Take time to reflect as 2012 begins

John Langhorne/Tree Full of Owls

In an earlier article, we took a rather comprehensive overlook of happiness. Recently, I came across a fine little book titled Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science by Sissela Bok.

The author provides a historical and substantive review and discussion of happiness. Apparently, this topic has been a subject of thoughtful consideration for thousands of years. The Greeks set the stage for a discussion that has been going on ever since. This early work continues to be a valuable source of information even today.

It seems that having a happy life appears to be a fundamental goal of many people. Who wants to feel badly about themselves? The basic components of such a life are well understood, as noted in the previous article. However, the previous article implied but failed to explicitly state that the key to happiness is to first work on oneself. Most importantly, everything for each of us begins with each of us. “This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow…”

Work on yourself, then begin to work on the other components of having a happy life. Enacting and maintaining this self-analysis and self-direction is a dynamic life-long process and the most fundamental element of having a successful life.

Such a life-development process begins with periodic, thoughtful re-examination of all aspects of ourselves. Here are some of the areas to consider. Do I have a well thought-out set of values and am I using these to guide my behavior, both day-to-day and for big, important issues? What are my motivations and what is the balance between my intrinsic and extrinsic motivations? Am I acting to please myself or to please others? If there is balance here, which type assumes precedence in my behavior? What is the quality of my most important relationships? And perhaps most critically, is my life integrated, am I fundamentally the same person in many different environments, are my patterns of behavior internally consistent?

The beginning of a new year is a good time to spend some time in quiet reflection reviewing the ups and downs of our lives. Without such reflection, making resolutions is moot. This reflection is far more important than developing resolutions (i.e. goals). By the way, there is substantial research showing that if you keep your personal goals to yourself you are much more likely to attain them. For more on this go to http://bit.ly/yq3wqt.

You can pump prime your reflection and goal development by reviewing the responses of successful 95 years olds who were asked, “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?” This fascinating study produced three over-arching reflections. To review these provocative findings go to http://bit.ly/AztuTD.

Although happiness and success are not synonyms, perhaps it is appropriate to begin the year with a favorite poem.


To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a little better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know that even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy New Year, live long and prosper.