Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.
-- Hafiz of Persia
It's 2012! Happy New Year! We clink glasses, hug one another, kiss our spouses and send midnight text messages to friends and family far away. The phrase is repeated often, but the meaning is true. We do want 2012 to be a happy year, for ourselves and for everyone we know.
So what determines our happiness? As a longtime quote-aholic, I searched pages of happiness quotes online to see if I could find some commonality that could serve as a happiness guide for 2012.
What will make you happy in 2012? Well, according to my unscientific and probably biased conclusions, there are at least four things that religious leaders, comedians, historical figures and ordinary people cite frequently.
First is the pursuit of happiness -- so important in America that our founding fathers insisted upon it as an inalienable right. Many quotes, however, tell us that pursuing happiness is not the way to find it. Rather, we need to slow down and let happiness catch up to us:
"Happiness is like a butterfly.
The more you chase it, the more it eludes you.
But if you turn your attention to other things,
It comes and sits softly on your shoulder."
-- Henry David Thoreau
In our hectic lives we constantly rush from one place to another with the small details in life -- the special fleeting moments, the ones that can truly give us simple happiness -- going unnoticed. We want happiness -- like fast food -- right now and it had better be good!
Second, we tend to think that happiness is found in the things around us. Abraham Lincoln reminded us that "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Almost 2000 years before Lincoln, Aristotle said, "Happiness depends on ourselves."
So, happiness is an attitude? A conscious decision? Many other quotes (and many quotable and happy people) apparently show agreement with this idea.
So how do we get that happiness within? Well, that would lead us to points three and four.
Third, we are happiest when we take time to count our blessings. A few years ago, while browsing in a gift store, I came upon a small card with a picture of a golden retriever puppy on it and the simple quote: "Count your blessings, not your worries." The quote spoke to me. I bought it, put it in a small frame, and placed it on a shelf in my closet where it would be one of the first things I would see each morning and one of the last things I would see each night.
The simple act at the end of each day of mentally listing the things for which I am grateful in my life allows me to go to bed appreciative of friends, family, home -- the most important things in my life, the things that make me happy.
"In our daily lives, we must see
That it is not happiness that makes us grateful,
But the gratefulness that makes us happy."
-- Albert Clarke
Finally, the fourth recurring theme I came across was that happiness depends on activity, on staying busy, and on sharing our time and happiness with others. An American Indian woman once told me about a belief she'd grown up with: If you point a finger at someone, you'll notice that the other three fingers point back at you. What you send forth toward someone else comes back threefold.
I've often thought of this and have found it to be true. If we send forth hatred, it comes back at us and can consume us. If we send forth jealousy or ill will, it comes back at us even stronger. Conversely, if we send forth goodness, help or love, it is multiplied and returned to us.
Talk to anyone who works or volunteers with elderly people, disadvantaged children, homeless families. The care they show and the help they give returns to them in ways they can't even describe. You don't have to be Mother Theresa, though, to make someone's day better. Zig Ziglar says, "Be helpful. When you see a person without a smile, give him yours."
Small actions, looks, inflections can make or break someone's day, without expending more than a calorie or two of effort on your part. Making time to have meaningful conversations with your children, your aging parents or a friend going through a difficult time can have immeasurable effects. My favorite anonymous quote is "Happiness is like jam. You can't spread even a little without getting some on yourself."
Think of the effect each of us could have to change the world for the better in 2012 with small gestures every day. Sydney Smit suggests: "Try to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you may have made three thousand, six hundred and fifty persons happy, or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment."
Of course, the happiness you share also comes back to you. What have we got to lose?
"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle,
and the life of the candle will not be shortened.
Happiness never decreases by being shared."
-- Siddhartha Guatama Buddha
Have a truly happy 2012.