Happiness is Not for You

“Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you worked and searched and grabbed and grasped at happiness and found it fleeting, inconsistent and short lived?

Are you tired of the effort? The disappointment? The frustration and discouragement?

Perhaps you’ve already come to the same conclusion I have, that happiness is just not for you, that, indeed, it was never meant for you.

Now, before you jump to conclusions here, keep reading to see what I mean.

The Slipperiness of Happiness

I’m not suggesting you have no business being happy, that you might as well give up and accept a melancholy life. I’m simply saying that happiness can never be had for trying to gobble up more of it to store up like so many boxes in a warehouse.

I’ve known too many people who thought happiness was something you experience only when you can get your hands around it and squeeze it tight enough that it doesn’t slip through your fingers.

And so they sought after it and worked for it and chased it—in some cases, around the world. And still, they never were quite able to get hold of it. At least not for very long.

Does this sound all-too familiar to you?

Introducing John

John grew up thinking happiness was something other people gave him, that when he wasn’t happy, it was because other people or life circumstances were withholding it from him.

He regularly used phrases like, “You’re making me mad!” and “Why can’t you just make me happy?”

He was a decent enough guy, just didn’t know that his happiness was never meant to be about his happiness.

He looked for it in stores, in fast cars and faster women, in a bigger house, on the ski slopes, in promotions and status and title and influence. He waited for it to show up as a gift provided by others and was disillusioned that no one seemed able or willing to give it to him.

He even blamed God for failing, waiter-like, to bless him with his fair share of it.

No matter where he looked for happiness, or how hard he tried to keep it from running away, he just couldn’t domesticate the thing.

The tragedy is that the more he hungered for it and fought for his share of it, the less of it he had. His life felt empty, lonely and meaningless. And he just couldn’t understand why.

In its absence, he grew increasingly bitter and cynical.

Indirectly Happy

The seemingly well-kept secret to happiness is that happiness has never been, nor can it ever be, about you. Happiness is not a gift from life or God or the Universe to be unwrapped like a toy on your birthday.

It’s not something you own or buy or take or horde or save or protect or keep others from taking away.

In fact, happiness works best when we are actively giving it away. Gaining happiness is largely about giving happiness.

It’s about how you serve and bless and inspire others to live more happily. It’s about making others’ happiness more important than your own, not in a self-sacrificial, I’ll-be-sad-so-you-can-be-happy martyrdom, but in the sense that by lifting others, you are lifted even higher.

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

Self-gratification, it turns out, is a soft foundation on which to build a meaningful life of soul-satisfying joy.

The paradoxical reality is that the more you focus on other people’s happiness, the more yours grows.

Six Reasons Service is Heart and Soul to Happiness

1. Service forces you out of yourself, away from the mirror, into someone else’s moccasins. Depression, on the other hand, is a broken sort of self-absorption, where your feelings are all-consuming, making it difficult to focus on anything but how you feel.

2. Not only does compassion and love inspire acts of service, acts of service fosters love for those we serve. The more we serve, then, the greater our capacity to love. The greater the love, the greater the potential for happiness.

3. Service to those in need changes long-held perspectives. We see things on the other side of the fence and come to realize that things are not all that bad at home after all, that our grass is green enough. Appreciation and gratitude for our blessings thereby broadens and deepens.

4. Service adds meaning and purpose to life. You sense that you matter, that what you do and how you live is important to others. That makes us feel good about ourselves and happier about the road we’re on.

5. There is something deeply rewarding in helping to make someone’s life better. Their gratitude becomes our inspiration, warming our hearts, adding layers of joy to our happiness.

6. We change and grow. There are many pleasures in life. For me, it’s hiking, swimming, playing guitar, playing soccer with my son, making out with my wife and spending time with my extended family. All these activities make me feel good. But in none them do I feel like I’m a better person than I was before engaging in it.

Service is different. There is a happy afterglow that lingers long after the service has been rendered. We become different, ever so slightly, but ever so meaningfully. We’ve done something good and we know it. We feel it. That affects us in a very special way that leaves us happier because we feel elevated, better, improved somehow.

The Happy 500

If you took a real close look at the happiest people you know, I bet you a buck they would not necessarily be the ones partying the hardest or owning the most toys or living in the swankiest neighborhoods.

If there were a Happy 500 (like there’s a Fortune 500), it would be peopled with those who have come to understand the joys of service, that happiness is the byproduct of a life of giving, serving and loving. Some of the wealthy would certainly be included. But so would others of much more modest means.

Pursuing a cause, throwing yourself into service, lending everything you are to something you believe in and are passionate about provides meaning and hope and purpose and importance and, ultimately, the deepest kind of joy to the happiest kind of life.

A person never stands taller than when in the act of lifting one who has been broken by life to stand again and climb to higher ground.

When we reach out to others, we are often blessed more than the person or people we serve. We feel connected to a larger humanity, part of a Community of Compassion working to solve life’s problems and ease the burdens others bear. We feel elevated, elated, grateful, humbled, moved, loving … and eminently and utterly happier.

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