Where Happiness Comes From

Posted on January 23rd, 2013

"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation that gives happiness." – Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States (from 1801-1809) and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1743-1826)

We’ve heard many times before that money doesn’t buy love. It also doesn’t buy happiness. The rich aren’t any happier than we are, nor are they any more capable of happiness than the rest of us. Just because we’re in recovery doesn’t mean that different rules apply. There is no happiness in an accumulation of wealth or piles of material things. They are just possessions. There is no inherent happiness in them.

Of course, some of us have conditioned ourselves to believe just the opposite. We may have believed that we could only be happy if we got to a certain level of wealth, had a specified amount of money in the bank, multiple properties, copious personal possessions, jewelry and clothing galore, could travel the world and buy anything we wanted. We may have longed to have no financial troubles ever in our lives, believing that this would make us happy.

Let’s be clear about having dreams and goals, some of which include us getting out of financial difficulty. Being able to properly care for ourselves and our loved ones and living up to our obligations and responsibilities is not the same thing as being fixated on becoming rich. We do need to take care of our obligations and to do so adequately will require a certain amount of fiscal soundness. There’s no greed involved in this goal.

So, we should be happy even though we’re not rich? Well, it’s a good start to think that way. The truth is that we may one day have more than sufficient resources at our disposal. We may even become rich. But if we live our lives in the appropriate manner, not believing that money or possessions are the only things that will make us happy, we’ll be able to live a happy life even though we do have them.

That’s because we aren’t so focused on things so much as using our wealth or possessions to help others make a better life. In other words, if we are more outward-looking rather than so concerned with accumulation of more (stuff and money), we’ll be much more likely to find the peace and tranquility that many people associate with being happy.

There’s another point about happiness that deserves some discussion and that is about what we do for a living. Whether it is an occupation that we do or the job that we go to every day, when we’re busy doing something, we’re not sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves, steeping ourselves in misery, heaping blame on others for our mistakes, or conniving to get ahead by doing nothing. Work is important for many reasons, especially when we are in recovery. We need something constructive to do, something that engages us and helps us pass the time. We need structure and routine. We need a paycheck so that we can take care of our family and ourselves.

When we find pleasure in our occupation, in what we do, there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll also find happiness. And, make no mistake about it, we’re likely going to have to work for the greater part of our lives, so it is in our own best interests to find something to like about what we do on a daily or regular basis.

Let’s say that we aren’t all that enthralled with our current line of work. We know we have to bring home sufficient income to take care of our obligations, but this isn’t a career, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of stewing over a dead-end job, figure out how we can advance, get a promotion, go into a different line of work or embark upon a discovery journey to find what is more enjoyable and satisfying.

This will necessitate more effort on our part, but if we identify something else that we truly want, we should also be willing to go through whatever it takes for us to become successful in the endeavor. It could be that we’ll need to undergo a kind of apprenticeship. We may need to go back to school or enroll in school to finish or get a degree, possibly an advanced degree. We may need some period of years of experience in order to gain the expertise required to be considered proficient. We may need practice. We definitely need the self-confidence that comes with learning and being able to do more.

There’s a lot of promise inherent in some of these far-reaching goals. Such promise helps motivate us to not only attempt a difficult goal or challenge, but also to keep us going when we encounter the inevitable obstacles or hurdles while we’re busily engaged in working toward the goal.

Think of how we felt as a child looking at the bright lights of the Christmas tree in the living room and all the invitingly packaged gifts just waiting to be opened. If our home environment didn’t have such a festive atmosphere, we can at least envision the same from what we’ve seen and heard in movies and on television. The point is that our future is like the brightly-wrapped gifts. It is waiting for us to discover the wonders that lie ahead.

We can be happy and we will be happy, but it isn’t an automatic outcome. We owe ourselves a few things in preparation. We need to forgive ourselves for our past. We need to allow ourselves to succeed and, most of all, we need to give ourselves permission to be happy. Then, once we’ve done this, concentrate on doing what we need to do first for our recovery. Then do what we find appealing and believe will help us find tranquility and peace. Follow that by daring to tackle the far-off dreams that we’ve always wanted, but never allowed ourselves to consider seriously.

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