The Keys to Happiness

happyfacesWhen asked as a parent, “what do you want most for your children/child?”, we each might give a different answer.  Do you want fame, wealth, success in career or sport, or might it be happiness or some combination of things?

I grew up in a village in Zimbabwe from the ages of 4 to 8, and finished high school in Southern Africa living a very simple missionary-kid life.  I can assure you I had about as ideal a childhood as a kid could ask for.  I was never hungry, I was loved by my parents and by the entire village or community of which we were a part of, and I grew up with no TV, playing outdoors and coming in for meals, sleep, and after dark time with the family. My parents seemed to naturally practice the 10 habits (keys) to happiness and these were instilled in me from a very young age by everyone around me and with positive reinforcement. 

Just yesterday, one of my children (adult now) asked me “Pops, have you ever been disappointed with your generation?”.  My response: “Everyday, son” and I went on to explain how we have and continue to pour toxins into the environment as if they are harmless, and what I wasn’t able to put in words was my sense of loss that for all the material gains many make in this world, we are losing in the areas that matter: happiness, a sense of being a part of a community that is good and helping the world, making the world a better place.  

I learned at age 45 the concept of give life your best and let go of the results.  You see, most of my life I was driven with ambition and any failure to achieve caused anxiety and a sense of failure.  Now with that simple mind adjustment, I can still pursue, with passion, worthwhile goals but not stress about the outcome of those pursuits. 

From the University of Hertfordshire and Dr Mark Williamson, Director of “Action for Happiness” has come the concept that self acceptance can be the key to a happier life.  

The happy habits included in the survey are based on the Ten Keys to Happier Living framework, developed by Action for Happiness based on an extensive review of the latest research about what really affects mental well being. Together, the Ten Keys spell the acronym GREAT DREAM, as follows:

  • Giving: do things for others
  • Relating: connect with people
  • Exercising: take care of your body
  • Appreciating: notice the world around
  • Trying out: keep learning new things
  • Direction: have goals to look forward to
  • Resilience: find ways to bounce back
  • Emotion: take a positive approach
  • Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning: be part of something bigger

While acceptance (being happy with who you are and what you are doing) was most commonly associated with happy people, it was one of the least practiced activities.  Most people rate giving and relating as the activities they do most. 

I encourage everyone to be proactive in doing what really matters.  The size of our house or bank account, cost of our car, or position in society ultimately have less to do with our happiness than just being positive, loving, connected to others and always learning and on the journey of self improvement and the betterment of all those around us. For those of us who are “care givers”, don’t forget to take care of yourself.  We do everything better, and are healthier and happier, when we take care of ourselves. 

On my last trip to Zimbabwe, to the village where I grew up care-free and lived a very simple life, I was again struck by the amazing joy and happiness within the Zimbabwean people.  Most in the village have no world possessions but the few clothes they rotate, and if doing really well, a few cattle. Electricity is just arriving to the village for those few who can afford it. There are no flush toilets. Despite this apparent lack of things, the human spirit was alive and well.  I have no doubt that they were practicing the 10 action habits for happiness.  


Read the Action for Happiness Handbook Here


Dr. Paul


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