The third principle identified by Rick Foster and Greg Hicks in their book, “How We Choose To Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” is identification.
They define this as “the ongoing process of looking deeply within yourself to assess what makes you uniquely happy, apart from what you’re told by others should make you happy.”
At first this may seem basic and simple – until you look at the qualifiers. The things that will bring happiness to you are not exactly the same as those that will bring happiness to someone else. Too often we assume as our own the dreams of others.
I would love each of my children to find the fulfillment I have discovered in my career and calling but I would not want any of them to become physicians or writers unless they found their own passions in those roles. Each of us has a unique potential in life. Part of the joy is the journey to discover that potential, learning from our experiences, making our own choices and listening to our deepest passions.
When parents dictate the career path of their children, they hold them back from discovering their own unique potentials. When my wife’s nephew graduated from high school, he wanted to study film. His parents insisted that he study commerce and someday when he’s made enough money, he can do what he wants. It’s the perfect setup for eventual job dissatisfaction or a midlife crisis.
Sometimes we discover in the course of life that we have outgrown our former dreams. For most of us, it is difficult to decide at age 17 what we wish to do for the rest of our lives. We have to be open to life while listening to our deepest desires. Determining what brings us happiness is a dynamic and evolving process.
It takes humility and courage to realize that what you have been pursuing is not what you really want, change courses and commit yourself to discovering greater happiness. I admire my colleagues who maintain their passion in caring for their patients, but I also admire my classmate in our first year at med school who, in spite of being the daughter of a physician, decided that medicine was not for her and left the faculty.
Too often we accept how advertising and entertainment influence what we think will bring us happiness: beautiful partners, the latest technology, exotic vacations, fast cars, movie star lifestyles and big homes. Magazine covers set a standard for desire that few of us will ever attain: six-pack abs, perfect figures and flawless beauty.
This can set us up for failure . . . and disappointment.
When we are unhappy after getting what we want, we realize that what we had wanted was not what we needed to be happy. What we each need to do is to take a deep honest look into our own hearts and ask, “What brings me happiness?”
Foster and Hicks recommend the exercise of creating your personal dream list. In answer to the question, “What really makes me happy?”, write a list of everything that comes to mind. They then advise reviewing your list and distinguishing those items that reflect who you really are from those that were borrowed from or dictated by others.
They recommend asking yourself a similar question when you need to make decisions. What choices will make you happiest?
Next post: the principle of centrality – making happiness your priority.