds one more component: using these same strengths to forward knowledge, power or goodness.”
4. 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. In a similar vein, forgiving – be it yourself or others – releases you from a painful burden, thus enabling you to make peace with yourself and to move on.
5. Live in the moment. When you don’t like what is going on because you are discontented with the “here”, and then sulk; in the meanwhile craving and hoping for a brighter, better future – in other words, 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 moment 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 moment is “making and doing the best of the moment” with a more fulfilled tomorrow in view.
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, so it is said. Faith is experiencing “transcendence”, which is to rise above yourself and connect to a higher reality – God. It is accepting the “goodness of God” and the “humanness of man”; it is acknowledging our humanimperfection 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-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving presence even in the ordinary, everyday affairs of life. A happy life is a prayerful life. And to P.R.A.Y. is to “Praise and give thanks, to Reflect on mistakes and seek forgiveness, to Ask and claim, and to Yield” to the omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God.
7. Choose to be positive and never stop believing that the best is yet to come. You always run into setbacks and misfortunes beyond your control. Indeed, you may not be able to control the external circumstances, but you have the power to control your inner self, your thoughts and emotions, and how to react to a situation. With this power, you can choose to be negative or positive. This choice is yours and yours alone. Worrying is not going to change anything, but an ounce of positive disposition lightens a burden by 50%.
Have faith! The best is yet to come. And the best time to choose happiness is NOW.