The Principles of Happiness in Three Words

A sign of aging is what we choose to store in the cabinets over our sinks. At some point you open the door and see that the toothpastes, hair gel, shaving supplies, and containers of cologne are suddenly outnumbered by the bottles of pills you have acquired. My children laughingly refer to my cabinet as “Dad’s Pharmacy.” They often say, “We never have to go to the drug store because dad has something for everything just over his sink.” Sadly, that is only barely an exaggeration.

The one tonic most long to find, however, is never located in a medicine cabinet. What most of us desire more than anything else is to discover a source of happiness. If only there were a capsule for that. I often observe vast throngs of people in our beautiful and crowded city, layered along streets to watch parades or standing in long lines to look at Christmas decorations in department store windows. And I always know, “Each of them is seeking a momentary break from the solitude, a brief experience of happiness that can make them believe unhappiness is not a permanent fixture.”

If only there were a magic elixir, a prescription for happiness. Well, maybe there is. I believe that prescription is available to everyone and can be stated in three simple words.

Serve.

Find a way to make a difference. An acquaintance once told me, “I get up faithfully every morning, but by midday I wonder why.” All of us desire and need something more than merely taking up space and putting in time. Without a sense of purpose, a reason for getting up in the morning, there is no sense of fullness in life.

Years ago, I knew a health care provider at a state institution for persons with profound physical and mental challenges, many in their teens and twenties, none functioning at a more than a toddler level, many bedridden their entire lives and unable to speak. I asked if her work with these patients five days a week, fifty weeks a year, for over forty years was exhausting, especially since most of her patients were not even able to form the word “thanks.” She answered, “I see that word in their eyes and their smiles when I am with them.” Then she added, “They give life to me.”

Find something to do to make life better for others, and you will find a life that is infinitely better and happier than you dreamed it could be.

Forgive.

Tony Robbins rightly reminds us that forgiveness is not merely a gift we offer to another, it is more importantly a gift we offer to our own lives. The more resentment or bitterness we carry inside ourselves, the less room we make for peace and joy. Most who have offended us in times past (a) do not remember or (b) do not care. To harbor grudges only allows them to continue controlling or abusing us. Though difficult, it is also personally liberating and empowering to let the grudges go, to forgive so that we can resume control of our own emotions. Without that, though we may attain a plethora of good things, happiness will not be among them.

Love.

To lose one’s self in romance, in devotion to family, in committed fellowship with friends, in the breathless appreciation of nature, art, or music, is to find one’s self in the most essential way describable. That’s what Joseph Campbell was talking about when he wrote, “Follow your bliss” and what Leo Buscaglia was talking about when he said, “Find love, find life.” Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” The Buddha said, “Love is a gift of one’s inner most soul to another so both can be whole.” When we love, we become whole. Without love, becoming a whole, authentic, happy person is impossible to achieve.

Recently I watched the video of a celebration held to honor a musician on the fiftieth anniversary of his career. Guests came from all over the nation to be there. He was presented with a plaque signifying his myriad achievements, a single plaque to go alongside the countless other awards and certificates he had amassed over half a century. He received it with appropriate gratitude, but then said, “Awards are nice. But in the end, it’s love that makes me sing.”

If there is a prescription for happiness, it can be stated in three words: Serve, Forgive, Love.

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