happiness photo




There is a lot that’s said about happiness. Money can’t buy it, others can’t create it for you, stuff doesn’t lead to it, and neither does isolation.


So we meditate, eat right, exercise, pray (or not), try our best to make real and lasting relationships, have stable jobs, and try to be nice to the ones we love.


But how do we know if we are really getting there?


Well here are six things we know –because the data show them — that do lead to happiness:


Wisdom is the ability to adapt. There is nothing that is truly set in stone, and evolutionary patterns demonstrate that there are no patterns. Successful businesses also show no clear patterns. And certainly, happiness shows no pattern either. Therefore, the ability to find happiness depends on adapting to whatever set of circumstances we are dealt. It is the difference between regret and gratitude, and acceptance of life on “life’s terms” and a life filled with shoulds. Because there are no shoulds. There is only what is. And happiness depends on the ability to adapt to life as it is.


Happiness is in the pursuit of our goals, and not the achievement of them. If the achievement of the goal led to happiness, presumably all gold medal wearing Olympic athletes would be incredibly happy. But they are not. In fact, many athletes suffer from “post achievement let-down” which is a feeling of emptiness, lack of purpose, and even depression, about no longer having anything to strive for. Because as much as we think we will be happy when we achieve our goals — the truth is we are happiest when we are in the thick of the pursuit — when everything we do smacks with purpose, meaning, and the pursuit of something worth fighting for.


Adversity builds character. If you want a life devoid of substance, live the life of ease, avoid stress, challenge, hardship, and by all means, take the easy road. But if you want happiness, develop your virtues, allow adversity to introduce you to yourself — to illuminate your strengths, persistence, and character. And allow adversity to show you what is important — to clarify your priorities — and who is important — because there is nothing that filters out false friends faster than tough times.


Engagement in the world, not distraction from it, leads to happiness. Those who engage in the world find a craft that matters — something they are truly passionate about — and do it not because it promises a great monetary reward, but because it promises a much better one — happiness. And study after study show that not only are people least happy when there feel alone, but at no point in our history are we feeling more alone than we do right now. Yet the way most people cope with feeling alone is to distract more, and connect less. But engagement doesn’t happen through a device. It happens when we are involved with people in shared activities that matter and that we feel make a difference.


Companionate love — not passionate love — is what lasts, and leads to happiness. Passionate love is where we start, but companionate love is where we end. Because as soon as the passion dies — and it will — what we have left is character. And loving someone’s character is what companionate love is about. It’s about loving the day to day. It’s about loving them in the morning when they don’t look as great as the night before. It’s about loving who they are, and not how they look. While finding passionate love may ignite us, it’s the companionate love that sustains us. And it’s the companionate love that leads to a life full of happiness.


Volunteering and being recognized are both important parts of happiness. Availing ourselves freely in service of others is not just a noble thing to do, it’s also something that reduces ruminative thought, lifts mood, staves off isolation, and helps us feel connected. But being recognized also matters, because having our contributions acknowledged also leads to happiness. We are not wrong because we want to be noticed, seen, and have our efforts recognized — that’s part of happiness too. And as it turns out, being recognized for serving, may be just as important as serving where happiness is concerned.



Perhaps it’s not so much that happiness comes from within, but that happiness comes from within and without — and is a combination of what we do, and what happens when we do it.