The key to happiness is both simple and complex. It is the sum total of more than 2,000 years of philosophy, psychology, speculation, and discussion about the meanings and sources of happiness. From Aristotle in 340 B.C. through to the modern thinkers, speakers, and writers of today, this key to happiness has hardly changed. It is the same for virtually all men and women in every country and all walks of life. The key to happiness is this: Dedicate yourself to the development of your natural talents and abilities by doing what you love to do, and doing it better and better in the service of a cause that is greater than yourself.
This is a big statement and a big commitment. Being happy requires that you define your life in your own terms and then throw your whole heart into living your life to the fullest. In a way, happiness requires that you be perfectly selfish in order to develop yourself to a point where you can be unselfish for the rest of your life.
YOUR HAPPINESS MUST COME FIRST
In Edmond Rostand’s Play Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano is asked why he is so intensely individualistic and unconcerned with the opinions and judgments of others. He replies with these wonderful words: “I am what I am because early in life I decided that I would please at least myself in all things.”
Your happiness likewise depends upon your ability to please at least yourself in all things. However, most people are reluctant to use their own happiness as the standard by which to judge the events in their lives. This is primarily because we let others define or affect what brings us happiness. And we often believe it is more important to make other people happy than it is to make ourselves happy. This is nonsense.
Human beings are happiness-driven organisms. Everything we do in life is oriented toward maintaining and increasing our level of happiness. We are psychologically constructed so that it is impossible for us to be any other way without making ourselves mentally and emotionally ill. The fact is that you can’t give away to anyone else what you don’t have for yourself. Just as you can’t give money to the poor if you don’t have any, you can’t make someone else happy if you yourself are miserable.
The very best way to assure the happiness of others is to be happy yourself and then to share your happiness with them. Suffering and self-sacrifice merely depress and discourage other people. If you want to make others happy, start by living the kind of life and doing the kinds of things that make you happy.
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LET HAPPINESS BE YOUR GUIDE
Make happiness the organizing principle of your life. That is, compare every possible action and decision against your standard of happiness to see whether it would make you happier or unhappier. Soon, you will discover that almost all the problems in your life come from choices that you have made — or are currently making — that do not contribute to your happiness.
There will of course be countless times when you will have to do little things that don’t make you happy in pursuit of your larger happiness. However, as Earl Nightingale said, “Happiness is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” You feel really happy only when you are moving, stepby- step, toward the accomplishment of clearly defined goals that you feel will enhance the quality of your happiness.
Since you can’t be truly happy until you are clear about your inherent possibilities, it’s important that you take some time on a regular basis to analyze yourself and identify your strengths and weaknesses. There is an old saying, “Success leaves tracks.” You can look back on your life and identify who you really are and what you should be doing with your life. One of the best ways to do this is to constantly ask yourself this powerful question:
“WHAT ONE GREAT THING WOULD I DARE TO DREAM IF I KNEW I COULD NOT FAIL?”
Imagine that you are absolutely guaranteed success in the pursuit of a particular goal, big or small, short-term or long-term. Imagine that you have all the money, all the time, all the education, all the contacts, all the resources, and everything else that you could possibly need to achieve any one big goal in life. What would it be? This is a very important question because when you remove the limitation from your thinking, you often get a very clear idea of exactly what you should be doing with your life. Your greatest dream is an indication of your natural abilities and of what is really important to you.
All successful men and women are big dreamers. They imagine what their fortune could be, ideal in every respect, and then they work every day toward their distant vision, goal or purpose. Step-by-step realization of their ideal makes them genuinely happy.
LIFE’S 4 CATEGORIES
Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning, said that you can divide the thing you do in life into four categories. The first category consists of the things that are hard to learn and hard to do. An example for many people is mathematics. Many of us struggled with math in school and still struggle with bookkeeping, accounting, financial statements, and tax returns as adults. If you find mathematics hard to learn and hard to do, this is the sort of activity for which you are clearly unsuited. No matter how much of it you do, or how good you get at it, you will never achieve any lasting satisfaction or happiness from it.
The next category consists of things that are hard to learn but easy to do. Riding a bicycle, driving a car, and tying your shoes are hard to learn but easy to do once you’ve practiced enough. These are seldom the sort of activities that cause you to feel terrific about yourself when you engage in them. They do not demand your best.
The third category consists of things that are easy to learn but hard to do. Physical labor falls into this category. Digging a ditch with a shovel and chopping wood with an ax are easy to learn but they are hard to do, and never get any easier.
The fourth category is the key. These are things that are easy to learn and easy to do. You seem to have a natural proclivity for them. When you are engaged in this sort of activity, time flies. The things that are easy for you to learn and do are the sort of things that you should be doing with your life. They indicate where your natural talents and abilities lie. Engaging in these activities with your whole heart, and committing yourself to become better and better, will give you all the joy, satisfaction, and happiness you could want in life.
HAPPINESS IS NOT AN ACCIDENT
Everyone has an area of excellence. Everyone has something that he or she can do in an outstanding fashion. It may take weeks, months, or even years for you to develop yourself in that area so that you can really perform in an extraordinary fashion, but you will be strongly attracted to that sort of activity from the beginning. You will enjoy reading about it and talking about it and thinking about it. You will find yourself admiring people who are outstanding in that area. You will look longingly at that field and wonder what it would be like to be in it and to be successful at it. That is very often your heart’s desire. That area of activity where you can become excellent is probably what you were put on this earth to do.
So resolve to persist until you succeed. The first part of courage is the resolve to launch in faith toward your objectives; the second part is your willingness to endure in the face of the inevitable disappointments and setbacks you will encounter on the road.
Happiness is not an accident. Happy people are those who deliberately do the things that invariably lead to happiness. Happy people are those who know what they want and then throw their whole hearts into using their unique talents and abilities to make a contribution to the world in the achievement of their goals.
You are put on this earth with a special purpose, programmed with unique talents and abilities that have not yet been fully tapped and utilized. When you focus all your energies on unlocking your true potential, you can claim your ultimate birthright: happiness