As a counselor you get the privilege of hearing people's stories. Over the years my case load has including people making six figure salaries and homeless people with literally no income at all. Their success or the number in their bank account did not always reflect their happiness. One man quoted King Louie from the Jungle Book.
"I made it to the top and had to stop and that's what's bothering me."
He said "I thought once I was successful enough I would be happy. Now I made it to the top and I feel just as empty as when I started."
On the flip side one of my homeless clients came to every session with joy and enthusiasm for life. He would tell stories of how he had helped people and how great he felt about the people in his life. One session he shared how blessed he felt because he got two meals instead of one on that particular day.
So why did my six figure client feel empty and my homeless client carry joy with him? It had to do with their goals. My six figure client thought the key to happiness in life was in status and things. He sacrificed relationships to get to the top as fast as he could. My homeless client pursued relationships and meaning.
My homeless client said one session, "As long as I have people I love and love me back in my life, and I feel like I have a positive impact on the world there is no circumstance that can get me down."
Johnny Cash did a cover of Nine Inch Nail's song "Hurt" with that same basic message near the end of his life.
One of the lines in the song is:
"You could have it all. My empire of dirt."
He would give all his wealth away. It meant so little to him because of the emptiness he felt. The song talks of regret for not doing relationships well and how the wealth means nothing. It's a pile of dirt to him. There is a void because success without relationships and impact means nothing in the end.
When people age and are near their death bed it is natural to look back on your life and evaluate if you lived a good life. People tend to ask themselves questions like:
1. Did I make the world a better place?
2. Was I good to my family?
3. Did I love well?
I imagine this is exactly why Johnny Cash covered that song. He asked himself those questions and didn't like his answers. People who can answer these questions with a strong yes feel satisfied and fulfilled. People who answers those questions with a no feel a deep void and emptiness.
So you want to be happy? Follow these directions:
1. Find a way to make the world a better place every day. Even if that is something small like making some one smile or cleaning up some trash in the park.
2. Be a good friend. Respect people. Be trustworthy. Make relationships a priority and NEVER betray them. In the end relationships matter more than anything else. Never take them for granted.
Remember some times to be happy we have to do hard things. We have to not be selfish at times and put others first. This is the simplistic yet powerful answer to happiness.