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? The same way you find happiness on a normal day when the sun is shining and the boss is happy and your spouse not only did the laundry last night but gave you a tender hug before you left in the morning. You depend on the five ingredients for happiness: someone to love, something to do, something to hope for, something to believe in and laughter. You simply grab on to them with even more grit and determination. When you’re caught in the midst of a gully-washing nightmare in life is when you really need someone to love more than any other time. When the chips are down is when you need something to do to begin to repair and rebuild. When life seems its bleakest is when we must have something to hope for on a grand scale. Something to believe in makes it possible to go on. And laughter makes the journey worthwhile and fun.

I believe that if we have the five ingredients, our lives will naturally be happy. The best thing is that all five are easily attainable. All five start from deep within ourselves and grow and flourish until our happiness quotient bubbles up and out and becomes contagious. Before you know it, not only are you happy but you’re helping to make others happy as well. What a concept!

1. Someone to love

Happy family laughing on bed with two kids
The act of loving someone else without expecting anything in return can make us truly happy

I believe it. I live it. After all, what good am I if I don’t walk the talk? The fact is simple. I’m happy and I know why. Anybody can be happy if you have someone to love. That’s the first ingredient to happiness. Someone to love. Notice I didn’t say someone to love me. Or someone to love you. No, I said someone to love. It’s the act of loving someone else that makes us happy.

Personally, I’m blessed with so many people to love that it’s no wonder that I am conscious of being happy every day of my life. I love my amazing father and step mom. They head the list because they’re the oldest and deserve the most respect. Dad [95] and Bev [90] have been married since 1982 [my mother died in 1979].

I love my four incredible children—Jeanne, Julia, Michael and Andrew. I think the fact that I dragged them through two marriages and two divorces makes me love them all the more because they survived and they are all incredible, smart, interesting and talented humans. I am very proud and happy to have them in my life. Three have spouses, one is in a relationship, and they all have children. They’ve given me nine incredible grandchildren to love.

I have one brother and one sister, a sister-in-law and a brother-in-law. Three nieces, one nephew, dozens of cousins and only one aunt still alive out of 12 aunts and uncles. It’s a good family, scattered all over the country, but when we get together we enjoy each other and every minute of our time together. And like I said, I am totally aware every day of my life how much I love this family of mine.

The interesting part of loving someone else is that it usually produces a boomerang effect. The love we give out is almost always returned back to us. But it isn’t about being loved in return. It’s about simply loving someone, nourishing that love. Give anyone—a spouse, child, parent, other relative, friend, neighbour, co-worker or teacher—your time, energy and devotion and bam! Happiness becomes a part of your life. It’s the act of loving someone else that makes us happy.

Anybody can be happy if you have someone to love. That’s the first ingredient to happiness. Someone to love

2. Something to do

Will the person who doesn’t have something to do please stand up? We all have plenty to do, don’t we? Something to do is one of the five ingredients to happiness because we must have something worthwhile to fill up our days or our whole purpose for being on this earth is for nothing.

We need to be productive members of society, working to make things better in our world. Whether we have a career outside the home or we work at home taking care of our families, most of us have plenty to do, so it isn’t a problem. However, many older retired people actually don’t have enough to do and that’s when they need to get off the sofa, turn off the TV and volunteer their time to help others if they want this piece of the happiness puzzle.

Even when we plan a vacation where we can escape to an island and do nothing for days on end, we invariably get tired and bored with nothing to do. After a few days of sun, sand, sea, surf and little drinks with umbrellas in them, we sit up, dust off the sand and say, “Hey, let’s do something today! Let’s go exploring. Let’s go into town, go for a hike, try snorkelling, visit the local museum. I can’t stand to sit here another minute!”

The trick is finding the right things to do. It could be noble things, interesting things or helpful things. Volunteering, no matter how old you are, is absolutely one of the best things we can do with our lives. Isn’t the Golden Rule all about doing for others that which we would want them to do for us? Donate your time, talent and treasures so that others may have better lives. It’s something to do and will most definitely make you happy.

Volunteering, no matter how old you are, is absolutely one of the best things we can do with our lives

3. Something to hope for

Man hoping for something
Something to hope for is the most delightful of the five things because our dreams give our lives wings

The one thing that prevents us from becoming a world full of babbling psychotic, depressed, stressed-out individuals during this highly stressful 21st century is the third thing on my list of five ingredients for happiness: something to hope for. This one is imperative because without the hope that some things in our lives will change or be different or get better, then we simply have no reason to look to the future. Quite simply having a hope or a dream makes us happy.

Why do you think so many older people in homes for the elderly are so unhappy? They have no one to love, little to do and nothing to hope for. Many just sit around in wheelchairs waiting to die. Hope is such a splendid gift because it buoys us up in times of tragedy, bad health, lost jobs, death of a loved one, divorce, or any of life’s pitfalls.

Here’s an assignment. Write your dream or goal on a piece of paper… at least one thing you’d like to do, accomplish or experience before you die. Something that will make you happy once you do it. Place that paper on your refrigerator, on top of your computer, or on the bathroom mirror… any place where you’ll see it every day. And then get busy making that dream come true. You are the only person responsible to make your dreams or goals come true. Make sure your dream is something you can control. Winning the lottery doesn’t count.

When I speak to groups I often have the participants write down their dreams on paper that I collect. At least 90 per cent of all dreams that people have seem to fall into one of eight categories—get rich, retire, travel, lose weight, get more education, change careers, dreams for others [they want their kids or grandkids to be happy and successful, etc.] and what I refer to as the impossible dreams: world peace or a cure for all diseases.

Hope is such a splendid gift because it buoys us up in times of tragedy, lost jobs, illness, divorce, or any of life’s pitfalls

Years ago, I asked a group of my women friends to share their dreams or goals. Connie said she wanted to become an accomplished writer and make enough money to also be a philanthropist. Her first dream may take 20 years like it does most writers, and the second may be out of her control. Hopefully she’ll fine-tune her goal into something like selling one article to a magazine in the next six months. It’s important to keep our goals, hopes and dreams in bite-size chunks so we can actually make them happen.

Elaine said she’d like to work with wood and find her creative voice. Bravo! Now there’s a dream that’s doable. I hope she’s enrolled in a woodworking class at a community college by now.

Deborah’s dream was to integrate her smarts and experience and talent into a position where she can make a difference in the world. Sounds like she could use the help of a good career counsellor who can help find out where her strengths lie and what her options are.

Kitty wanted to visit Iceland, write about her travels and get her travelogues published. She went on the trip, kept a detailed journal and sold a few articles about her experiences.

Jean, who was in her mid-70s at the time, wanted to finish the eighth edition of a college textbook she wrote years ago and to keep her health in top shape by continuing her weight training and her three mile walks every day. Jean’s dreams and goals kept the younger ones in our group inspired to the max. Now in her 90s, Jean has finished even more editions to her college text and still exercises every day.

Karen, who worked as a home health nurse, said her goal was to become a more positive influence at work. She said her work environment had become riddled with rumours and back-biting gossip and she wanted to be a catalyst for helping change the attitude and camaraderie on the job. She said she was going to bring in a box to work where fellow employees could drop the funniest, most outrageous things that happened at work. Her dream was to replace stress with laughter on the job.

Whitney, in her early 20s, was working on her Ph.D. She said her goal was to facilitate a woman’s group like the one in my home that evening. She wanted to encourage and empower women. Right on!

What’s your dream? What is it you’re hoping for? Whether you’re 18 or 98, write it down and then get busy making it come true. Something to hope for is the most delightful of the five things we need to be happy because hope and dreams give our lives wings.

It’s important to keep our goals, hopes and dreams in bite-size chunks so we can actually make them happen

4. Something to believe in

Something to believe in is critical in this happiness puzzle because it takes care of all those things we simply can’t understand or explain. It’s a place to tuck away the scary parts of life and simply stop worrying. Having something to believe in is a gigantic comfort. Faith in your belief system is a gift. Some have the gift, some don’t. Something to believe in: faith, religion, spirituality, a being greater than ourselves, like happiness itself, must come from within.

Woman looking upwards for someone to believe
Having something to believe in is critical to being happy because it takes care of all those things we can’t understand

The religions of the world provide us with deities: God, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus, Confucius and many, many more. Hinduism has diverse beliefs and traditions but no single deity. Each religion has a history and ability to quell our spiritual fears and anxieties. If we want to be truly happy, we need to relax and let religion do its thing. In Christianity, there’s a saying, “Let go and let God.” In other words, go to God with your problems, fears, anxieties and then relax. Have faith that God, or whatever deity you believe in, will do for you what you can’t do for yourself.

It’s nobody’s responsibility to force feed faith into my veins and make me faith-filled just like it’s nobody’s responsibility to make me happy. I have the gift of faith. I appreciate the fact that I have that gift. I use it daily because my faith tells me that I can’t solve all of life’s problems. But I can turn them over to my God. Faith is a lovely gift. I don’t think it’s something I can create for others, but it is a gift that goes a long way in the pursuit of happiness.

5. Laughter

I’m a big fan of laughter. The gift of laughter is such an important ingredient for happiness that I’ve saved it for last. It’s the one ingredient that turns happiness into joy, into giggles, into slap-your-thigh outrageous wonderment and delight at life itself. Laughter is happiness turned vocal.

Laughter is in my key-ingredients-for-happiness list because it is a critical part of our physical and mental wellbeing. Joy from our inner souls spills out from our bodies as laughter. Laughter helps us physically by elevating our thymus cells that are used in defence against viruses and rejection of foreign tissues. Laughter releases endorphins, which also help build up the immune system that keeps us healthy by fighting off sickness, germs, viruses, infections and disease. Laughter massages our internal organs and increases oxygen to the blood by 10 times, thus raising our energy levels.

Laughter reduces our blood pressure. A minute of hearty laughter can produce a heart rate equal to that of 10 minutes of rowing on an exercise machine. Laughter benefits the respiratory tract, helping people at risk for pulmonary infection to clear their lungs of air containing carbon dioxide and water vapour and replace it with oxygen-rich air. Coughing produced by laughter can clear the trachea and bronchi of mucus. Laughter makes you breathe from a deeper place in the lungs. It relaxes the skeletal muscles in the arms and legs to improve circulation.

Laughter turns happiness into joy, into giggles, into slap-your-thigh outrageous wonderment and delight at life itself

Laughter also helps us mentally. It improves our moods, reduces depression, helps us sleep and it brings us into the present where there is love and hope, and away from the past where there may be sadness or regret. When laughter is a part of a conversation it helps you remember things you say and things you hear. Watching a funny movie can eliminate tension and anger and greatly ease depression.

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Career counsellors and human resource professionals look for people with a good sense of humour and an ability to laugh because studies have shown that such people have better problem-solving skills and are usually more creative than people who don’t have a sense of humour.

You may be saying, “That’s easy for you to say, but I’m not funny.” You don’t have to be a natural born comedian to put laughter into your life. Share jokes you hear at work with your friends. Put a rubber chicken in your guest bed when you have houseguests. Wear a crazy hat to your next party. Play harmless practical jokes that will make the people you care about laugh with delight and then plot ways to return the laughter. Tell stories about the dumb or silly things you’ve done in your life. Hang out with funny people and let it rub off on you. Go to funny movies. And remember, you don’t stop laughing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop laughing.

So, be happy...because it's easy

So, you can see that happiness in this world is not that difficult to find—you can make it happen. It just takes five simple things: someone to love, something to do, something to hope for, something to believe in and laughter. All of which you have.


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

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