December 13, 2023

A Journey to a Happier and More Fulfilling Life

Happiness is fascinating and is considered the ultimate desire in life by many. I have been doing extensive research on this complex topic, or perhaps one could call it ‘me-search’. I have realized that unless I can write it, share it and teach it, I have not truly learned it.

Arthur Brooks, a renowned social scientist, best-selling author and Harvard Business School professor, recently published Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, which he co-authored with Oprah Winfrey. He has made it his life mission to help others to achieve happiness. His research concluded there are four essential factors to attain it: faith, family, friends and work (earning success and service to others). These key pillars are the proven foundation for a happier and more fulfilling life. He identified three important categories to happiness: pleasure and enjoying the simple moments with the company of others, living with a sense of meaning (coherence, purpose and significance) and obtaining satisfaction you have worked to achieve. Purpose comes from perspective and peace.

Brooks shares that everyone needs both balance and abundance. It’s about understanding and managing your emotions and desires. Like Socrates’ wisdom—being happy is more about being satisfied with less than desiring more.

Ultimately, happiness is about meaningful relationships and love. A fulfilling life is about experiences with people that we love. Monsignor John Patrick Carroll-Abbing, a priest and Noble Peace Prize Nominee, who I have had the opportunity to know, shared in a letter to me decades ago that said, “the secret to happiness is to love and the essence of love is to serve”. These words have had an important impact on my life.

St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Catholic theologians and philosophers, defined love as “to will the good of the other”. In 1274, he wrote Summa Theologica on the virtuous four vs. the vicious four of money, power, pleasure and fame (the false idols). St. Augustine shared, “every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”. Based on research, once one’s essential needs are met, there are three major areas where money can assist relative to happiness:

Time: Money can be used to maximize your enjoyment, fulfill your curiosity and pursue your passions.

Experiences: Money will help you gain experiences with loved ones, family and friends. However, it’s not the same when you are not sharing experiences and memories with others.

Giving: Doing more than just philanthropy but making a true impact in someone’s life; doing acts of kindness and generosity.

A Harvard study of Adult Development, which chronicled the lives of more than 8,500 people over a period of 85 years, showed that building and nurturing good relationships can significantly impact our overall health and well-being. But the key to these good relationships is that they all take significant effort. The bottom line of this vast, ongoing study, is that people with the most fulfilling lives had the best relationships.

Warren Buffett said your only measure of success should be the number of “people you want to have love you actually do love you”. His wisdom reminds us that true success lies in the quality of our relationships. Due to his age and life experiences, he has proven his wisdom (the ability to recognize patterns). As we navigate through life, it becomes evident that the ultimate measure of our happiness is the genuine love and connection we share with those we hold dear.

In another best seller, From Strength to Strength, Arthur Brooks shares the importance of transitioning from ‘fluid intelligence’ to ‘crystalized intelligence’. I am learning to transition myself and found that it is successfully taking the step from striver to advisor, daddy to papa or player to coach.

Love, in its purest form, is expressed through service to others. By putting others before ourselves, we tap into the essence of love, creating a positive effect for those around us while enhancing our own sense of happiness.

Mother Teresa’s wisdom echoes the sentiment that even small acts of love can have a profound effect – “do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” This powerful statement reminds us that happiness is not necessarily found in grand gestures but in the everyday acts of kindness, love and service that we extend to others. To receive love, one must first give it. I call this the “Law of Reciprocity”. Research has shown that when people are sad, and they shift how they can help others and acknowledge what they are grateful for, their happiness grows. Oprah Winfrey shared that if you start and end your day with gratitude, it will leave a feeling of abundance instead of scarcity. In the Greek language four distinct kinds of love are identified. These are: Philia (love found in strong friendships), Eros (love found in romantic relationships), Storge (love found in family relationships) and Agape (love that is the most important in any marriage).

The eight Beatitudes, which appear in the New Testament in the book of Matthew, were shared by Jesus to inspire an appreciative Christian lifestyle. Beatitude derives from the word “beatitudo” which means blessedness or happiness. These universal virtues such as living with a sense of humility by wanting less, compassion to help others by putting them first, holding fast to their faith and striving to be a better person, can resonate with anyone that desires to live a happier life. It is also important to admit one’s faults and weaknesses.

Research also shows that we should strive for our daily serving (or D.O.S.E.) of happiness chemicals. It is not just psychological, actual chemicals released in the brain impact happiness.

  • Dopamine encourages motivation to accomplish goals. It can be boosted through trying new experiences, meditation and following a to-do list.
  • Oxytocin helps us focus on love and nurturing relationships. It can be boosted through hugging, acts of kindness and socializing.
  • Serotonin helps regulate your mood. It can be boosted by taking nature walks, sunshine and expressing gratitude.
  • Endorphins release a brief euphoria masking physical pain and stress. It can be boosted by laughing and exercising.

One important part of happiness is continuously striving to make progress in various aspects of life. Happiness is a journey, not a destination; emphasizing the need to attract happiness rather than seeking it. An essential lesson in happiness lies in appreciating the present and managing our desires. The secret to satisfaction is not accumulating more but learning to want less. The quality of your life depends upon how peaceful and joyous you are within yourself. Love is a decision, not just a feeling. By just eliminating things that make you unhappy will not necessarily make you happy. Life will continue to provide challenges that can cause unhappiness. It is about how to embrace, reflect, learn, share and grow. A journey of learning the essential aspects will assist in appreciating how important love is and how much it positively attributes to a happier life.

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