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.
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.
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