Why Not Be Deeply Happy?*
By Kent M. Keith
Each of us can be, and
should be, deeply happy. What do I mean by “deep happiness”? I mean the kind
of happiness that touches your spirit and connects with your soul. Some people
call it self-fulfillment, or self-actualization, or being centered. Others call
it living their passion, or following their bliss. For people of faith, it’s
about finding the divine will for their lives, and then living that will.
Each of us should be deeply
happy so that we will be at our best, and will be able to help others to be
deeply happy and be at their best as well. When we experience deep happiness, we
become more loving, more giving, more patient, more enthusiastic. We become a
gift to others. So we should be deeply happy for their sake as well as ours.
Finding Personal Meaning
Is the Key
We know from research, the
teachings of our elders, and our own experience that finding personal meaning is
a key to being deeply happy. If we want to be deeply happy, we have to focus on
This is not as easy as it sounds. Our culture promotes symbols of success that
provide relatively little personal meaning. For example, power is a symbol of
success, but there is more personal meaning in service than in power—more
meaning in helping people than in ordering them around. Wealth is a symbol of
success, but there is more personal meaning in enjoying the richness of daily
life, such as our families, friends, hobbies, and sunsets. Fame is a symbol of
success, but there is more personal meaning in being known intimately by a few
people rather than being known superficially by millions.
The symbols of success aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just not enough.
They’re not enough if we want to find personal meaning and be deeply happy.
Where do people find meaning? They find it in their relationships with their
families and friends. They find it in loving and helping others. They find it in
doing their best, living their values, and doing what’s right.
The good thing about focusing
on meaning is that we can always find it, even when times are tough. That’s the
message of the Paradoxical Commandments that I wrote back in 1968, when I was
19, a college sophomore. Here is what I wrote:
1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and
self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of
selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you will win false
friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be
honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men and women with the biggest
ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs but follow only top
dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed
overnight. Build anyway.
9. People really need help but may attack you if
you do help them. Help people anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you'll
get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
The Paradoxical Commandments are guidelines for
finding personal meaning in the face of adversity. The paradox is this: Even
when things are tough—even when the world is crazy—we can still find personal
meaning and deep happiness. We do that by facing the worst in the world with the
best in ourselves. We do that by living a paradoxical life.
The Meaning Is in Our Inner Lives
The fact is that, as individuals, we can’t control the external world. We can’t
control the world economy, and the rate of population growth. We can’t control
the weather, or natural disasters like fires, floods, tsunamis, and hurricanes.
We can’t control when terrorists may strike or wars may break out. We can’t
control which companies will acquire which companies, and which jobs will be
eliminated and which jobs will be created. We can’t control what other teams
will do, or who will get sick or injured, on other teams and our team. We can
work hard, and prepare, and seize opportunities—we have to do that. We can join
with others, and try to influence the external world—we ought to do that, too.
But there are lots of things in our external world we just can’t control.
What we can control is our inner lives. We get to decide who we are going to be
and how we are going to live. We can decide to live our most cherished values,
and be close to our families and friends, and do what we know is right and good
and true, no matter what. When we do, our lives become meaningful and we
can find deep happiness.
The decision is ours. So why not be deeply happy?
*Based on the book Do It Anyway: Finding Personal Meaning and Deep
Happiness by Living the Paradoxical Commandments
© 2008 by Kent M. Keith. Printed with permission of
New World Library, Novato, CA.
Kent M. Keith is the author
of Do It Anyway, Jesus Did it Anyway and Anyway: The
Paradoxdical Commandments. He has appeared in national media from Today
to the New York Times. A former attorney and university president, he is
a popular speaker on finding personal meaning in a chaotic world. He lives in
Indianapolis, IN. His website is
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