Photo: Jeroen Werkman

5 Key Ingredients in the Search for Happiness

by Carlo Alcos Jul 27, 2009
Do you want to be happy? Of course you do. These five ingredients may help you along your quest.

At first I thought this would be an easy topic. Five things that bring me happiness. Simple. But then I started to actually think about it. What makes me happy might not make you happy (and vice versa).

So I asked around the Matador team for what they thought brings them happiness, hoping for at least a couple of unanimous points. The responses were as random and varied as lottery results.

The more common replies were related to friends, family and health. While all of these do bring most people happiness, my concern was with those who preferred being alone and people in poor health.

If I included these things, what does this mean for them? Is it impossible for the loners and the sick to be happy? I don’t think so.

Borrowing a page from Buddhist philosophy

Buddhists recognize that happiness — unfailing happiness — can only be found internally. The goal is to stop trying to change the world around us to bring happiness, but to change our minds.

If we can’t face ourselves and recognize that we are the source of our own happiness, what chance do we have?

Anything external that we chase cannot bring everlasting happiness, only temporary and fleeting happiness; at some point it will let us down.

Many things that we think will bring us happiness — a new car, new house, more friends — usually just cause us more pain and suffering. We’re constantly worried someone’s going to scratch or bump our vehicle, rob our home, or break our hearts and hurt our feelings. A source of true happiness would not be able to cause us any suffering.

To find happiness is a lofty goal and takes a dedication that most of us aren’t willing to give, even though it’s in our own best interests. Instead, we continue to try to shape the world outside us, rather than trying to fix the inside.

Here are five points to ponder as you search for your own happiness:

1. Introspection

Facing your demons…being a victim. ‘Everything is always fucked up for me, nobody understands’. It took me years of not being honest with myself, running from the truth, denying what was in my face, blaming everybody else. ‘She’s nasty, she’s fucked up…look at her, look at them’…but then there was a common denominator: Me. – Liza Jessie Peterson

If we can’t face ourselves and recognize that we are the source of our own happiness, what chance do we have? Happiness is not “out there.” It’s in here. Easy to say, hard to put into practice.

But the first step to solving a problem is to recognize the source of it. Once we admit to ourselves that we — and only we — are responsible for our own happiness, then we can move forward in trying to attain it.

2. Freedom

I do think people could fall into the trap of understanding freedom as ‘I do what I like’. I don’t really think that’s freedom because you’re still bound by your desires. So where is the freedom? Freedom would be…you understand your desires, the compulsion of those desires, the addiction of that, and you are able to transcend that. Otherwise…your passion is determining your behaviour. – Father Lancy Prabhu

Freedom as we know it in the Westernized world is not true freedom. And this “freedom” will not bring us happiness. One need look no further than free-market capitalism. Go on, you’re free to do whatever you want.

Combine this with our society’s way of making us feel inadequate and marketing manipulation by the media (who, ironically, are exercising their freedom), and we find ourselves always wanting. This wanting and the attachment to things we’ve managed to accumulate are the banes to our happiness. We must free ourselves from our own desires to find true happiness.

Freedom and restraint are two sides of one thing. How can there be freedom without restraint? It’s impossible. – Prof Xu Yuangzhong

3. Compassion

Why are we compassionate towards friends and family, but rarely towards strangers? It’s because we share a connection with our family and friends, either through blood or through similar interests.

This desire to be happy is the motivating force behind every single thing that we do from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep.

What if we could find a connection with complete strangers? With the rest of humanity? Might it make us more compassionate towards everybody? Because we do share something common: everybody — no exceptions — wants to be happy.

This desire to be happy is the motivating force behind every single thing that we do, from the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep. So recognizing that the people we see on TV, the people we pass on the street, the people we’ve never seen and never will see — want to be happy. Just like us.

Compassion gained through accepting this will make us better humans, will help us help each other, and will help to make ourselves happy.

4. Generosity

The mind has a very bad habit, which we call self-cherishing. And I call it ‘What about me?’…it’s a bore. And it’s a drag. And nobody wants to hear it. So you can just shut up…and get off of it. And give. That’s all. GIVE. Be here and give. Connect with people…and you’re so busy giving, you don’t have time to think about yourself…um, you’re gonna be a lot happier. – Baghavan Das

This is closely linked to compassion. After gaining compassion comes our willingness to help out others, even complete strangers.

5. Contentment

If you substitute ‘content’ for ‘happy’ you’ll probably find that you’re happy. ‘Cause we’ve associated happiness with laughing and smiling…throwing beach balls to your children…and I’ve never been that guy.

So I’ve thought maybe I’m not happy. If you switch it for content…the practice of contentment…’oh god I’m happy. I’m a happy man. Oh, look at me! – Billy Connolly

I would venture to guess that all of us, anyone right now who is reading this article, has everything they need to be happy. So why does continued happiness seem so elusive?

In general, we may say we’re happy. We might even have those moments where we sit back and realize how privileged we are, count our lucky stars, and genuinely feel like we have the world in our palms.

But how long does this last? How long until the next person pisses us off, until we see the next thing we “need,” until the next feelings of anxiousness steal away our happiness? If we can make the wanting stop and be content with what we have, we would find we can be more consistently happy.

Do you think these are the keys to happiness, or are there other important points we missed? Share your thoughts below.

*All quotes used are from 1 Giant Leap‘s documentary What About Me?.

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