“In 1970 I Felt So Lonely that I Could Not Give; Now I Feel So Joyful that Giving Seems Easy.”

“If I am able to remember loneliness during joy, I might be able in the future to remember joy during loneliness and so be stronger to face it and help others face it. In 1970 I felt so lonely that I could not give; now I feel so joyful that giving seems easy. I hope that the day will come when the memory of my present joy will give me strength to keep giving even when loneliness gnaws at my heart.”

–Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery

This reminds me of the second part of my Second Splendid Truth about happiness. Everyone recognizes the first part, but I think the second part is more elusive:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

As Nouwen says, when we feel joyful, giving to others seems so much easier. So if it is selfish to try to be happy — which is something many people argue, and which I believe is the biggest myth about happiness — we should be selfish, if only for selfless reasons.

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  • Amy Christensen

    If a person’s happiness largely depends on nature as well as nurture I have to acknowledge that I am disadvantaged because I come from a long line of unhappy people. But I feel like I’ve wasted so much time being unhappy. My son leaves his socks everywhere and it used to make me angry particularly when he leaves them in my bedroom. But after reading The Happiness Project, instead of getting so upset, I taped the offending sock to my son’s door. We laughed! What a concept! I actually want to find another sock now because I want to sneek it into his school lunchbox. A touch evil, perhaps, but even his friends will laugh at the weird joke. I’m happier and my son is happier. I resolve to start writing again. I used to fill pages and pages of blank books as a child with so many stories. When I started up again, I found some happiness. And now my son and I laugh! Be happy, make others happy. Make others happy, be happy.

    • gretchenrubin