5 Secrets for a Happy Life
What is the key to successful living? Here, 5 secrets for leading a full and meaningful life
Studies have found that a person’s outlook on life may not only improve longevity but quality of life. Optimists, in fact, are said to experience a higher level of both physical and mental functioning than their pessimist counterparts. And people who perceive themselves to be happy are less likely to become ill, researchers say.
So what is the key to successful living? Author John Izzo set out to answer that very question in his book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die.
Named the best self-help book of 2008 by the Independent Publisher’s Association, it is based on a five-hour Biography Channel TV series in which Dr. Izzo interviewed 230 people from age 60-106 asking them to reflect back on what they had learned about life.
Interviewees ranged from a town barber to CEOs, from aboriginal chiefs to Holocaust survivors. All were considered by others to be ‘wise elder’ and to have something important to teach about how to live well and be happy. Among them, Dr. Izzo says, they represent over 18,000 years of life experience.
5 secrets to lasting happiness
Q. Good advice to be sure, but life can be terribly busy. With so many voices, expectations and responsibilities crowding our daily lives, how to know if we’re following our heart?
A. It’s true we all have this unelected board of directors that we carry around with us: the voice of our parents, society, and others telling us what it means to be successful. But many of the people I interviewed said that each one of us has an inner voice inside of us that is reliable but that we have to create space to hear it.
One of the simplest ways to hear the inner voice is to build reflection into your life and ask three simple questions: Did the last week or month of my life feel like how I want to be living my life? Am I doing what I really want to do with my life — have I heeded my calling? Is this who I really am?
Q. I think this resonates with many of us who are looking for more meaning in our personal lives and careers. Yet to move beyond the familiar requires a fair amount of courage. How to overcome the ingrained fear of failing — or of making a huge mistake?
A. One of the most striking things about these interviews is that so few people regretted their failures. What they regretted was not having tried or having left a dream in the closet. Leaving no regrets is not possible, but knowing that you pursued your life as far as you could is possible.
Q. I was inspired by how the focus of this secret is not on receiving, but giving love, and in fact “becoming love”.
A. Yes, many people told me the secret to happiness is not to get love but to be a loving person, which they said is a choice. They told me to love fully, forgive even when it’s hard, make people a priority, and that when you choose to love it comes back to you in the form of happiness. We live in a society where we are always told the secret is to have others love or admire you but these people kept telling me it’s the other way around.
Q. For people who are either living in the past – remembering the ‘good ole days’ or regretting a mistake — or the future (“I’ll be happy as soon as…”), what is your best advice for embracing the moment and learning how to be happy with what you have, in the here and now?
A. You hit the nail on the head. What these people told me is you can’t change the past so be gentle with yourself. It’s only a mistake if you keep doing it. They said happiness is not out there in anything you don’t have right now — not in an accomplishment, or a person, or on the weekend.
Q. Most of us know how gratifying it can be — at times surprisingly so — to be of service to others, even in the smallest way. Yet we seem to get locked into our daily routines, tasks and to-do lists. What is your best advice on changing habits?
A. To change habits is the hardest part for many people. We may know all these secrets, but we don’t know how to live them. A man in his seventies told me, “It’s not enough to know. When you know you have to go.” That’s why I spent an entire chapter on how to live the secrets.
My simplest suggestion is to take a small wallet/pocket sized card and write down on it what you most want to keep in your awareness—such as live in the moment, be a giver, be true to self, or whatever most calls to you. Carry that card around with you wherever you go for 3-4 months. Our research shows that if you carry a card with you, the mind shifts you in that direction moment to moment.