I’ve heard Deepak Chopra say that the purpose of life is “to reach enlightenment.” While this makes sense to me (who am I to argue with Deepak?) and seems like a reasonable goal, I find it a little tough to put into practice. If I’m pondering a tough decision, or I’m presented with choices in my day-to-day life, asking myself, “which option will bring me closer to enlightenment?” doesn’t bring a whole lot of clarity.
A close friend recently told me she’d heard the three keys to happiness are growth, gratitude and giving. I wish I knew who first said that so that I could credit them (I’ve googled it, to no avail – if you know, please share below!). I love the statement because it pinpoints what’s really important, and it’s so easy to apply to real life situations. Let’s look a little more closely at each of these three words…
Growth – the process of developing or maturing physically, mentally, or spiritually (Oxford Dictionaries)
“Get busy living or get busy dying” is one of the most famous lines from the 1994 movie, The Shawshank Redemption. In essence, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is saying that status quo is not an option. It’s impossible for us to remain the same from one moment to the next. We can choose to thrive by expanding our minds, exploring our world, developing our talents, pursuing our interests, cultivating our relationships, seeking our truth, (or, in Andy’s case, breaking out of prison), or we can do nothing. But, if that’s our choice, we won’t stay the same — we’ll be losing ground.
Gratitude – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness (Oxford Dictionaries)
When we focus on the present and on appreciating what we have now, rather than wanting more and more, our mindset is positive. It’s interesting that, based on the definition above, gratitude isn’t just something we feel internally. It also makes us ready to “show appreciation and return kindness.” This is because when we’re feeling grateful, regardless of whether it’s for something major and ongoing in our lives or for something fleeting, we’re in a good space. We may feel joy, love, contentment, peace, awe — any assortment of positive emotions. Studies by neuroscientists show that it’s impossible to feel negative emotions while focusing entirely on gratitude. So experiencing gratitude doesn’t only benefit us – it also has a huge impact on the energy we put back out into the world.
Giving – offering something to someone (Cambridge Dictionary)
I have a 103 year old great aunt (my grandmother’s sister) who’s often asked about the secrets to longevity. In addition to staying active physically and mentally (which I’d put squarely in the “Growth” category), she credits service to others. Giving back has always been important to her, and she’s volunteered for numerous organizations throughout her life. During her 16 years at her current home, an independent living apartment in a huge senior community, she’s served as a greeter at her church, she’s chaired the Welcome Wagon, and she’s visited with residents who are recovering from illness or injury, among numerous other things. She’s cut back on some activities as she’s gotten older, but she’s never stopped giving. She believes wholeheartedly that that’s why we’re all here, and she frequently questions, “What’s the purpose of living if you can’t help others?” I couldn’t agree with her more! Feeling connected to those around us is vital, and giving of ourselves is the easiest way to nurture those connections.
The Full Picture
As I researched the definitions of each of these “3 Keys,” I was struck by how interrelated they are. None are solitary practices. Giving most clearly involves an interaction with someone else, but living in gratitude prepares us to give. And growth equips us with more to give, and with more to be grateful for. And so the cycle continues…
For me, approaching life from a mindset of growth, gratitude and giving feels like a simple tool to help keep things in perspective and to remind me of what’s really important in life. It’s helped me to keep my eyes open to the multitude of blessings and opportunities around me, to create new opportunities, and to take action.
Wishing you continued growth, a heart filled with gratitude, and endless opportunities for giving!
ps – Stay tuned for more wisdom from my amazing Aunt Clara!