The Secret to Happiness

There are many reasons why we might be sad or unhappy. The causes arise from a whole host of concerns and worries, and if I begin to list them all you will never reach the end of this article.

As my aim is to ensure that you do manage to finish reading this article (trust me, you’ll be glad you did), I’ll let loose the first “secret”:

Being happy isn’t a feeling so transient and fleeting that it comes and goes. it’s a choice. Your choice.

Still with me? Let’s continue on, then, in the pursuit of happiness. But first, we must examine the flip side of the coin.

Why we are miserable:

Let’s start off first with unhappiness. It makes sense to start off with this, because that is the main starting condition (and ending point, sadly) for many of us. As mentioned above, all sorts of things can make us depressed.

But what is the core ingredient that causes this melancholy state of affairs?

It can be summed up in one word. Okay, maybe two words. They are “Presumptuous Expectations”.

Everyone has assumptions, and they are most often about anything and everything. Be that as it may, they all have one thing in common: They’re YOUR expectations. Such being the case, you’re tied to them. Or rather, your mood is.

What I’m trying to say is this: You are happy when your expectations are met and sad when they are not.

This seems pretty self-evident, right? So if we follow this line of logic, the answer to why people are dejected is simple: Their expectations have not been fulfilled. Some examples below:

  1. Perhaps you failed to make it to a particular university. (Expectation: You expected to make it to that university.)
  2. Your best friend is leaving the country for good. (Expectation: You expected that your friend would be around forever.)
  3. You’ve planned a whole day of fun outdoor activities and it rains. (Expectation: You expected that the weather would be good.)

Take 10 seconds and think of something that is making you unhappy.

Now, try to identify the expectation you had that was unfulfilled, which resulted in you feeling blue. What if I tell you that if an expectation is unfulfilled, it is solid proof that it is an unrealistic one?

Unrealistic Notions:

What do I mean by unrealistic?

I mean it in that the expectation does not reflect reality. Perhaps you might be thinking “But I have perfectly good and legitimate reasons for having this confidence. I checked the weather forecast before planning my outdoor activity. I studied hard for the university entrance exam. I did my due diligence, so things should have turned out the way I expected them to.”

Except they didn’t.

What we think is certain in our minds has no correlation to what is certain in reality. Are weather forecasts foolproof? Does your studying absolutely guarantee you a pass?

No. We don’t have any real certainty of what the future may hold. You could win a lottery tomorrow. You could also have a heart attack. You could meet the love of your life tomorrow. Your parents may also die in a freak accident.

The above predictions are undoubtedly extreme. However, can we be 100% sure it will not happen?

We can’t.

So why do we find ourselves continuing to labour under such delusions?

The Delusions of Control Freaks:

When I say delusional, I don’t mean stark raving mad.

I mean it in the sense that our thinking is warped such that we can’t see reality for what it is.

This is because we believe we have control over many things we don’t.

Let me revisit the failed university entrance exam scenario again. You may have studied hard for it, but you still failed to make the grade. You trusted that you would get in, but you didn’t. Therefore you are disconsolate, because you believed your studying would ensure your success.

But you didn’t. What does this prove?

It proves that we cannot control the outcomes of events. We can study as much as we want, as long as we want, and we will still never have 100% certainty that we will succeed.

You may be reading this and thinking: Are you saying we should all give up trying for anything because we can have no certainty about being able to succeed in anything we do?

No, that is not what I am saying. Rather than being an article about gloom and doom, this is an article about how to be happy.

And I am pleased to say that we have now arrived at the crux of the matter.

The Secret to Being Happy:

Earlier on in this article I made mention that people are sorrowful because their hopes are not met. I also stated that we normally make the mistake of having such expectations, when in reality we have no basis for them.

What I did not add was that these suppositions all have one thing in common: They are always associated with outcomes.

We are a results-oriented people. All we care about are results. After all, what’s the point in doing something if you don’t get any gain out of it, right?

This makes logical sense. Unfortunately, when we let this mode of thinking control whether we are happy or not, it fails miserably. We become unhappy because we did not achieve the results we desired.

What we fail to realize is that we should not be looking at the outcome of an event.

Why? Because as I said earlier, the outcome is not under our control.

What is under our control, then?

Our actions are under our control. And it is these actions of ours that should form the basis for our happiness, not the outcome. Some examples below:

  1. I want to enter a good university. I study hard towards that aim. I do not need to enter the university to be happy, because I cannot control whether I am able to enter it or not. I am already happy that I chose to study in the first place.
  2. I want to lose weight. I start eating less unhealthy food and exercising more. I do not need to lose weight to be happy, because I cannot control my body metabolism and weight. I am already happy that I chose to live more healthily.

What matters here is that you made the right choice. That alone should be the factor determining your happiness, because that is the only thing we can control: our actions. Why should we be unhappy over something that we cannot control?

Our actions are not the only reason to be happy. While earlier I talked about Presumptuous Expectations making us unhappy, now let me deal with the concept of Realistic Concerns. Here are a few examples:

  1. I cannot dismiss the chance that the next time I am out driving, I may be hit in a car accident and be horribly wounded. So far, this has not happened yet. I am happy that this has not happened.
  2. It is possible that I may have a stroke at any time. I have no proof to convince me that it will never happen. Therefore, it might happen. But it has not. I am happy that this is so.
  3. I may go to work to find that I have been retrenched. I cannot control the economy, nor can I control my boss. Therefore, there is always a chance of this happening. But as it has not happened so far, this makes me glad.

Some will find this mode of thinking impossible. Why impossible? They are unable to imagine such bad calamities occurring to them. In their minds, nothing so catastrophic would ever occur to them. I am afraid to say that such an outlook can only be described as fantastical and unrealistic.

Some may say that thinking like this is unnecessarily morbid and pessimistic. However, can anyone say for sure that no one has ever been retrenched? That no one has ever been involved in a car accident? Or had a heart attack?

The answer would, of course, be no.

If we take this argument one step further, then we must ask: Why can’t it happen to us? Why shouldn’t it happen to us? Why haven’t such events already happened to us?

Unhappiness is the inability to comprehend an unhappiness greater than our own. If we could comprehend that others deal with difficulties and challenges we cannot even imagine enduring, I think there is a fair chance that we would not be as unhappy as we were before.


The truth of the matter is that we do not need much to be happy. Everything we need to be happy can be found inside us – in the way we perceive and give meaning to the events that happen in our lives. As the famous bard of literary masterpieces once said,

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

-William Shakespeare

It is definitely easier said than done, to be sure. But I daresay that the reward of being happy makes it all worthwhile.


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