I have been trying to understand what actually brings happiness. Not just personally or individually, but as a general rule. What is it that makes everyone happy, whatever their life may be like?
If all of us need the same oxygen to breathe, the same nutrition to flourish, we certainly must have the same basic things that can ensure happiness. It must be something that gives each of us joy, whatever our state in life, whatever our other aims.
The first thing that comes to mind is family. Nothing can match the joy our children bring us, the surety of love of siblings, parents, and spouses. There is hardly anything in the world that can match the bliss of good friendships. But these unparalleled joys, though essential to the quality of our lives, are not what bring us personal happiness. I know too many people who have had everything good in this area and are still looking for something in their lives. Family and a concrete social structure are important for happiness but life seems to need more.
And then I think of financial prosperity. Money is essential, most definitely. Without comfort, happiness is incomplete. But excessive wealth is only a trial of character. I can think of a hundred ways a lottery win will bring delight. But for each of those ways, there are a hundred rich, young things whose only knowledge of happiness is probably spelling it. It is the right use of that wealth that brings joy. And the right use of wealth is not as easy as it sounds! However, we all need just enough money at the very least. But both family and money spell security, not happiness.
Happiness is that elusive combination of joy and contentment, of elation and calm. Happiness entails being in that place with yourself when you can look at everything life gives you with equanimity. I think you need to believe that life is meaningful to be able to attain that state of mind in which you can accept the vicissitudes of life. And to make life meaningful, you need to be occupied with what adds value to yourself. I would never propound that we all run out and start earning a paycheck! That, unfortunately, is what most people do to seem occupied. And that, sadly, must be the most meaningless way to live—to work solely for the paycheck (especially if that is all you do).
We have to find that fire within us that needs to be fanned and fed. The fire that gives us a warm glow of satisfaction. It could be working for a charity, it could be dancing, it could be keeping house, painting, knitting, reading, or even obsessing over world affairs! It has to be something only you will know. And you will know it, if it is the thing you keep trying to get back to. I cannot remember a time when I did not write: from the stupidest poem ever when I was seven (I remember the poem and will never put it in writing again!) to writing college election speeches for friends, stories and essays written on napkins, on the backs of shopping receipts, on the covers of formal notebooks … most written and then thrown away, but written all the same.
What makes you happy will be something that is your solace and your energizer. Without it, everything is incomplete. Irrespective of it being public or private it will give meaning to your life, for yourself.
Of course it is easier to find meaning when you can make a difference outside yourself, but there are times when your happiness source does not touch anyone else, but is relevant only to you (like my writing!). Bottom line, happiness is within you; it is simple, it is independent of what or where you are, and it is accessible.
So am I happy now? Right now, yes. I am writing this, after all!!