What It Takes To Be Happy

Lauren Reiff
7 min readMay 1, 2021
Photo by Andrei Panfiloiu on Unsplash

“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

These words, penned by Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl in his famous Man’s Search for Meaning, strike at the complex origins of the object of so much of human longing: happiness. Upon reflecting on this elusive quality, many of us recall the idyllic simplicity of childhood when, embalmed in the present and wrapped up in innocence, we found it easy to be happy.

I think a caveat rears its head here, however. Adult happiness does not quite follow the same recipe. This is largely because as we grow older, we wise up and our eyes are opened. Naïveté is (hopefully) peeled back, the husk of innocence falling away. And so, happiness becomes less a matter of willing ourselves to access that same, carefree, fun-loving child again (a pursuit that is necessarily in vain despite our stubborn attempts to return, return, return).

Instead, happiness evolves to contain the imperative of acceptance. This is the antidote to that stripped innocence of the world. We must make peace with all that falls short. At the root of happiness, I would speculate, is peace. Peace as learned self-regulation; peace as a conscious, internal response to the world, for which practicing a certain degree of acceptance is indispensable.

Pay attention to the words “conscious internal response.” Because too often when we lust after happiness, we blame the shortcomings of the world for failing to produce it for us. This is a curious conclusion to dust off, is it not? It reveals the common human stumbling block that is believing happiness to be our birthright, something we do not have to work for.

Resentful about the blemished state of our sinful world, some are secretly angry that they’ve been robbed of something. Robbed of something — just think about it. If we are honest with ourselves, we are prone to sniffs of entitlement in this regard. Can we admit it is easier to think we are owed something…