People often ask me, “Come on, what’s the key to happiness? If you had to pick one thing, what would you say?”
I think that question can be answered in several ways, depending on what framework you use.
But one answer would certainly be—self-knowledge. It’s the Fifth Splendid Truth: We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature.
But it’s surprisingly hard to know yourself! So how can you sneak a glimpse into your own nature?
You can ask yourself: Whom do I envy? What do I lie about? The answers to these questions reveal the way in which your life doesn’t reflect your values.
You can ask yourself: What did I do for fun when I was ten years old? You’d probably enjoy as an adult a version of what you enjoyed as a ten-year-old.
You can ask yourself: What do I actually DO?
You can ask yourself: Who are my patron saints? (A “patron saint” is a saint who has a special connection to a person, place, profession, or activity, or in more casual terms, a person who serves as a particular leader or example.)
I have many patron saints, but here are six of them:
Benjamin Franklin: practical, curious, inventive.
Samuel Johnson: wildly eccentric, with a deep understanding of human nature. This patron saint made it into the subtitle of Happier at Home!
Julia Child: goofy yet masterly; light-hearted yet authoritative. For some reason, she’s been on my mind lately.
Winston Churchill: indefatigable, indomitable. I wrote a biography of Churchill, Forty Ways To Look at Winston Churchill, so I have a special attachment to him.
Virginia Woolf: intensely attuned to the power of the passing moment.
When I look back on the pieces I’ve written about my patron saints, I see that they’re among my favorite posts.
How about you? Who are your patron saints, and why?
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.