The five secrets of a happy and meaningful life

We have a limited and undefined amount time on earth. We have an almost unlimited number of choices of how to use  your time. If we are wise we will be able to discern what matters and what does not matter and merge it into our lives. The two things that really matter to us are to find happiness and to find meaning.

  • Happiness: Joy and a deep sense of contentment
  • Meaning: The sense that one’s life has purpose, to know that it matters that we are here and to find a reason for being alive.

The first secret to find happiness and meaning is to be true to you, to your self and live with attention.

The greatest tragedy in life is to spend your whole life fishing only to discover that it was not fish you were after. – Henry David Thoreau.

Unless you continually look at your life to make sure it is on target, there is a good chance that you will wind up living someone else’s life, which means coming to the end of your life and realizing that you had followed a path that was not your own. Each of us has a path that is true to us and if we follow that path, we find happiness. To follow that path, we have to focus not on what matters but focus on what matters to us. We should not compare ourselves to others and ask what we want to do with our lives. This means that we live with intention and ask ourselves regularly three questions:

  • Am I following my heart and being true to my self?
  • Is my life focused on the things that really matter to me?
  • Am I being the person I want to be in the world?

Reflect at the end of each day and ask yourself whether you did things that you really wanted. The answers you get you should not set aside and you should see whether you need to change the way you live to be really true to what you really want. You need to have the discipline and courage to do this constantly until you feel you are true to yourself.

The second secret to find happiness and meaning is to leave no regrets.

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. – Harriet Beecher Stowe

We all want something. However we all fear something as well. If we have to live a life with no regrets we need to live a life where we move towards what we want and not move away from what we fear. There is no guarantee that you will succeed if you move towards what you want. However by not moving, you are sure to fail.

Whenever you are faced with a risk you have to take, think of the best good that can occur as a result of taking that risk. Think of the worst thing that can happen if you take that risk. Then decide. Think of whether you will regret not having done that when you grow old. Think of the things that you would definitely want to do if you had only six months to live. There will be setbacks in life but how you respond to these setbacks is what matters. Do not act out of fear. Act with courage and your convictions. Live from the perspective of an old person looking back on his life. Then you will be on the way to leaving no regrets.

The third secret to find happiness and meaning is to become love.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.- The Dalai Lama

Love is not an emotion. It is a choice. We may not feel like “loving” all the time, but we can choose love all the time. We do this by choosing to love ourselves, choosing to act with love to those closest to us( family, friends and so on). And finally we must choose to become love in all our interactions.

Feed yourself joy, peace, humility, serenity, love, hope, kindness, empathy, caring for those who have helped you, forgiveness of yourself and others and realize that destiny is in your hands.Make sure you act with love in all your close relationships. Focus on the good things about them and it will become easy.Do good if you can to every person that you meet but do not do harm.

We do not have control over whether we get love. But we have all the control over whether we become love. This simple prayer may help:

Lord make me open to love from the time I leave my house to the time I come home. Help me so that when I meet someone for whom a kind word, a smile or thank you may be life-changing for them, please do not let me be so busy that I will miss it.

The fourth secret to finding happiness and meaning is to live in the moment.

Life lived for tomorrow will always be just a day away from being realized. – Leo Buscaglia

Living in the moment means be fully in every moment of our lives and not focus on the past or future. It means to judge less and live each moment with gratitude and purpose and choose contentment and happiness. It means that you live each day as a gift and live it fully rather than planning your life and thinking you will be happier sometime in the future. You can plan but you have to realise that happiness is found only in present moment. The present moment is all that we have. No one knows when this life will be taken away. If you live each moment fully, then the future will take care of itself and the past will be filled with good memories. You can do this by training your mind as follows:

  • Become aware of your breathing from time to time.
  • When you wake be thankful that you have been given this day.
  • When you start thinking about the past or future, remind yourself that you do not have any control over them.
  • Do not judge yourself.
  • Enjoy with your whole being whatever you are doing.

The fifth secret to find happiness and meaning is to give more than you can take.

Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as I can before handing it over to future generations. – George Bernard Shaw

One of the reasons why giving more than you can take is one of the reasons for happiness and meaning is because we have a great deal of control over what we can give and almost no control over what we can get. Each day, we have the power to give without limit.  We can choose kindness, to serve, to love, to be generous, and to leave the world better in some way. We all long to make a contribution when we are here. We all seek to find ourselves and to lose ourselves. We can find ourselves by discovering our destiny and being true to ourselves. There is no better way to lose ourselves than to dedicate our life to giving, to leave the world better than we found it. To live this way, these things can help:

  • Make the world a better place in some small way.
  • Remind yourself that you can make a difference even if you do not see it.
  • Be kind, generous and giving.
  • Do not be focused on the needs of the small self(the pursuit of things, status or power) and be focused on your larger self( making the world a better place)

When you look at it, we really know all these things. However, knowing is not enough. We need to act. This is what we often fail to do. How can we get ourselves to act?

We all learn things by watching, listening and experimenting. We learn things by awareness( watching and listening) and experimentation. We move towards what we hold in awareness. We become what we pay attention to. The more we hold something in our awareness, the more likely we are to move towards that thing. The simple act of paying attention to what we want to achieve creates change.

  1. A simple way of doing this is to write on a card what we want to achieve and look at it  ten to twenty times each day. This breeds awareness to what we want to achieve and we will then automatically do things to achieve our goals.
  2. Having a list of questions to ask yourself each day or week will also help us to pay attention and experiment. This daily questions process will help us reflect and self-correct ourselves towards the goals that we have. We have to make our own question list based on what matters to us. Then, each question has to be answered with a yes or no or be graded from 1-10. One rule: no negative feedback. No matter what the other person has done, we say nothing that might produce guilt. On the other hand, we make positive comments that reinforce success.
  3. We change best when we change with others. The daily questions process can be asked by someone close to you and it may be helpful to check in with each other, encourage each other and offer ideas for self-correction.
  4. Rituals that embody the values and goals we want to achieve also help a lot towards our goals. Remember that thoughts leads to words, words lead to action, action leads to character and character leads to destiny. Rituals can help us solidify thoughts, words and actions and create great character.

We all will die one day. It may be today, tomorrow or in 100 years. But die we will. Happy people are not afraid to die. If you lived your life embodying these five secrets and lived as you wanted to live, then you will be able to accept death as a part of life. You will then realise that you always live in death’s shadow and that now is the time to live. You realise that death is part of being human and the you are at peace.

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is today. – Chinese proverb.

Stop judging the life you have lived and get on with the life you still may live. Whatever mistakes you may have made and no matter how many regrets may litter your past, plant a new tree today. Begin to live the secrets now or live them more deeply.

– notes from the book, The five secrets you must discover before you die by John Izzo


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