Boy having a hearty laugh

I know what motivates me and makes me happy and it isn’t what experts say motivates most people. Experts tell us that people get up in the morning and do what they do at home, work, or school because of one of four things: money, security, power or fame.

Leaders of countries, including Prime Minister Modi and President Mukherjee, are no doubt motivated by all four because their careers afford them all four of those motivators. But that doesn’t happen to many people.

Perhaps you go to work every morning just so that you earn enough money to make a good living for yourself and your family. Maybe the security of your job helps you relax, so you can enjoy other things in your life. If your career gives you power or fame, perhaps money isn’t your greatest motivator.

I have learned over the years that I am not motivated by any of those four. Instead, I believe with all my heart that I have been motivated completely by the search for happiness. I want to be happy in this life. If what I do for a living did not make me happy, I’d choose another career even if it paid less than the one I have. And the one I have as a writer and a speaker doesn’t pay that much, believe me, but it makes me happy.

I’m one of the happiest people I know

Over the years I have travelled, read, played, loved and experienced life to the best of my ability. I’m your average woman who lives life simply, one day at a time, just like most people. Like most ordinary people, I know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a whole lot about any one thing. I’m not a gorgeous beauty, nor do I spend hours every day trying to be. I don’t obsess about exercise or food. I do my best, but I don’t waste time beating myself up if I gain a few pounds or eat too many sweets.

I have a good husband, relatives and friends who love me. I have a small, stress-free condo that’s paid for, and the sun, beaches, swimming pools and a good bicycle to keep me healthy and happy.

I believe with all my heart that I have been motivated completely by the search for happiness. I want to be happy in this life

Honestly, I’m one of the happiest people I know. I do not believe for one nanosecond that money or wealth makes anyone happy. Even though I don’t have a lot of money, I’ve lived an interesting, fulfilling, relatively stress-free life with more adventures than most of my friends who have lots more money than I have. Happiness is a goal I have achieved for most of my life.

It helps that I’m a frugal soul who still looks for restaurant coupons in the paper, buys many of my clothes at consignment shops, and enjoys the thrill of a good bargain. But the main ingredients of happiness have nothing to do with being frugal or for that matter with money at all.

It cannot be found outside

My years of experiences have taught me that nothing that is outside of ourselves makes us happy. Nothing. Not good health, free time, luxuries, being in control of others or being successful in business or finance. Happiness comes from within. It’s a state of mind, an attitude.

How do I know this? Because I’ve met people who are very happy and yet they struggle from pay cheque to pay cheque. I’ve met people who are happy and yet they’re in poor health or physically challenged in ways we cannot even comprehend. I’ve met people who have more money than they could spend in a lifetime and yet they are not happy. Being successful can only make you happy as long as the happiness comes from doing something with your life that has something to do with the talents you were given at birth. If it’s money that drives you, chances are you are not truly, intrinsically happy.

My years of experiences have taught me that nothing that is outside of ourselves makes us happy

Many times when people become executives who are in control of many people, their lives simply become so stressful and busy that they barely have time to tie their shoes, let alone step back and actually enjoy their wealth, power or business success. The pressure to keep the status quo is so great that they can’t leave work for one minute, even when they’re trying to relax at home with their families. Their cell phones, computers, iPads and other electronic gadgetry make sure that their minds are never more than a click away from running things.

It’s never in the future

Another thing I’ve learned about happiness is that it doesn’t matter what’s ahead for us in this great scheme of things. What matters is whether or not we’re happy today. Right now. Are you? I am. I really, truly am.

I was raised in a happy two-parent family with hard-working parents who instilled good moral values in my life. I graduated from college, married, divorced, lived in five different states and raised four children with very little income. Thanks to inexpensive friend passes on airlines where some friends worked, I’ve seen much of the world and had amazing adventures. However, it wasn’t the adventures that made me happy. It was [and is] having the freedom and the determination to never say no to an opportunity that makes me happy. The strength to be adventurous and happy comes from being bold, taking chances.

It doesn’t matter what’s ahead for us in this great scheme of things. What matters is whether or not we’re happy today

For some, the ability to be happy is clouded by worry, stress, despair, fear or not being able to forgive or ask for forgiveness. Whenever any of those things hang over my head like a huge black umbrella, I fix it. I talk to friends, get counselling, pray, write about my feelings, sort things out logistically, then often I take a vacation to make sure I’m not running on empty… even if it’s just an afternoon walk along the beach. I know I have to get rid of the negative things in my life if my goal is to be a happy person.

It’s my job alone

woman pointing to her with a smiling face
You cannot blame someone else for your lack of happiness because the only person who can make you happy is YOU

Along the way I discovered that the only person who can make me happy is me. It’s not fair to blame someone else if I’m unhappy because it’s not their job. The job of making me happy is mine alone.

Over the years I’ve asked many people what, according to them, were the five ingredients to happiness and invariably they blurt out “lots of money” or “a bigger retirement fund.” Or they name things money can buy: “A bigger house”, “an expensive automobile”, “a trip around the world”, “a yacht”, “real diamonds”, “a maid” and so on. Or they say something too difficult to accomplish like, “World peace, perfect health or a cure for all diseases.”

Once at a holiday party that a big company was sponsoring, the attendees were in a festive free-for-all mood. During an after-dinner speech I was giving, I asked the audience, “What makes you happy?” A woman raised her hand, giggled, then shouted, “Great sex and good chocolate!” We all had a big laugh; then I reminded her that both are temporary and being intrinsically happy is a much bigger, longer-lasting feeling.

Another older woman at a church group said good health had to be one of the most important ingredients to real happiness. I reminded her that we all know people who don’t have good health or are physically challenged in some way and yet are quite happy with their lives.

You may be asking, “What happens when life throws me a curve? What happens when a loved one gets cancer? Or teenagers are brutally slaughtered by one of their own? Or a family member gets involved in drugs? Or a marriage fails? How do you find happiness as a refugee in a country where tens of thousands of people are pushed out of their homes by enemy soldiers? How can people be happy when they’ve lost their homes because of the raging fury of devastating tornadoes, hurricanes, floods or earthquakes?”

It’s not fair to blame someone else if I’m unhappy because it’s not their job. The job of making me happy is mine alone

The five ingredients for happiness

How do you find happiness when life throws a curve?

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A version of this was first published in the March 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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