31st July 2023

The United States declaration of Independence states its goals as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ and many people spend a lot of time and energy looking for what they think will make them happy. But I remember being told very early in life that ‘happiness is a by-product’. It comes when we are doing something else, especially something for other people.

Which of these is true? Should we ask ourselves in each situation and of each choice of activity ‘will this make me happy? and make this the reason for how we live? Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way: in fact, the more I look for happiness, the less likely I am to think I’m finding it. Never satisfied, I try something else . . . and something else . . . and ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.

Look at the people you know who seem most contented and happy. What are they doing? Almost certainly not thinking about themselves but about other people, looking outward, spending time and energy helping people, especially people who can do nothing to repay them except with thanks. These people are not looking for happiness for themselves, their minds are not on themselves at all. Praise be, we hear about them all the time, running Food Banks, coaching children’s sports teams, organising clubs and activities for people who are elderly, lonely, isolated or disabled. Their happiness comes as a by-product and brings joy to the people around them and incidentally to themselves. May it be so for you, too.

Lesley Fuller