What's the secret to happiness?

morning jog
Public Domain Unsplash

We know it's not stuff. But maybe it's not exciting experiences either.

What makes a person truly happy? We know it's not material belongings. It has been shown again and again that buying stuff rarely results in lasting happiness. More often than not it creates stress, debt, clutter, and waste. So let's agree that stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be and move on.

Next up for analysis are experiences, which have become a hot and trendy replacement for physical goods. Young people in particular are rejecting all kinds of traditional domestic items – a home, vehicle, furniture, cookware, sports gear, book collections, original art – in favour of exotic vacations, thrill-seeking adventures, and luxury experiences. Their rationale is that the memories of these experiences will last far longer than the stuff that could have been purchased with that money.

But what if that's not even the answer? Maybe the key to happiness is even simpler and closer at hand than we realize.

Happiness, I'd like to argue, is made from neither nice stuff nor thrilling experiences; but rather, from the much less exciting building blocks of everyday life – a healthy body, a pleasant daily routine, meaningful work, good friends, and a plan for the future that offers peace of mind. When you have these building blocks in order, you will enjoy ordinary daily life and not feel the need to shop or travel to escape it. There's a Seth Godin quote that puts it more poetically:

"Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from."

So what would this recipe for ordinary happiness look like? Finance blogger Mr. 1500 does a good job at breaking it down.

Strive to have a career that is fulfilling. Maybe you won't earn as much as if you followed a different path, but you might have time to spend with your kids after school, time to cook good food to nourish your family, and the satisfaction that comes with feeling like you're using your creative brain.

Keep your body healthy because it's the only one you've got. As I watch my grandmother age and hear about others my parents' age whose bodies are deteriorating, I realize how priceless good health is. Take the time to work out, to spend time outside, to get adequate sleep each night, to feed your body properly.

Take care of your house. Create a nest at home that is welcoming and restorative. Keep it tidy and decluttered; otherwise, it can weigh on you mentally. Buy fewer but higher quality furnishings to put in it that will make your life easier and more enjoyable.

Protect your mind. Put down the phone so it doesn't disturb your thoughts. Avoid social media if you feel like it's having a negative effect on your wellbeing. Pay down debt and get your finances in order so they doesn't weigh on you or create stress in your relationship with a partner.

Surround yourself with good people. These should be people with whom you can be yourself. A question I ask myself sometimes is, "Would I have this person over for dinner?" If the answer is no, then you may want to reassess where you're allocating emotional energy.

Guard your time. This suggestion comes via minimalist expert Joshua Becker, who writes that "it is important for each of us to become more aware of what is truly worth the hours of our one, short, important life." People who love their lives haven't done so by accepting every invitation:

"They have done so by guarding their time ruthlessly for the things that matter most and by learning to say 'no' graciously to the others."

This isn't to say that vacations aren't wonderful. Go and enjoy yourself, but make sure that you're not escaping a life you dislike.

What's the secret to happiness?
We know it's not stuff. But maybe it's not exciting experiences either.

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