Three Keys to Finding True Happiness

Last Friday I’m riding around town fretting over the cost of gas, the cost of food, and my yet-to-arrive economic stimulus check. I heard something on a talk radio program so profound that I nearly had to pull off to the side of the road to write it down. The substitute host for the Neal Boortz show, Herman Cain, had just wrapped up a call from someone lamenting the nation’s low happiness factor. Apparently, some statistician recently determined that most American’s are unhappy. I personally believe despite the negative media we have much to be happy about. Cain went on to describe his three personal keys to happiness, and I have adopted them as well. My mood instantly improved the moment I heard these three ideas.

photo by heydrienne

The Three Keys to Happiness

  1. Something to Do. How many times have we felt unhappy with life because we simply had too much idle time? I know it has happened in my own life. When I get bored, I get down, and I only snap out of it when I start to get busy again. The thing is, we have to recognize this pattern and stay busy to keep our mood elevated. Find a hobby. Volunteer your free time. Learn to cook. Coach youth sports. There are endless possibilities for “something to do” if we take the time to look.
  2. Something to Love. Friends and family are such an important element to our ultimate happiness. During a traveling phase at my last job I spent a number of lonely nights hundreds of miles away in a hotel room on business. I was in foreign surroundings, working in a job I didn’t particularly like, in an industry I didn’t believe in (credit/financial services). The one source of inspiration to get through those nights was my family. Even though my career situation has since improved, I still think of my wife and kids when I get down and can’t help but smile. If you are single, you may have a best friend that always knows just how to pick you up, or make you laugh when you want to cry. Pets can even be an incredible source of companionship, there to greet you at the end of a long day. I’ve had pets most of my life and marvel at their willingness to love us unconditionally.
  3. Something to Hope For. Everyone should have something to hope for. Something that drives them towards a goal. It’s been said that if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. Have something to aim for; a dream that you hold close and never let completely out of sight. When people lose hope they get complacent, and complacency often leads to a poor attitude. This self-perpetuating cycle of negativity can lead to serious depression, and ultimately harm cherished relationships. I know, I’ve been in a rut myself and I lost sight of the dreams I once held close. But all hope is never lost, you just may have to work a little harder temporarily to catch up and see those dreams around the next corner again.

“The only difference in a rut and a grave is six feet.” If you find yourself in a rut, stop digging. Start moving in the direction of your dreams and things will begin to improve. If your goal is debt freedom, stop charging to your credit cards and start paying all you can pay on outstanding debts. Do not be overwhelmed by the distance to the finish line. If your goal is to lose weight, do not focus on how far you are from your goal weight. Instead, take it one day, one meal, one bite, one workout at a time and begin to move in the direction of your dreams.

The bottom line is we are responsible for our own happiness. Government programs, promises from elected officials, and pats on the back from bosses may offer temporary mood boosts, but ultimately happiness is a self-induced state of mind. Be responsible for your own happiness.

Please share your personal keys to happiness in the comment section below.

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  1. Something to do is HUGE for me. I can be surrounded by people I love and have tons of hopeful plans for the future, but if I’m bored, it’s all for naught. I’m at my most miserable, most restless, most unhappy when I’m bored.

  2. It’s very important for me to strive for the positive instead of working against the negative. For example, “I hate the way I smell after smoking a cigarette,” is more counterproductive than you think. Instead, go toward the positive instead of running away from the negative. “Wow. As a non-smoker, I breathe clearly and have more energy!”

    You have to phrase your desires in terms of what you want, not in ways that express what you don’t want. (This is a constant battle with the teenager). When affirming your desires, it’s more effective to say, “My home is clean, organized, and free of clutter,” instead of, “I don’t want to live in a cluttered home anymore.”

  3. Thank you for this entry on your blog. I’m dealing with some painful issues and your post today reaffirmed that I think I’m on the right track.

    • @Fern: That’s what I was going for. There are a lot of abstract ideas out there on what really makes us happy, but I thought these three things summed it up better than anything else I had heard.

  4. I’ve struggled with depression for years, and I can add another simple idea to your wonderful list: be GRATEFUL, every day, that you can do, that you can love, and that you have hope.

  5. This is a very similar set of principles as expressed by Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. It is famous in it’s own right: but if you havn’t read it, it covers his experiences in a Nazi Concentration Camp. These experiences allowed him to forge a new theory of psychology.

    The basic tenets of the theory he developed is that Man’s happiness is tied to the meaning he finds in his life. Meaning defined as current and long term goals, and love for another person.

    Seems to resonate with this post a lot. Remarkably so, having just read it again.

    • @Brian: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Frankl’s book. I’ve added it to my reading list. Perhaps the radio show’s host derived his personal philosophy from that of Frankl’s. I hope the library has it on the shelf because I am interested to learn more on the subject.

  6. Thanks for a great post. Having something to do is very important, but when I’m feeling really good, I tend to get involved in too much at once….not a good thing either.

  7. Excellent post. It’s good to remember that happiness lies in family and doing what we love. Ejoying nice things is fine, but that’s only a small part of happiness.

    As some of the other commenters pointed out, it’s also important to maintain balance. Trying to do too much or too little won’t work.

  8. Great post FD! Way to boil something so subjective into some simple ideas. Staying busy is so important, it’s why people that aren’t working should still get into a productive routine.

  9. I agree with all three of these and have been working on this recently in my own life. I would add that I need to surround myself with positive people otherwise I began to feel bad about myself again. If I am around positive, I become more positive.

    We watched a 20/20 special on Americans being so miserable. I agree that the media makes it worse!

  10. I have come up with a similar formula for happiness for myself. I call it The Three C’s (it’s corny, I know, but it works for me):

    1. Connection (having a healthy relationship with someone else, be it a spouse, close family member, friend, etc.)

    2. Curiosity (being constantly interested in learning about new things, trying new things, etc.)

    3. Contribution (doing something for the benefit of society, be it charity work or whatever)

    I’m a genuinely happy person as long as I have these things in my life.

  11. Great post….simple with definitive goals. Though simple, they aren’t always the easiest to accomplish.

  12. These are great suggestions on being happy. I’ve learned to be thanful for what i’ve got, don’t worry about what i don’t have, and enjoy the moment as much as possible!

  13. I know – as we probably all do – people who talk about how great it’d be to win the lottery and not have to work. My response is always, “Well, then what?” Humans are designed to work – to be active – to do. Sure, I envy folks who trot off on vacation to sunny beach resorts and lounge around for a few days, but even as much as I might like to do that, I also know that I couldn’t do it for long.

    So, sure, you work because you need to support yourself and your family. But you also work because it’s something your spirit requires.

    Something else I’ve encountered recently… After pregnancy, hormonal changes in a woman’s body may trigger post-partum depression. But I’ve also come to realize that it may not all be hormones – I think it may have something to do with having accomplished something huge and not really having a clear goal for what’s next.

    My wife & I just completed the long & arduous process of adopting a little boy from Russia. We put our all into this and after nearly 2 1/2 years, we finally got him home. And it’s wonderful! But at the same time, I feel just a little adrift because I’ve accomplished such a major life-changing goal and don’t yet have another target to set my sights on. I’m so mired down in the new daily routines and still adjusting to this new role as “dad” that I haven’t really had a chance to assess where I’d like to go next. After working towards this for so long, it’s kind of a disorienting feeling to not have that huge target sitting out there just beyond reach. It’s kinda crazy, that just when you get exactly what you wanted, you may find yourself wondering, “what’s next?”

  14. “The only difference in a rut and a grave is six feet.”

    I love that! You just provided me with the inspiration I needed to finish something.

  15. Love it. I’d have to add Freedom and Choice for myself. I can be much happier doing things if I feel like it’s my choice to do them. Very similarly, it’s easier to be happy when you’ve got some freedom to change and grow.

    A lot of folks don’t have any choice today–if they don’t go to work, they’ll lose their homes. So while money can’t buy happiness, perhaps an emergency fund can help stave off unhappiness…

    • @Serendipity: You make a great point. In fact, even when we don’t think we have choices, we do. I choose to get up every morning and go to work. Sure, I have a family to support and bills to pay, but I still make a choice to get up and go to the office. You are correct in that the absence of choices seriously detracts from our “happiness factor!” Thanks for your comments.

  16. Most ‘lifehacks’, ‘gtd’ and ‘self-help’ blogs are mind-numbingly fickle. No original content, just stuff that my Mom will often say to cheer me up. And usually her advice is better.

    You failed to give credit where credit is due. Or Cain did. Either way, you both failed.

    “The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.”
    — Joseph Addison

    Actually, it wasn’t Joseph Addison to whom the quote is widely misattributed to; it was George Washington Burnap, but you get the point of what I’m saying.

    Seconds of research, and you’d be able to properly attribute that idea. Literally seconds. My high school English teacher would be all over.

    Now maybe you and your readers can consult letters written by the true author from whom you’ve milked a single quotation and find something of real substance.

    • @Kedar: Thank you for enlightening us to the true author of that quote, though I am surprised you would spend so much energy responding to a blog you find so lacking in real substance.

  17. whenever a sinner realizes his guilt and misery, he becomes a righteous man by asking and allowing Jesus Christ to come into his heart and becoming the ruler of his life. In so doing, the wicked man becomes a new creature through Christ–he then has new desires, hopes, fears, friends…and reward. This is the key to True Happiness.

  18. You have to know that happiness is your choice, so choose to be happy now and forever.