How To Be Happy (3 Essential Questions)

Today’s topic is so important I’m skipping a witty introduction, okay?

1. What was the happiest time period of your life?

And I don’t mean happy as in “I was happiest at 7 years old, obviously, because I had no bills to pay, and I could skip a day or two of showering and still smell tolerable.” Because that’s just what it feels like to have no problems or responsibilities in life, which is never going to happen again.

So what I’m really asking is: When was the last time you felt complete? When were you emotionally satisfied, optimistic, and free?

2. What made the best period in your life so special?

Be specific, damn it! (I’m bossy because I love you.) What kind of people surrounded you, what was your typical week like, and what made you feel proud?

After reflecting on this, accept that some of your old treasures can be regained, while others can never ever come back to you. Which leaves us with…

3. How can you recreate the flavors of the past without necessarily having the same cooking ingredients?

You may not have access to the same loved ones, same job, same amount of money, same opportunities, or same young and healthy body that you once did. But the important “flavors” in life can always be found, again and again, and in the most surprising places. These flavors are: Love, Peace, Joy, and Good Work. (By “Good Work” I mean the kind that feeds your soul– work that calls on your greatest talents and resources to contribute something positive to the world.)

All of these flavors come in an endless stream of Goodness, accessible to us at all times, making their appearance in many unexpected forms. So keep your eyes and heart open. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. (Yup, I just got Biblical on your ass.)

        *    *    *    *

If answering these 3 questions made you realize that NOW is the most fulfilling period of your life, I’m so glad for you, my friend. I mean it. And I hope the only feeling that matches your level of happiness is your sense of gratitude, because that only makes things taste sweeter.

But sadly, I can’t say the same for myself.


I wrote this post because I realized something terrible while preparing my Annual Review.

Last year was full of outward success for me. (I landed great jobs, ran a side business, helped my husband quit his 9-5 job to pursue his dream, stayed out of debt, improved my health, and traveled.) But even with all those accomplishments, it wasn’t one of my favorite years.

That’s right: I reached many goals, but did not feel complete. I was successful but not happy.

Same goes for my husband. Our lives were so full of WORK and WORRY that there was no room JOY.

Say what?! you ask. Well, my friends. Turns out there’s much more to life than reaching personal goals, even if they’re pretty honorable ones.

When I created and answered the 3 Essential Questions above, I realized I was happiest in my mid to early 20′s. At that time I absolutely hated my job (as in, crying in the ladies room during my lunch break). I wasn’t nearly as driven, healthy, or fancy-pants successful as I am now. But *every* weekend I was volunteering, hosting spiritual retreats, and serving others, all while in the company of wonderful friends. I had: Love, Peace, Joy, and Good Work. What I did NOT have was a perfect life. Because really, you don’t need perfection to feel complete. (Shocker of the year!!!)

Answering the 3 Essential Questions also led me to realize that there are 2 things in life that I need in order to feel happy: Community and Service. I may never have them in the same form that they appeared back in my 20′s, but this year I’m on a mission to recreate those flavors with different ingredients.

And Now, A Story

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed.

‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things—-your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—-and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.. The sand is everything else—-the small stuff.

‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.

If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.

Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn.

Take care of the golf balls first—-the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.

Your Turn: How would you answer the 3 Essential Questions? What changes must be made in order for you to feel more complete?


Photo Source

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15 Responses to How To Be Happy (3 Essential Questions)

  1. Pingback: 3 Tips For Staying Married To Your Complete Opposite | a brave life

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  3. Opal 21 says:

    Hmmm It’s hard to say when is the happiest time..Coz every stage is different. Teenage years is high with emotions to describe being happy and yes without financial responsibilities.. After college its very fulfilling to work and earn and be independent; do anything you want because you have the means.
    And now my sense of happiness is more deeper and spiritual; a realization of gaining wisdom and transformation…I realize you can’t stay were you are all the time. You have to constantly dream and create something good for yourself and for others. And yes community and service is very important. I have to say that the community had helped me grow emotionally and spiritually. And the most important ingredient to happiness is a GRATEFUL HEART. And you truly experienced it when you have the AWARENESS for everything you offer and everything that life is offering you…The PRESENT is always the perfect time to be happy or make a decision to be happy….

    • Kimberly says:

      So, so true. Thank you, “Ms. Tolle”. ;) Of everyone I know, you are the epitome of joy in its purest form, so your appearance in the comments today is just awesome.

      You’re right, every stage in life is different, bringing its own unique type of happiness. But I love that you highlight the key ingredient to happiness: having a grateful heart through awareness and being present. You, my friend, are so good at that.

  4. Moz says:

    We talked about this a bit while you were here, while Brian was swimming :)

    Question: what about if you can’t pick a time? What if you’re still trying to build the good stuff? Because happy isn’t something I understand.

    • Moz says:

      Oh, and I hope next year is better. Debt free!

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, Moz! I think that when you’re working HARD AS HELL to build up the good stuff, it can feel like you can’t be happy until you reach your goal. But what a shame it would be to have to wait years before feeling good!

      As you know, for some people, there truly hasn’t been a perfectly happy period in life– especially when there’s illness (mental or physical), abuse, addiction, or trauma mixed in there. But most people have moments of Peace (even if just brief glimpses), and it’s important to be able to recognize what contributed to them. This could mean simply thinking about what people, activities, or therapies/ medications work best for you, and then chasing them down. But most of all, it’s about not giving up on the possibility of Peace. Peace is for everyone. (Yes, even if you have a different baseline for happiness than most people do.)

      By the way, I cannot BELIEVE we didn’t get a photo together when I was there. :(

      • Moz says:

        That’s pretty much what I think too. I don’t know about happy, but I do know what helps keep me calm or makes me experience pride.

        And no, it’s not about the destination, I want to be happy along the way too. Maybe I only know that for sure because I know it’s going to take forever to get there….

        Hey, no we didn’t! Ah well. As you know, I don’t think photos are the be all and end all, but yeah, a missed opportunity!

  5. Sheryl says:

    Hmmm. There are two points that I would point to as my “happiest” periods, the first being years 3 & 4 of university and the second being the year and a half that Bunny and I lived in the townhouse.

    The big similarity there was living in a place that I considered my own with people I loved (first my best friend, then Bunny). I know for me having a housing situation that’s satisfying is immensely important and that where I live right now is one of the biggest emotional challenges in my life, but it’s a semi-short term sacrifice that’s designed to help Bunny and I get back to where we want to be and engaging our relationships with our families.

    Other than that they are so completely different. My university life was hectic, fulfilling and exhausting in an outward sense – I was taking challenging courses, working (sometimes two jobs), heavily involved in student government – both of which were very fulfilling. I also maintained a very active (for me) social life with crazy party outlets once or twice a month. I was constantly growing and challenging myself, but still finding room to have fun. While I was in the townhouse life was quieter, and work and volunteer outlets weren’t so fulfilling and my social life had quieted down a lot. I was challenging myself with hobbies and growing into being a real adult.

    From those I can keep in mind that maintaining social connections outside my immediate circle is important, and that I need to be growing, learning or challenging myself in some way to be happy. These would be the bits I need to work on the most because where I live now has really separated me from my friends and makes it hard to maintain the same sort of in person connection that we were used to having and it’s a struggle, and I have a hard time balancing my need for “me” time to recharge (which is perhaps excessively large) with my social urges and the finances to support them. I’m finding the increased time with family to be awesome, but it’s hard not to let that take up most of my social energy. I do pretty well with continuing to challenge myself hobby wise, but I do yearn for a more academic or intellectual sort of challenge so that’s probably something I should look into further.

    • Kimberly says:

      Oh man, I hear you on the housing thing! You don’t realize how much your living conditions can make or break your spirit until you’re in a less than ideal position. Glad that from all of this you’ve come away with some certainty about your needs.

      Also, your situation is temporary and you have a specific financial goal in mind, which is helpful. Brian and I are finally (!!!) moving out in just a few days. It was VERY tough sharing a house with my parents throughout our engagement and first 2 years of marriage, but we reached our financial goals and we’ll be in our new place soon. Was it worth it? Yes…but I’m glad I never have to do it again. ;)

      • Sheryl says:

        Good luck with the move! I’m so happy for you two to have your own space.

        The fact that there is a known end point to the living situation definitely helps me deal with it, although not always so gracefully. It’s actually super inspiring for me to read that you two have reached the end of your time with your parents and the conclusion is still that it was worth it.

        • Kimberly says:

          Thank you! Yup, neither Brian nor I regret our decision, mostly because it was the only way to reach our goal without doing something illegal. ;) When you get your house it’ll make your situation feel worth it too.

  6. Your one and only FIL says:

    I’m impressed. As for questions #1 and 2. I felt most complete at 40. I was happily married (still am). Our family had moved to Maine so I could go to seminary. I loved the process of learning that I had missed when I was younger. I was fully healthy and full of energy. We had a wonderful community of friends both at seminary and away. I served my first pastorate as a seminary student in addition to working two other jobs. Life was a constant spiritual journey of exploration and hope.
    #3 I have shared before how the intervening years have been a mixed bag professionally. But I have grown immensely along the way (I think). Whatever the future holds (grand-babies, writing, volunteering, working retirement, the challenges of aging and health, less than ideal finances etc.), I am grateful for where I am, who I am, how I got here, and where I’m going. I love my family and am working toward a time when we can bring life to completion together. That is how today and tomorrow become the happiest and most complete times in my life.

    • Kimberly says:

      Your life at 40 sounds amazing and full, and it reminds me of my days in grad school (also within a seminary). It just breaks my heart that your best years were sooo long ago, and that your career has never been as fulfilling as your training for it. But it’s true that you’ve grown from your challenges (into someone I greatly admire!), that you have some wonderful things to look forward to, and that both of these things help you feel complete no matter what today or tomorrow may bring.

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