Happiness 101

Tomorrow I have been asked to speak to a group of unemployed students who are attempting to move back into the workforce. My role is not spiritual, rather I am to share the work habits, values and relationship building that has helped me to be whom I am today. I have thought long and hard about what I will say. The non-profit who have invited me have provided several hours for the class and I to have this conversation. And while at least half of the time will be devoted to questions and answers I know I need a solid message to keep their attention and give them something to think about when they go home.

The overall framework of this presentation will be that we need to know whom we are, who are neighbour is and what together we can do as community. It’s been my experience that many, many people do not know themselves. As the singer Joe Jackson once said, “You can’t get what you want unless you know what you want.” If you think what you want is what everyone on TV wants, what your friends want, what your family wants, then even when you move close to that goal you will not be any happier. Knowing what makes you happy is the first step to happiness. For some that happiness comes with warm, familiar and constant time with family. For others that happiness is found in challenging work. For others there is a constant need to learn new things, go new places. For still others there is a desire to make their community, their world, a better place than how they found it.

I once knew a man named Jake who gave up an academic career and focused his life on learning all he could on bridge. I don’t know anything about bridge, but according to my friends it is a card game that is more than a card game. Jake is not motivated by relationships or having nice things, he loves this part of his life like no other. So he works as a night security guard, he lives in a part of his city that few would choose, and he spends his time and energy learning this sweet game. This life makes Jake happy, he knows what he wants and he makes sacrifices to get there.

I know others who want a family where all the opportunities available to their children far outweigh what the parents had in their early years. Both parents work long hours, the father travels great distances to work for long periods away from home, the mother works from her home doing work for companies headquartered in the American south and as a result the children have amazing opportunities. These parents have sacrificed a lot to make this happen, but they made these decisions with their eyes wide open.

I know people who choose to live in small dwellings, use minimal resources and live very simple lives. They do this to minimize their footprint on the earth and everything they do; what they eat, how they move around their community, how they work, all of it is geared to living a sustainable life. Having the peace of mind to know that their values are being lived in an authentic and true way bring them happiness and joy.

For me the first step to happiness is know what make you happy and then moving into a place, a life, a way of being, that reflects this need for happiness and makes sacrifices, gives up things, all to get to that place of happiness you identified at the beginning. When I go to bed at night I sleep knowing that in some measure what I did that day is reflective of what makes me happy. I don’t just do this unconsciously, quietly, I actually tell myself on my late night walks, what I did that day that connects to the goals I have set for my life. That knowledge, that peace of mind, gives me great satisfaction.

I hope to share some of these learnings tomorrow.