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Secrets of Happiness

In the Secrets of Happiness, Richard Schoch examines three thousand years of history and concludes that we can deepen understanding of happiness by reading different philosophical and religious ideas and applying them selectively to our lives. He reviews thoughts of the Greeks, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Stoics, and then, invites you to ask:

a) Do you think you have a right to be happy?

b) What is required for you to feel content?

c) Can you be happy if others are unhappy?

In the end, only you can determine if your own sense of happiness represents something you need to feel complete, whether it represents an illusion or unattainable goal, or a mysterious feeling meant to gain significance through you life experience. You may determine happiness is the symbolic trophy earned through challenges, hardship, burdens and suffering. Perhaps you feel this state of mind can only result from deep and consistent spiritual reflection or honest self-examination. This is your journey. Fulfillment could be in this life or the hereafter. You decide what form it will take, that is, if you decide it should take any form at all.

Start with believing the truth of happiness is accessible and all you really need to be happy is easy to obtain. Focus on learning about yourself, on helping other people to satisfy desires and things necessary for survival, such as obtaining enough food, water, compassion and shelter, to meet basic human needs.  Helping the less fortunate also enables you to help yourself. 

Decide whether your sense of happiness must be connected to lower stress, minimum pain and maximum inner peace, or if another combination makes more sense to you. How you reach out to learn will enable you to plot your course.  The secret to your own happiness lies inside yourself.


Get unhappy, find happiness

Many of the uplifting stories we hear seem to require we get unhappy to find real happiness.  You may know people who swallow pills to change their mood, hire a coach to influence motivation, seek a clutter consultant to downsize belongings, change diet to boost energy and self-esteem, digest the advice of others without really knowing themselves. Every valiant effort and strategy has a time and place.  Yet, how well we know ourselves, and whether we have internalized a sense of entitlement, influences what we choose to learn about the nature of happiness.

Consider that in the 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness, actor Will Smith plays the role of Chris Gardener.  He's a smart but struggling salesman, husband and father.  His marriage sadly crumbles due to heavy financial difficulties. Determined to create a better life for himself and his son, he tells his son, "don't ever believe someone who tells you you can't do something."  Gardner is dscouraged when evicted from his home.  He finds shelters and bus stations with his son while he strives to excel in a stock broker's internship.  He's determined to transform his life and he does.

Through life experience, Garder's character demonstrates seeking pleasure in life doesn't mean we do just as we please.  He realizes certain actions will increase his sense of accomplishment and happiness yet, other actions (or lack of initiative) will diminish happiness.  He also shows we can't be certain whether happiness will result from simply learning as we go.  Hoping for the best may seem dangerous or inefficient, but we learn no single right decision exists.


Friendship shapes wealth

Sometimes friendship ends up teaching us things we didn't expect. Most people don't put a price on the compassion, support or assistance they receive, yet we may all underestimate the true value of friends or people that enter our lives, just when we really need someone.

I think back to my days as an au-pair (nanny). I was thankful to stumble on this opportunity to develop a kind of family away from home. They gave me a basement room, board and some great opportunities in exchange for helping care for 6 month old twins and a daughter who was initially a year and a half. The children were a handful, but I learned a lot and made new friends.

 During the first year I lived with them and attended university, the family planned to spend two summer weeks at a cottage in a place called Murray Bay. They went the week before I did. I took a bus with plans to join them. That bus took me a great distance to the ferry dock across from Murray Bay. That evening, the bus had been late, so I missed the last ferry. As a student, I didn't have much money and felt dropped off in the middle of nowhere. The local motel was booked solid. My options seemed limited. I thought of sleeping outside the bus station. Yet, the janitor who worked in the bus station wouldn't hear of that. I was invited home to stay there instead. It was a unique way to meet local strangers, but I thought it made sense at the time. I was grateful for the gesture and shelter, and looking back, I see that janitor as more than a kind soul.

What is it about people we know who seem to know exactly what to say when we're down in the dumps or down on our luck? You may feel that some friends can read your mind or strangers touch your heart. People teach me things in airports, bus stations, on trains, ferries and other unexpected places. I've been welcomed into homes in various countries as part of local custom and in ways that helped me out of “awkward binds”. Not everyone would feel comfortable doing this, but such experiences teach me new sides to hospitality and enrich my life. We always have choices to fear or embrace what happens. For me, people are a gift. What we choose to learn from them adds precious value to our lives.

"Approach each new person you meet in a spirit of adventure. Try to discover what he is thinking and feeling; to understand as far as you can the background from which he comes, the soil in which his roots have grown, the customs and beliefs and ideas which have shaped his thinking." -Elenor Roosevelt


Success as you are

At this moment, you can feel successful before you do anything.  Other people would love to live the life you lead. Yet true success is not about comparison.  Remind yourself that you set examples for others wherever you go and whatever you do.  Even people you don't see or notice are influenced by you. As you grow more conscious that all you do matters, then what? 

Enjoying life and feeling successful are grounded in how you choose to perceive the "here and now."  You can be as content as you decide you'll feel, and you'll become as successful as you wish.  You may have a history full of examples of suffering, tragedy, grief and loss.  You could recount your experiences to others in ways that cause them to cry or, you could choose to develop a story of motivation, perseverence and triumph.  How you choose to interpret and imagine things affects your morale, your attitude and the many ways in which your life unfolds.

What matters is how you feel.  Results may happen as you envison or not yet, you always have a choice to focus on benefits of experience and what lessons you have learned.  You are successful because you are alive and growing.  No matter what your age, you have valuable experience behind you and opportunities in front of you.  Anything that's ever mattered to you, all the people, projects or issues you've cared for, help explain why you're a success. You refine this success even now.

"When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too." -Paulo Coelho



When I visited a library today, I was reminded signs exist all around us to indicate we are exactly where we're supposed to be and doing what we're meant to do.

I met people who were searching for meaning in their lives after major life changes.  One man confided to me that he had recently divorced and was struggling to seek out new streams of inspiration.  I spoke with him about the benefits of web blogs and forums. I also suggested books of possible interest.   A woman I met was also seeking ways to stimulate her reflection process.  I was able to help her as well.  Each person I meet who is open to receiving information realizes ideas often come along in their own time.  We simply need to be ready, observant and willing to perceive the things that can help us.  We need to be courageous enough to let go of our fears in order to move ahead.

Even if you don't yet know it, a thought, talent or activity represents who you are at the core in this period of your life.   If you haven't yet found that, clues exist all around you.  As you explore interests and ways you can connect with the world,  you will discover the kinds of things that boost your energy, stimulate your mind, peak your curiosity and inspire your imagination.  Discovering and connecting with such things is a useful practice.  In time, as you feel more comfortable, you can decide how you wish to integrate these things into your life.