How to Achieve Happiness

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Sr. Stella reflects on this ultimate goal, and how one must learn to forgive, love, let go, and set goals to achieve happiness.

What is happiness? In order to find something, we have to define what it is that we are looking for. Happiness does not have the same meaning for everyone. For most of us, happiness has a much deeper meaning. Life is full of obstacles. You jump over one hurdle and a new one appears. But it’s your attitude about these hurdles that will allow you to be happy instead of sad or anger. Happiness does not just happen. It requires hard work and self-discipline, as thou everything in life that is worth pursuing.

St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Happiness is obtainable through virtue; it is good to be achieved by our own will”. Happiness is a state of mind. It is not something you possess. It is not the events in your life, but your attitude about the events in your life. Happiness is a mystery like religion, and it should never be rationalized. It is not how much you have or achieve during your lifetime, but rather the quality of your journey through life. It is not the temporary “fix” of instant gratification. It is an inner peace. It is the act of loving yourself. It is the act of loving others despite their flaws. It is the act of loving humanity. It is always seeing the good in everyone and everything and overlooking the evil. It is the ability to forgive yourself and others for not been perfect. No other person can provide you happiness. You must choose to be happy in order to be happy. Basic inner happiness is different than being happy about something. We all experience events or have people in our lives that will temporarily make us happy. However, this is happiness that we get over quickly.  When we have a basic inner unhappiness it gnaws at us night and day, every day. It is like a nagging pain that overshadows the many good things that happen to us.

A woman once asked me, “How can I be happy when I have so many problems?”

I answered, "Because your happiness depends on your perception of your problems."

Life seems to be one problem after another for all of us. We run the obstacle course and jump one hurdle after another, but the hurdles just keep on coming. Sometimes our problems pile up on top of each other and we feel so overwhelmed that all we feel like doing is running to another planet. But no matter how challenging your problems are, you can choose to see your problems as an exciting challenge and learning experience. Choose to be happy by trusting that life has a way of rewarding good. Life is ultimately just, but even when it doesn’t seem to be, there is nothing you can do about it. Your job is to be happy and to serve humankind by making other people happy through your kindness, deeds and good work. As Mother Teresa Of Calcutta said, “Spread love everywhere you go, in your house, office, school... let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's love; mercy; kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness”.

Insist on your right to be happy. Do not let anyone try to sabotage your happiness. Life is a precious gift to be enjoyed, it has no duplicate.  If you are not happy, if you are not enjoying your life, choose to do something about it now. In order to be happy you must really believe that you deserve to be happy.  I lived with a lovely sister who was making my life miserable. I tried and tried to be good sister to her but no matter how hard I tried, her behavior was intolerable. My spiritual director told me, “No one, not even your sister, has the right to make you unhappy.” I finally took a stand and refused to let her make me unhappy anymore. My chosen to be happy changed her behavior towards me.  Many years later she apologized for making my life miserable and I have forgiven her because if I choose to be happy I choose to forgive. So if anyone is making you unhappy it is your fault for allowing that person to make you unhappy. If you are making yourself unhappy, then it is your fault you are unhappy. You are responsible for your own happiness. We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it.


Learn to forgive other people. This will teach you compassion and understanding. Offense, hatred and rage give birth to suffering and frustration. Love, kindness and forgiveness give birth to happiness. Forgiving yourself and others for past mistakes and hurts relives the pain in your soul and opens up your heart for love and happiness. Let go of your bitter thoughts. Forgive the person who may have hurt you. Mother Theresa of Avila says, “My life is forgiven by God. Therefore, my heart feels obliged to forgive everyone around me.” Try to put yourself in his/her shoes and think of all the possible scenarios as to why this person did what he/she did to you. Give every excuse in the world nevertheless forgive so that you can be happy. This doesn’t mean that you have to be his/her best friend, it just means you have forgiven for what he/she has done and that you have made a decision to let go of your anger and go on with your life.

If you choose to be happy find a way to get rid of your anger. It can be meditation, while meditating, you bring your mind into a state of happiness and you gain more control over yourself. The practice helps you understand yourself, be aware of the true reasons for your dissatisfaction, deal with fears, solve internal problems, develop awareness and get rid of unwanted emotions. It gives you the ability to manage your psyche and work with it. The best emotional way for anger is talking things out. I always know that when I am angry with someone or some situation I can call my spiritual director and talk it through with him. Just the act of sharing the story of my anger and having someone validate my irritation releases the pressure of the rage. If you haven’t got a mate, friend or spiritual guide that you can call to release your anger, writing down your angry feelings will make you feel better too. The bible says “Do not let resentment lead you into sin; the sunset must not find you still angry. Do not give the devil his opportunity”. (Eph4:26-27)

If you choose to be happy, let go of your anger. Stop getting mad. Stop blaming people. Stop complaining. Stop gossiping and spinning intrigues. Stop focusing on other people’ shortcomings and find their positive sides. Do not complain about circumstances, stop thinking and talking about how bad everything around you is. Can you change something with these thoughts? No. They only spoil your mood and make your life miserable. Stop thinking everyone is stupid. Realize that everyone is doing the best he/she can. Some people aren’t as smart as you. Some people aren’t as highly evolved intellectually or emotionally as you. Some people aren’t aware enough to control their anger. Realize that it is their problem, not yours. Let it go.  If you choose to be happy, stop blaming your parents for your problems and take responsibility for your own behavior. Let go of your past and forgive those who hurt you. And, if you are to forgive others and tolerate their humanness, then you must forgive yourself and tolerate your own humanness. It’s no use crying over spilt milk. Accept the consequences of your actions. You cannot change the past. But you can change the present and the future! Instead of grieving at the past, improve your present life and give of your strength for the future. Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.

Of course, there are grief and injustice in life. It is a fact of life that you should accept. The world is what it is. There is no sense in grumpy and rejection. Courageously accept your fate! This does not mean that you should accept it with resignation. Improve your life, change the world for the better, and accept the order of things in your life, which you cannot change! This will save you from needless suffering and frustration over the fact that the real life does not always meet your expectations.

The personal responsibility is not the result of guilt, but the consequence of freedom! You make your own life and, therefore, you are responsible for it. Depriving yourself of responsibility means depriving yourself of freedom to have impact on yourself and on the world. And depriving yourself of freedom means depriving yourself of happiness. Freedom from destructive passions, such as envy, pride, laziness, boredom, irritation and rage will make you a happy person.

Adjust Your Attitude

If you can learn from each bad experience and turn it into a positive you have made a major step in creating your own happiness. Find the good sides in every life experience, even in the most unpleasant one.  Life teaches you a self-control lesson. Use it as an opportunity to learn how to control your anger. Virtually every experience has its advantages. If you notice only the negative side of the experience, then you will miss many opportunities to become a better and stronger person. A positive attitude will make you happy. A negative attitude will make you unhappy. Therefore, if you choose to be happy you automatically choose to have a positive attitude.

Let say you always start out with a positive attitude but then you do everything you’re supposed to do and you always end up getting disappointed. How do you keep on having a positive attitude when nothing ever works out right for you? Because you have to if you choose to be happy. If you lose your positive attitude you lose your drive and motivation, and if you lose your drive and enthusiasm, you will end up unhappy. If you choose to be happy, you choose to think positive thoughts no matter what. If you are always unhappy and thinking negative thoughts you are creating negative energy inside your body.

Smile is a recipe for happiness.  When you are happy, you smile. It also means that when you smile, you become joyful. Happiness and laughter arrests, and in some cases cures some form of sickness.

Set Goals

You must have goals in order to be happy. This is your reasons to get up in the morning and do something with your life that matters, something that will better just one or entire humanity.  The process of fulfilling your dreams is essential to the achievement of your happiness. If you do not do in life what you have passion and a talent for, then you will never be happy. Give yourself every opportunity to have the life you have always dreamed about. Follow your dreams.  If what you are trying to do is not working there is no shame in redefining your goals. Maybe you are doing something that is not well suited for your skills or personality. Maybe your goals are too lofty. Maybe you really don’t have enough talent. Is that so terrible to admit? If spent your life improving your skills and still do not have a natural talent, perhaps you are trying to go up the down staircase. Pope Francis says, “Each of us has a vision of good and of evil. We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good... Everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them. That would be enough to make the world a better place”.

Your happiness should never depend on whether or not you achieve your dreams and goals. True happiness is having tried to do what you truly wanted to do. To believe that you will never be happy until you achieve a certain goal is to put happiness in the future and base your whole happiness on one particular goal. Happiness is the process of achieving your goals, not the achievement of your goals.  Once you created your passion, motivation will come naturally and you will automatically create your own goals. It is not actually what you do but your attitude about what you do that will make the difference between whether you are happy or unhappy.

Choose To Love

Love is the emotion that allows you to care about another living being more than you care for yourself. To love another person is to take joy in his/her happiness and to have deep compassion for his/her pain.  It is to overlook what isn’t perfect about the person and focus on what is good about him/her. To love another person is to always try to make him/her feel good about him/herself. Being loved by another is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon us. A lovable person is sincerely warm, caring, compassionate, trusting, trustworthy, friendly, reliable and giving. If you choose to be happy you must love and be lovable. In order to love others, you must love yourself. And, in order to love yourself, you must really like and trust yourself. Pope Francis says, “Seeking happiness in material things is a sure way of being unhappy He underscored that happiness can only be achieved "if we are capable of loving".

In conclusion

If you choose to be happy you must choose to believe that no one has a right to make you unhappy. We all need goals to motivate us and these have to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. Positive emotions, like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration and pride, help us perform better, broaden our perception, increase our resilience and improve our physical health. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation.

Nobody is perfect, but we often compare a negative view of ourselves with an unrealistic view of other people. We have to learn to accept ourselves and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong. This will increase our happiness and our wellbeing and it also helps us accept others as they are. Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. It makes us happier and can help to improve our health. The act of giving, creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. Feeling good about oneself is really important for our happiness.

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Sr. Stella Eke, MSHR

Sr. Stella Eke, MSHR
SLDI Alumna - Nigeria  

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