The short answer is, it’s already inside you, or at least the potential for it is. The long answer is that there is NO general answer. Each person finds his happiness in his own way. Somewhere in the middle is the starting point that’s a little more specific than the general, and a little more general than the individual.
If there are keys to happiness, they are gratitude, forgiveness, and love. These three elements set the tone for every other aspect of your life. They impact your relationships with others, how you view yourself, your attitude toward your goals, and your overall quality of life. If you feel you aren’t as happy as you could be, give yourself an honest and objective evaluation of how you rate in each of these three areas.
A sense of gratitude for everything in our lives keeps our attention on what we do have and off of lack. It makes us aware of all the things around us that make our lives so rich, and an awareness of, by comparison with many others in the world, how fabulously wealthy we are, no matter our income bracket. If you feel you could improve your attitude of gratitude, try keeping a gratitude journal where you take a few minutes once a week or so to list people and things in your life that you have to be grateful for and why you are grateful for them. You can also use a gratitude trigger, which reminds you throughout the day to take a moment to call up gratitude for something. If you want to know more about gratitude, you can check out my series on it here, and some more ideas for increasing your sense of gratitude can be found here.
Forgiveness flows in two directions, outward to others and inward toward ourselves. Resentment and guilt are two of the most destructive emotions, and forgiveness is the key to ridding ourselves of them. If you are dealing with resentment, take a few moments each morning to think of the person to whom the resentment is directed, and think of some positive qualities about that person. Then take it a step forward and honestly wish them the best out of life. If you are dealing with guilt, remember that life is about growth and learning. We all make mistakes, the question is did we learn anything from them. Whatever happened, know that you’ve learned from the experience and you won’t make the same mistake again. More about releasing resentment and guilt can be found here.
Faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love. Jesus told us there were only two commandments, to love God and to love each other. Love isn’t some mushy emotion, some weak, sissy feeling. Love is simply respecting every person as a human being, no better and no worse than you. It is treating other people the way you would like to be treated. It is an understanding that we all have our problems, and yours aren’t more important that anyone else’s. Even the most “evil” people in history had positive qualities. That doesn’t forgive their actions and it doesn’t free them from responsibility, but it does free US from the worse than useless emotion of hate. Whenever you catch yourself having unkind thoughts about a person, stop and make yourself acknowledge that they are a person, just like you, with as many faults, talents, weaknesses and strengths as you. Remember that you have no idea what issues they may be dealing with, or what good they may be doing in the world. Wish them the best, give them a smile, and go on with your day.
If your evaluation tells you that you aren’t as strong in one or more of these areas as you could be, dedicate the next 30 days to working on what needs improvement. It isn’t a huge undertaking. It requires only a commitment to change and a bit of honesty with yourself. If you can give it those two things for 30 days, you will be well on your way to finding your own happiness!