5 Secrets to Happiness, No Possessions Involved

Just as angels surround and help us, so we are meant to be earth angels to others.

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A mother and daughter enjoy volunteering

When you bow deeply to the Universe, it bows back. When you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you.—Morihei Ueshiba

Recently I read in the New York Times of a couple who left their high-powered jobs in New York, moved to a smaller community and downsized. They live in a tiny place on about $24,000 a year, have only 100 possessions, no car, and are clear of debt, and they claim in  this new simplicity lies the secret to happiness. 

At the same time I heard on NPR Science Friday an academic speak on how having less makes you happier. It is her contention that you should acquire experiences, rather than possessions. She says that faced with the decision to buy one piece of candy or a box of 10 for the same price, you should choose the single chocolate, and every day give yourself tiny rewards. This leads to happiness. 

I think, sure—unless you have three children at home who’d like a piece of chocolate too.

I take issue with both definitions of happiness. Take the New York couple who downsized. I’m glad they shifted their priorities. But LOOK! They have no responsibilities. They have no children. No health issues. They spend their spare money on themselves. They are employed (she is self-employed; he is a student), and as I think of all those around me here in New Mexico, who live on the edge of poverty, women struggling with two jobs in order to care for their children, men fighting for an application for public housing; when I think of those who live in their vans, who heat their houses with wood and who shop at discount food stores because they must choose sometimes between food or medications, this clarion call to forgo the decision between a Gucci or a Prada bag, seems...contrived.

I know of five secrets to happiness, and they have nothing to do with possessions: 

1. When thinking of others and acting on behalf for others...you are happy.   
You are not happy when thinking about yourself. This is true even in your job—you will love it, if you remember always that you are not just earning a salary, you are in service to your boss, your customers, your public, your family. Whatever you are doing, you do for someone else.

2. When you love...you are happy.  
Only in loving can you feel beloved. So the subject of The New York Times article lives simply, but she hasn't said anything about her work with others, or what love she spreads around (love for her house; for her work; for family, friends, dogs, cats, rabbits; for her parents, for those in need whom she serves in one way or another).  

3. When you are filled with gratitude...you are happy.
When you look at the world around you and the people in it as the miracle it is—struck dumb by awe and wonde—you are happy. The New York Times couple has no car. I hope they give out paeans of praise and gratitude to public transportation, the wonder of living in a social community where her needs (clean water, sidewalks and roads, etc.) are taken care of. I hope she is grateful to pay taxes herself, to benefit those less fortunate than she.

4. When you are generous...you are happy.    
It's true that we may not need all the "stuff" that has a way of collecting around us. It is true that when we clean out our closets two or three times a year; when we give anything we have not used in two years away to others who may need them, we then have emotional and spiritual freedom (in addition to physical space). And because nature abhors a vacuum, more comes pouring onto us. But it’s not about having less! It's about not being attached to what you have. It's about wearing life like a loose mantle. It's about being generous with your thoughts, your enthusiasms, your affections, your love, your engagement with life!

5. When you are positive, optimistic...you are happy–and you spread it everywhere.
Speak gently and with hope. Halt negative gossip and hate. It’s amazing how talking joyfully to others (and to yourself) lifts your spirits.  

Just as angels surround and help us, so we are meant to be angels to others, and therein lies the purest secret to happiness. The Dalai Lama once told a troubled young man, hard hit by adversity: "May you be blessed into usefulness." I think of that sometimes, how no matter how abject our situation, we can benefit others.

May you pour your blessings on every living thing around you. May you be an angel to everyone.

Download your free ebook Angel Sightings: 7 Inspirational Stories About Heavenly Angels and Everyday Angels on Earth.

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