What does it take to be happy?

Well, it depends on where you live, for one thing. If you live in Florida, as I do, where the climate is temperate and the sun shines most of the time, you might be happy to go to a crowded concert or restaurant without wearing a mask. You would be ecstatic if Covid-19 were declared over once and for all and you could resume life as it used to be.

On the other hand, if you live in Ukraine, going to a concert or a restaurant would not even be on your radar. You would be euphoric if the bombs stopped falling and destroying your country, the senseless war would end, and you would not have to see your family flee without you to find safety.

The list of possibilities goes on and on. The point is that what makes us happy depends on so many factors—where we live, what’s going on around us, whether our basic physical and psychological needs are being met, the state of our health, our relationships, and sometimes, our age.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question—what does it take to be happy?—and have exhausted Google searching for the answer. Among the many articles about happiness on the Web, I came across one that made sense to me (unfortunately, I don’t remember where I found it). According to this article, we need three things to be happy: Coherence, Purpose, and Significance. Of course, I gave those words my own interpretation.

  • Coherence: understanding that things that happen in your life are all connected in some way. In a sense, they are like puzzle pieces that may not make sense by themselves but, eventually, form a part of a bigger picture.
  • Purpose: the belief that you are alive for a reason, that you are here to do something. Think of purpose as your personal mission statement, the overarching aspiration that guides your actions, such as “My purpose is to help older adults live well now and plan wisely for the future.”
  • Significance: the sense that your life matters, that it has inherent value. If you believe you are significant, you have confidence that you are doing your part to make the world a better place.

I like this approach to happiness. If it isn’t the complete and permanent answer, at least it’s a start in the right direction.