A friend said I seem like a happy man and I replied, yes, in spite of my public harping on problems facing this old world, I've been feeling personally upbeat for years, knock on wood. I don't mean to sound smug. I know I'm one of the lucky ones, and luck always runs out. Still, when pressed to share my thoughts on what makes for happiness, I tell my friends what has worked for me.
First, learn to love the world as it really is. For me it means embracing a remarkable story that teachers of science and religion have done a poor job in telling. Where is their awe at the variety of the world, the vastness of space and time, the mystery of the Big Bang and the formation of untold numbers of worlds throughout hundreds of billions of galaxies? Where is their amazement at the rise of life from a cauldron of matter and energy, the subsequent development of life's ability to feed on life, to reproduce sexually, the advent of mammalian empathy, of human love and sympathy, the rise of intelligence and self-awareness.
The image of the whole earth is an amazing thing. It signifies an intelligent universe in the process of self-discovery. Allow yourself to marvel at this profound story of creation. As a twenty-first century human being, it's your birthright.
Theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Berry and Joseph Campbell and Pierre Teilhard tell us we should couch our belief systems--including Christianity--in the context of this vibrant new way of looking at the universe. For me, that means the teachings of Christ, Buddha and other prophets and seekers--about peace, love, tolerance, charity and healing--should be shared inside the framework of an ongoing awe at the variety of the world as revealed by modern cosmology. Be polite but wary of those who use miracles, magic and scriptural law to tell you how you must think in order to get to heaven. Such dogma can render you self-righteous and seduce you into persecuting those who don't share your beliefs. Worse, they can place your religion at odds with your own intelligence and experience. Speaking for myself, I've never found happiness and charity in that brand of exclusive religion.
Two. Find someone to love who will give you everything, and then surrender all. As the aging company man in the film, “Jerry MaGuire,” says, “I love my wife, I love my life, and this is what I would wish for you.”
Three. Embrace an attitude of gratitude. I'm not saying take stock of your good luck, rather, count your blessings. Luck always runs out. Blessings never do. They're found in the smallest of gestures, sensations, scenes and subjects, and often at your lowest ebb.
Four. Nurture a generous heart. Don't render yourself penniless, but ask yourself this. When were you ever sorry you gave something away? Built someone up? And this. Will my next act add to or reduce the amount of joy in this world, the joy in my children's eyes?
Five. Follow your bliss. Find something to do in life that you love and do it your life long. You'll like what you do every day and you'll find yourself among others who share your dreams and ideals. If you find yourself in a job you despise, try something new fast.
Six. Find ways to expand your mind, especially if you're the creative sort. I've mostly settled on running, biking, meditation and other socially sanctioned means, though in my wayward youth I found other ways. People forever have been finding ways of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of apprehending a larger reality. That's why children spin round and round, drunks get sloshed, hippies smoke weed, dervishes whirl, Gnostics meditate in caves, certain Christians shout, Buddhists chant, and prophets go wandering in the wilderness.
Seven. Don't let status seeking blind you to the sacredness, beauty and whimsy of the world. Writer Tom Wolfe and others have pointed out the thirst for status as a primary human drive, and I believe it's true. Still, of all the unnecessary, self-imposed misery-makers, the relentless thirst for status is among the worst. I know people leading perfectly fine lives who make themselves miserable by always measuring themselves against others or some idealized future they or their parents once imagined for them. Steeped in self-imposed shame and bitterness they no longer notice the dance of fireflies, the beauty of simple human gestures, and all the seconds slipping away. Don't let this happen to you.