If I ask you “what is happiness?”, then what would your answer be? It’s probably difficult to come up with a simple answer. Yet, here you are, looking for a key to happiness and how to lead a fulfilling life.
The truth is that a universal key to happiness is a myth.
That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking for yours right now, it only means that you need to be careful when reading articles about “a key to happiness”. The universal key to happiness is non-existent because happiness is one of the most difficult things in life to define.
- How do you define happiness?
- Your definition of happiness changes over time
- Define what happiness means to you!
- A personal example
- Examples of what others think their key to happiness is
- A single key to happiness does not exist
- Find your purpose in life
- Combine your purpose in life with the keys to your happiness in order to lead a fulfilling life
- Destination = Happiness = Journey
- Closing words
This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!
How do you define happiness?
Now, let’s go back to that difficult question: “what is happiness?”
Have you thought about it already? Let me give you an example of how hard it is to define happiness.
Right now, I’m drinking a cup of coffee while writing the outline of this article about how to define happiness. Am I happy right now? Yes, I’m feeling pretty happy:
- I’ve got nothing to worry about
- All my basic needs are met
- My family, friends, and girlfriend are all happy as well
- The weather is nice
- I’m going outside in a couple of minutes to go for a walk
These things are all making me feel pretty happy right now.
By that logic, let’s define my happiness as follows:
“Happiness is when I’m in a worry-free state, the weather is nice, everybody I know is alright and I can enjoy a hot cup of coffee.”
Voila. There it is. My definition of happiness. The keys to my happiness are obvious now, and I know enough in order to lead the happiest life I can. I just need to focus on the things I listed above.
Your definition of happiness changes over time
Wait a second… If it were this simple, then why have I ever been unhappy?
You might have guessed it already, but I made a very simple error. I assumed that what makes me happy today will make me happy for the rest of my life. And that’s just wrong.
Happiness is something that not only changes from person to person, but it’s also constantly evolving from day to day. This is why happiness is such a difficult concept, and why there’s not a single “key to happiness”.
Whoever tells you otherwise is likely not aware that people change, and that people don’t always share the same values, goals, and purposes.
Define what happiness means to you!
For a minute, I want you to do consider your own happiness. I want you to think back of last week, and consider what things you did that had a positive effect on your happiness. What things had a significant influence on your mood?
What comes to your mind? Was it spending time with your friends? Was it a great movie you watched? Did you attend an exciting sports event? Or did you enjoy sipping hot coffee on a sunny Wednesday morning? It could obviously be just about anything!
It’s important to realize that all these things were part of your “key to happiness”. Your happiness was defined by these things, and you just measured a small part of that. Does that mean you now know all the answers? Do you now know how to live the rest of your life? No. But you do know what things made you happy last week, and that’s very useful information when determining your own definition of happiness to build on.
If you consciously keep track of what factors determine your happiness, then you are more likely to find out just how much your definition of happiness can vary from time to time. This knowledge can help you find your key to happiness.
On some days, sipping coffee in the early morning is my key to happiness
A personal example
You see, even though happiness is claimed to be the factor of life that’s the most difficult to measure, you can still measure how you define your own happiness each day. It’s simple. For me personally, when I think back of last weekend, I remember that I really enjoyed spending time with my girlfriend, walking through the woods on a sunny day and just relaxing (a.k.a. doing nothing!)
These are happiness factors that were a vital part of my happiness definition this weekend. I had just survived a long and busy week at work, so I was really trying to find some easy enjoyment. The things that I did this weekend were perfect for the occasion, as it was a very happy day for me.
If you were to ask me what the key to my happiness was that weekend, I’d give you the following answer:
To spend quality time with my girlfriend, being able to enjoy the good weather while being carefree and relaxed.
While this is unlikely to be the key to your happiness for the rest of your life, it is a pretty good start.
You can do exactly the same. All you need to do is to define your own happiness from day to day.
Examples of what others think their key to happiness is
When I initially wrote this article, I thought: “why don’t I include the experience of others?”
I can show you the keys to my own happiness all I want, but it’s probably much more refreshing to see what others experience as their keys to happiness.
I asked some of my friends online a couple of simple questions:
How do you live a happy life right now?
What is the main factor of your happiness?
What is the key to your happiness?
Here are some very interesting answers that I got.
Rachel’s key to happiness is about giving up control
Rachel, who’s the head of content at ZipBooks, gave me a very interesting answer to my question: what is your key to happiness?
Happiness is relinquishing control.
Last month, my car slid on black ice on the freeway and was totaled. My 12 years of driving experience and my understanding of the laws of physics were both suspended – as were my tires. I remember this totally surreal feeling of looking around, realizing I was about to crash, and having no way to stop it.
It was heart-dropping and also, incredibly freeing – a powerful reminder that while we need to work hard and learn everything we can and build a healthy body and brain, sometimes, things just happen.
For me, happiness has been learning to invite the inevitable and expect the unexpected. When I’m not so stressed about controlling everything in my life, I’m actually better able to enjoy the day-to-day.
I like how Rachel’s key to happiness is similar to mine: to have a worry-free mind. If we give up control over things that we have no control over anyway, we allow ourselves to better enjoy our lives!
It sounds so easy, yet, so many people spend their time trying to control every little detail of their life.
Giving up control is one of the best rules to live a happier life.
Milana’s key to happiness is about the small and simple things in life
I got another great and simple response from Milana Perepyolkina, who shows you that happiness can be found in the small things in life! We just need to actively look for these small but meaningful things.
I made a long list of all the things that made me happy. I put down anything and everything, it didn’t matter how big or small it was. I was going to create my own happiness by doing the things on this list. There were things like:
- Make one drawer of my desk organized and beautiful inside or go for a walk in the canyon among the trees.
- Find a beautiful rock outside in nature. Look for unusual shapes in the clouds and stare at them for several minutes. Get soaked dancing in the rain.
- Find a mind-blowing TV show to look forward to every week. Read and reread a book that inspires me.
Things like that. They were simple things, but they brought me extraordinary happiness.
As soon as I began doing the things on my list, my bad mood started to go away. I started experimenting with new healthy recipes at home, which was not only fun but also helped me feel better physically. I stopped getting sick and my headaches became less frequent. I signed up for a new yoga class, which helped me feel stronger and more confident in myself. I started going to events where I met new friends and spending more time with the people who mattered in my life.
Soon, I was regularly going to lectures that stimulated my mind and woke up my imagination, creativity, and intellectual abilities. I went to festivals that had music, singing, dancing, art, and whole communities of interesting people, all of which stimulated my heart and made me feel good.
My life became so full of these happy moments that I no longer had a bad mood at all. I was too busy enjoying the good things. I began living my life to the fullest and loving every second of it.
This is a beautiful example of how simple happiness can really be.
We don’t need to spend a ton of money on luxuries and travel. Happiness is right around the corner. You just need to be willing to find it.
A single key to happiness does not exist
Can you see how these examples are still very different from one another?
A universal key to happiness does not exist. You have to find the thing that makes you the happiest at this very moment. What makes you happy today will not necessarily make you happy tomorrow.
That’s why tracking your happiness is so important. By considering what makes you happy every day, you quickly learn more about the keys to your happiness.
Find your purpose in life
The next step to determining your key to happiness is to determine the things that give you purpose. You will live a fulfilling life when you’re happily tracking towards a purpose. Something that you’re passionate about.
Let’s use the previous example of my key to happiness. Will I be happy for the rest of my life when I focus exclusively on a relaxed and carefree feeling? Probably not, because it will not lead to a very fulfilling life. Not for me, at least.
There are some things that drive my actions in a much bigger sense than only my daily, short-term happiness. For some people, that purpose could be:
- To take care of a loving family
- To build a successful company
- To climb the highest mountains
- To be rich and famous
You have to find out what your purpose in life is in order to truly determine your key to happiness. Only then will you be able to define a sustainable plan that will make you both happy and fulfilled.
It’s important to know that you can find your purpose only when trying out new things. This is a crucial part of finding your key to happiness. You can’t read an article online (like this one) and suddenly learn about what your key to happiness is! The same thing goes for finding your purpose. You can’t expect to find your purpose without trying new things. People stumble upon their purpose in life in lots of different ways.
Combine your purpose in life with the keys to your happiness in order to lead a fulfilling life
Now, this might sound like a mouthful.
A purpose in life x keys to your happiness = fulfilling life? It’s actually really simple. Let’s take the following example: I’ve found that my purpose in life is to become the CEO of a great and powerful charity (I know, I know…)
I feel a purpose and sense of accomplishment when working towards these goals.
However, should I therefore sacrifice everything in my life in order to reach that purpose? Should I work 100 hours a week, disregard any relationships and use sleep medication just to fall asleep under the stress?
Nope. If I do that, I might reach my purpose, but I won’t still be happy.
However, if I spend the rest of my life similar to how I spent my last weekend (enjoying the sun and walking through the forest) I will also miss long-term happiness. That’s because I won’t feel like my life has a purpose.
Your key to happiness and the purpose of your life need to compliment each other.
They need to be in balance.
Destination = Happiness = Journey
You’ve probably heard the saying: “Happiness is a journey, not a destination”.
Think of the destination as your purpose, and think of the journey as the things you do that make you happy (the keys to your happiness).
You can’t spend your life running (or sprinting) towards your destination, because you’ll forget to enjoy the journey.
At the same time, you can’t head out on your journey without having a destination in mind.
That’s why I believe your happiness is a product of both the journey and the destination. Or in other words, you need to combine your purpose in life with the keys to your happiness in order to lead a fulfilling life. This will allow you to create a road map – a specific and concise plan – that will help you determine how to best lead your life. If you’ve done that, you’re ready to steer your life in the best direction possible!
The most important thing to remember when trying to define your keys to a happy and fulfilling life is simple: there is no universal key that leads to your happiness. That’s because your happiness is unique in each and every single way. What you can do is:
- Realize that you can define the factors that make you happy
- Know that your happiness – and the factors that influence it – change over time, and so will your “key to happiness”
- Find out what your purpose in life is. You can only do this by trying out many things. You can’t learn this from simple reading an article!
- Combine your purpose and the things that make you happy in order to get the best idea of how to steer your life in the best direction possible!
Founder of Tracking Happiness and lives in the Netherlands. Ran 5 marathons, with one of them in under 4 hours (3:59:58 to be exact). Data junkie and happiness tracker for over 7 years.