The term “recipe for happiness” is interesting… as if you can put in certain ingredients; throw it in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and out pops happiness. Sort of like those cooking shows we’ve all seen where they put the dish in the oven and pull the finished product out of the one below it. Could finding happiness really be that easy?
Making Your Happiness Cake
Like any great cake, it starts with great ingredients; what are the ingredients you think we need in our happiness cake? Here are my suggestions:
- 1 Cup Inner Peace
- 1 Cup of Spirituality
- 1 Cup of a Realistic Perspective of Yourself
- 1 Cup of Gratitude
- A Sprinkle of Service Work
What do you think, sound like a good list of ingredients? Initially I struggled with the amount of each ingredient we need in our happiness cake, but think they are all equally important; at least for total long-lasting happiness. As for the sprinkle of service work, well, when we’re really happy with our lives and full of gratitude, there’s no better way to hold on to that happiness and gratitude then by giving it away. There really is no other feeling like helping out someone else. But don’t confuse service work with taking care of others at the expense of your own happiness and serenity. As the saying goes, “you can’t give away something you don’t have.
So is the recipe for happiness really as easy as simply finding these ingredients and incorporating them into our lives? Honestly, I really think it is. But the “rub” (if you want to call it that) is finding these ingredients in our pantry. We obviously can’t buy any of these… or at least all the years I spent trying never seemed to work. So how do we get these ingredients for happiness into our pantry? Let’s look at a few practical ways to find each one.
Inner peace comes from having a realistic sense of self; a self that makes us comfortable with who we are and how we’re living our lives. I say “realistic” because for years the idea of who I was or what my life was about wasn’t really based in reality. Let me explain.
I always thought I was a very loving and caring person; key word here being “thought.” I never set out to intentionally hurt anyone, but in contrast to how I live now, I was pretty selfish and self-centered. I was always having grand ideas of getting my girlfriend flowers or would see something I thought a friend would really like, but in the process I was usually always looking out for myself and just let the thought pass by. I even told an ex-girlfriend once that I had “thought” about buying her flowers but… well, I can’t remember what I said after that, it really didn’t matter. Her response was, “should’ve could’ve.” The point here is that although I had an image that I was a caring guy, I really didn’t do a lot of things for other people purely from an altruistic state. And the amazing thing about this was I didn’t even realize it! I thought I was a nice guy; like I said, I didn’t go around hurting people but I also never really went out of my way to see what I could bring to the lives of others. Even when I did do something really nice, it was like deep in my heart I knew there was something in it for me. I didn’t realize this until years later as the result of an intense self-discovery process and a lot of emotional pain. I know this about myself now—how I was back then—because the feelings and actions I take to help others today is a totally different feeling and the difference is night and day. Today I’m not concerned with “what’s in it for me” because I already have everything I need.
When I refer to the highest ideal you have for yourself, I’m referring to the person whom you really want to be, deep down inside. This has nothing to do with material possessions or professional success; we’re talking about character traits. You may not even know what that looks like or what you’re missing, only that you feel as if you’re missing something. Finding the recipe for happiness is about finding that ideal person you want to be and finding a way to get there. An important part of that journey is finding happiness within you and getting rid of the fear which is standing in your way.
Spirituality can mean something different for each and every one of us. For me, it simply means I believe in a power greater than myself. It started with surrendering to the idea that there was possibly a creator or higher being and that I’m not it; basically, I’m not the center of the universe. It has evolved into something awesome today and continues to evolve over the years. I refer to this higher being as God, simply because it’s easy and works for me. What you believe in is not as important as it is to surrender to the idea that you’re not running the
universe show and that there might possibly be something out there you can turn to for guidance and strength.
I know when I go running or spend time in nature I feel relieved and under the influence of some higher being. I feel at one with nature and feel guided when I quiet my mind and am able to see my problems for what they are, in my mind! All our problems exist in our mind; we create them out of fears and insecurities. Finding a spiritual connection with something outside of ourselves gives us the strength to turn our problems over that are seemingly too heavy for us to bear; even if they are only in our minds.
Spirituality is an enormous part of my happiness; too much to get into here, but if you ever have any questions regarding my beliefs, feel free to contact me. Honestly I believe in a lot of things, I use the term God because it’s easy. I don’t defend or deny anyone else’s beliefs and feel everyone should use what they’re comfortable with and understand.
Realistic Perspective of Yourself
This topic gets back to what I touched on in the inner peace ingredient of happiness. This can mainly be summed up in one word: humility.
Humility: is the quality of being humble: modest, not proud, doing something out of the goodness of your heart, not for yourself.
The important thing to keep in mind about humility is this, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” I often confused self-deprecation with humility; it’s not the same thing. Humility is the ability to have a realistic honest self-appraisal of oneself.
A heart full of gratitude has little room for conceits and sadness. Gratitude is also an action; we take care of those things we’re grateful for. Look around and see how well you take care of you personal things and especially yourself. Are you grateful for your life?
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Service work, also known as volunteering, can be just about anything you want it to be. As I mentioned earlier, there really isn’t any feeling in the world like helping out someone else. There is a caveat to this however: your motives.
Here’s a good test to see if you’re doing service work for the right reasons: If you feel as if you might have resentment for doing something for someone, your motives might need adjusted.
This is extremely hard! I know I still struggle with this today. Here’s an example:
A few years ago my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I had just purchased her son and his wife a new paint sprayer for their home—they were in the process of preparing the exterior for painting. It was a sunny Saturday morning in early summer and I had (in my mind) a vision of a nice afternoon sitting by the pool reading and relaxing. I had an expectation of what my day was going to look like. I also expected that by purchasing them a paint sprayer, besides being grateful for the gift, we wouldn’t have to help them paint. Shortly after we arrived it was apparent that they really didn’t want the paint sprayer, which I understood because being a former painter they can sometimes be a pain to clean and maintain if you’re only doing a few small jobs (and their one story 2 bedroom house is not very big). A few minutes later I hear my girlfriend volunteer our services for the rest of the day to help them paint. Of course my mind immediately went to how I wasn’t going to be able to sit around the pool today and do nothing. I felt a little resentment build up inside and recognized it for what it was. I removed myself from the situation and went outside to… well pray and meditate. I sat by a tree and quieted my mind and ask for guidance. What came to my mind was this:
Years from now, what are you going to remember most: the day you sat by the pool doing nothing or the day you helped your future stepson and his wife paint their house?
The answer was clear and I was happy to help and be of service. That was one of many turning points for me and how I’ve found spiritual guidance to be helpful. You see, my first thought isn’t always the altruistic one, but I am able to feel a disturbance in myself and recognize it and turn it around into gratitude and an ingredient for happiness.
Here’s an exercise you can do to practice service work. Try doing something anonymously for someone. It doesn’t matter what it is, put $10 in their mailbox or rake their leaves while there at work, it doesn’t matter. You’ll feel good about yourself.
So that’s our happiness cake. Our recipe for happiness consists of Inner Peace, Spirituality, A Realistic Perspective of Yourself, Gratitude, and Service Work.
So go look in your pantry right now and see how many of these ingredients you have. If you’re a few items short, no big deal, just take some action today in finding your missing ingredient. If you’re here reading this you can add gratitude to your list; you’re able to read and that’s more than some people.
What’s your recipe for happiness look like?