A Short Guide to a Happy Life

I’m not the wisest human being (shoot, am I wise at all?)… but there are a few things I’ve stumbled upon that I wish I would’ve stumble upon a few years back, they’re pretty wise. Maybe me having stumbled upon them now makes me a bit wise? A BIT?…

Am I making any sense?

I came across a book a few months back and without knowing anything about the book, I purchased it. See the author of the book is Anna Quindlen, the same author of “Being Perfect,” a book that got me through grad applications a few years back. Knowing the wise words of Quindlen got me through a rough patch once, I wanted to read them again.

The title of the book is “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”; a bit ironic as there probably is no short guide to a happy life… at least that’s what I thought when I first read the title.

Before I get into what the author shared and what I got out of the read, I think it’s important to take a moment to ask yourself what happiness truly means and is for you.

Some people may find that happiness is having a nice salary, some might consider traveling happiness… relationships might define another’s happiness.

I ask that you question your definition of happiness because although we might all have different ideas, Quindlen raises a few good points.

She says: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

This was the first time that I had heard that; I sat there in silence and thought to myself.

She then goes onto providing advice. She keeps it short and straightforward (sorta):

“So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?”. 

A bit extreme? Not for Quindlen as she shares what she’s had to face as a mother, wife, daughter, and journalist.

“Life is short. Remember that, too. I’ve always known this. Or maybe always. I’ve been living with mortality for decades, since my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was forty and I was nineteen.”

As I read, I kept pausing… silence.

Where did I get the idea that happiness entailed long hours of work, career success, loneliness?

This is where Quindlen’s wisdom comes in…

“There are new generations of immigrants now, who work just as hard, but those of us who are second and third and fourth generation are surrounded by nice cars, family rooms, patios, pools — the things our grandparents thought only rich people had. Yet somehow, instead of rejoicing, we’ve found the glass half empty.”

Half empty is right… to my surprise, some of the most successful people I have encountered up until this point have also been some of the unhappiest, depressed almost… stressed.

I’ve come across these individuals and seeing how successful they were, I convinced myself that it was ok… that happiness consisted of all of that. That eventually the stress would be over, the drama would die out, the work load would shrink. However, after reading Quindlen’s words, I learned that it doesn’t quite work that way.

You have control over your destiny, your happiness, your behavior. For this reason, it’s important that you define what happiness is for you, what it entails… what you’d rather be doing, what makes you smile, what you’re willing to give up and what you can’t live without out. Being happy doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, but being successful doesn’t bring happiness. In order to be happy, you have to work at being happy…at keeping happy and living a balanced life. At least, that’s what I took from Quindlen’s words.

Anna Quindlen concludes her short read with a story of a homeless man who once fed her wisdom. He told her, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.” 

Her response? “That’s all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I am never disappointed.”

Advice that anyone at any age can benefit from. I know I have.