A Key to Happiness (Perhaps?)

(Information for this essay comes from the following books: The Gift Of Giving by Michael Lynberg and “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough” by Harold Kushner)

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Most of us are pleasure seekers…. in search of happiness.

For example, we are constantly looking for love. We feel only half a person without someone.

We don’t want to stay home. So we go to bars or night clubs hoping to find that someone who will make a difference. Someone who will make us a complete person.

But often, we find ourselves in a sea of absolute strangers, lonelier than ever. And we feel like “fishes out of water.”

And if we do find someone, the relationship is often not stable. A good relationship takes time to grow.

Or we are looking for something to do, bored with every waking moment. We look for something to fill in our time, anything than satisfies our needs. We go to the malls when we don`t need to buy anything. We turn on the TV set when we know full well there is nothing on that really interests us.

We are constantly looking for happiness….outside of ourselves.

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We will not be happy, never be satisfied unless we step out of our comfort zone, pursue our calling, our life’s mission, utilize our talents and not follow the crowd.

“Seek Ye the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” states the Bible. (Matt 6:33)

And the parable of the talents is those who use their talents, more will be given; those that don’t use them will be deprived of them of what he has. (Matt 25: 14 – 30)


And according to an article written in the Toronto Star by religion writer Tom Harpur, there is said to be a `Lost Saying` of Jesus that occurs in the Gospel of Thomas found with other Gnostic writings in December 1945: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. “

True happiness, according to Helen Keller “is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

We must be a non-conformist in a conformist world. Standing up and taking the initiative. Wrote Shakespeare:“ This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as night the day. Thou canst not be false to any man.“

And hiding our talents or not using them is a sin against God/nature.  We wouldn’t walk away from someone who is hurting. We do the same when we don’t exercise our talents. They are meant to help humanity.

But what if we cannot find our purpose, our mission?

Mother Theresa asked her confessor how she would know that she was on the right path for her vocation. He said that “she would know by her happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve Him and your neighbor, this will be proof of your vocation. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

Often finding our path is by trial and error. “How can we learn to know ourselves” asked Goethe. “Never by reflection but by action.” We must realize our life`s journey is constantly under construction.

Religion teaches us to follow the path that no one else can take but ourselves.  There, of course, are the Bible verses mentioned earlier (Parables of the talents, Matt 25: 14 – 30) and (Seek Ye the Kingdom of God, Matt 6:33)

Other religions advocate to follow your heart. 

“Do all that is in thine heart for the Lord is with thee” says the Jewish Torah.

“What is the right course that a man should choose for himself” asks the Talmud – a book containing the collected wisdom of the rabbis of the first 5 centuries. “That which he feels to be honourable to himself and which brings honour from mankind…Who is honoured? He who honours others.”

The Talmud adds: “It is not upon thee to finish the work, neither art thou free to abstain from it.Each of us has a unique role to play in the work.

According to Hasidism, an 18th century sect of Judaism, it is through our work and the everyday exercise of our talents that one has access to God. But each person has a different access.

Islam teaches that we will never attain righteousness until we give freely of what we love.

Since our work occupies a great deal of our waking attention, Buddhism considers it impossible to progress spiritually if our occupation pulls us in the opposite direction.

In Hinduism, the goal is to transcend the smallness of the finite self and this is done when a person works with love, without thought for personal gain and in devotion to God. 

Confucianism advocates that we make use of our greatest talents and work in a manner which expresses what is highest in our nature. Mencius, a discipline of Confucianism wrote “those who follow that part of themselves which is great are great men; those who follow that part which is little are little men.”

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I have learned years ago that no matter what path one follows, it will be a struggle. Therefore, it is important we go where our heart is at.

Yes, one could face opposition or ridicule.  But I have to believe people who confront us are more threatened because, at least, we are trying and may succeed. And we face opposition and ridicule no matter what path we follow.

Seneca wrote “à happy life is one which is in accordance with its own nature. “ And Erich Fromm said “there is no meaning to life except the meaning that man gives his life by unfolding of his powers.“

There is something in us that demands we be unique, demands that we imprint our own style, our gifts and talents and that we try to reach our natural calling.

As Maslow wrote: `if a person ignores his higher needs, then he will never be fulfilled or at peace with himself. If you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you`ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.“

Though there are no guarantees to success.

By following the crowd, we loose our identity. Our uniqueness. That “something” that makes us special. In the words of Mencius: “to act without clear understanding, to form habits without investigation, to follow a path all one’s life without knowing where it really leads, such is the behaviour of the multitude.”

When we say “yes” to life, explore/develop our talents, we are like “fishes out of water”, standing alone. Scared, vulnerable, yet excited. We truly are our own persons. 

Paraphrasing Henry David Thoreau:”if we do not keep pace with our companions, perhaps it is because we hear a different drummer. Let us step to the music which we hear, however measured or far away.”