The recipe for happiness

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The ultimate goal of mankind is to achieve happiness. We expect our plans, goals, ambitions, and hard work to lead us to a happy and fulfilling life. The “pursuit of happiness” is even declared a right under the American Constitution.

Even wonder, what “happiness” is? A good way to find out would be to ask people what would make them happy. I did and the responses came along the lines of financial success, career growth, love, fame, health, caring friends, affectionate family and a few odd responses. Soon it became clear that people are simply choosing what they seek most and don’t possess. The poor ask for wealth and the sick ask for health. Yet so many people who have both health and wealth are unhappy. So many people are unhappy even after surviving high-risk surgeries. So many persons who have gained wealth are still unhappy. So many people remain unhappy after acquiring or achieving what they seeked most and didn’t possess. If true happiness cannot be achieved by fulfilling one’s needs and desires, then how can it be achieved?

Wise men throughout human history agree that true happiness comes from within us and that no material gain can make us happy. Abraham Lincoln put it very well, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” How does one make up his to be happy? Following is a recipe to achieve this state-of-mind:

  • Occupy your mind with meaningful work
  • Be content with what you have and who you are
  • Be unselfish and learn to share
  • Place emphasis on personal qualities and achievements
  • An interesting mind is a happy mind
  • Enjoy yourself – it is later than you think
  • Maintain a clear conscience
  • Get your priorities straight.

Occupy your mind with meaningful work
Retirement is supposed to be a great period of our lives if we have saved enough to afford a comfortable retirement. However, I have seen countless senior citizens who are living a miserably unhappy life in spite of being comfortably retired. Happily retired persons are the ones who pursue an activity they enjoy. In the words of John Burroughs, “an idle man is a wretched man”. Pursuit of a meaningful, enjoyable and constructive activity brings contentment to young and old alike. Joseph Addison said, “the grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”

Lesson 1: Turn off the TV and do what you enjoy doing. Play baseball, play the flute, toil in your garden, write a novel, paint a portrait; do whatever you always wished you had more time to do. Occupy your mind with what you enjoy doing. This is the outlet you need to unwind and be happy.

Be content with what you have and who your are
Learn to appreciate and enjoy what you have today; whether they are your possessions, family, friends, or leisure time. You don’t need excessive amounts of money to enjoy life. Advertisements equate spending with happiness and encourage you to buy on credit. Don’t fall into this trap. There is nothing you can buy which would bring you happiness. These objects would bring you momentary pleasure but the debt would certainly give you long-term stress. Centuries ago Aesop advised that “a wise man is content with his lot, whatever it be without wishing for what he has not.”

All of us are born with different talents. None of us can be very good at everything but all of us can be very good at something. Discover your talents and refine them. Don’t envy or imitate others as this would rarely lead you to a happy and successful future. Learn to be content with who you are. Have the courage to be yourself and don’t try to be someone you are not.

Lesson 2: Be content with what you have and who you are. Don’t envy for what you don’t have and don’t try to be someone you are not.

Be unselfish and learn to share
Do you like selfish people? Would you like to build friendship with a selfish person? No one would. This is why selfish people often find themselves lonely and miserable. They have acquaintances but no friends and even their relatives maintain a certain distance from them.

We invite friends and family to our special occasions such as graduation ceremony, wedding, and birthdays. It would be sad to spend your birthday alone. We also want our friends and family to be with us in our moments of sorrow to share our grief. Happiness increases when shared with loved ones. Sorrow becomes bearable when shared. When we suffer an enormous loss such as death of a loved one, we need to be able to grieve our loss i.e. we need to feel supported by friends and family, we need a sense of not being left alone, we need to be able to express our feelings of sorrow, we need to hear tender words and expressions of comfort. No one can grieve alone and no one should be left to grieve alone. Not being able to grieve leads to depression which could lead to alcoholism, drug abuse and stress-related diseases.

Selfish gains are short-term gains. In the long run, it never pays to be selfish. Learn to share. Sharing is more than financial help, sharing means being there for someone when they need you. People who share are happy. Make friends with people who care about others. Share their joy and you would be happier.

Lesson 3: Be unselfish and build friendships and relations with caring people. Be there for them and they you would be there for you in your joys and sorrows.

Place emphasis on personal qualities and achievements
Is the purpose of life to make as much money as possible? Certainly not. Money can’t buy most of the things that matter in life; love, health, friends, peace, loyalty, trust, respect and happiness to name a few.

I once worked for a small company of 100 employees. Everyone hated the owner and president of the company. He was rude, trying to exploit employees all the time, and was absolutely convinced that every employee is trying to steal from him. Naturally the work environment was extremely stressful, no one respected the boss, no one felt comfortable speaking to him, no one cared about his business and most employees quit within the first 6 months. His money couldn’t buy him friends, love, peace, loyalty, trust, respect and happiness.

How could my former boss earn all that his money can’t buy? He could be polite, treat all employees with respect, appreciate their hard work, not take undue advantage of his position, and show small gestures of care such as wishing birthdays. All these are personal qualities. They don’t cost a penny but the returns are enormous.

Wouldn’t you would be happier if people you knew loved you, cared for you, trusted you and respected you. This can only be achieved by placing emphasis on your personal qualities.

When speaking of our past, we often like to talk about our achievements; a home run to win a losing game, a business decision which saved the company a million dollars, helping someone in an unusual way, 3.9 GPA. We are very proud of our achievements.

Whenever you feel down and depressed, remind yourself of your achievements. Remind yourself that you are capable of accomplishing so much more.

Lesson 4: Your personal qualities and achievements would contribute more to your happiness than your possessions.

An interesting mind is a happy mind
I don’t like to be around people who complain about everything all the time. It literally gives me a headache. Such persons, in my opinion, are the most unfortunate since they lack the ability to enjoy anything in life.

An interesting mind is a positive and constructive mind. It is a problem-solver. It is an innovator. It continuously seeks to make the best of a given situation. You don’t need a college degree to have an interesting mind. To have an interesting mind, you need to be curious and be willing to look at and understand something from different angles. An interesting mind is always willing to try different possibilities.

An uninteresting mind seeks pleasure as a substitute for happiness. If you have an uninteresting mind, start by thinking positive thoughts and invest time in learning something interesting.

Aristotle said, “Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age”.

Lesson 5: Think interesting, positive, and constructive thoughts.

Enjoy yourself – it is later than you think
I knew a middle-aged man who used to work about 14 – 16 hours a day, seven days a week. He had no social life and he saved most of his income. He used to say that when he would have saved a million dollars, he would quit work and retire in Italy. He achieved his goal of a million dollars and continued working the same way. He died of a heart attack at the age of 42. He had no friends or family. All his hard work went to waste.

Too many people put off living to a future date. Live your life today and enjoy it today. The time you waste in misery today would never come back. You can die any second. Live while you are alive. You don't need to spend money to enjoy live. Take time off from your work and enjoy yourself.

Dale Carnegie said, “All of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”

Lesson 6: Enjoy yourself – it is later than you think

Maintain a clear conscience
We all have an internal compass which allows us to distinguish right from wrong, justice from injustice. We can blur it, ignore it, but it will eventually get back at us.

Every time you wrong someone, your conscience complains. You can momentarily convince yourself with excuses but the conscience does not stray from its position. As your misdeeds increase in magnitude and frequency, so does the discomfort caused by your conscience. Eventually, this would lead to a perpetual miserable feeling. No one can escape from their regretful past.

Work hard and be honest and fair with everyone. You will get your share of wealth and respect in the world.

“A guilty conscience is a lively enemy”, Indian proverb
“A brave man hazards life, but not his conscience”, Friedrich von Schiller

Lesson 7: Maintain a clear conscience or you will be perpetually miserable

Get your priorities straight
Life is a juggling act. There are so many responsibilities and it is often difficult to manage and prioritize them. I have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to set priorities and was lost is details. Last year, a colleague of mine forwarded an email which straightened out this problem for me. Like most chain mails, the original author of this email is unknown and it is also not known where forwarders edited the content en route. The email goes a follows:

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle. When 24 Hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and 2 cups of coffee.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students, if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor. As the laughter subsided, I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things - God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions ? Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, house, and car.

The sand is everything else, the small stuff.

'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.'

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children.
Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal.

'Take care of the golf balls first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. 'I'm glad you asked'. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.'

Lesson 8: Get your priorities straight – get all your golf balls in the jar


Please feel free to publish this article, free of charge, as long as this resource box is visibly published. Copyright Nazim Rahman (c) http://www.selfimprovement.ch

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A recipe for happiness

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