Come close and listen carefully. I’m going to tell you something really important. I have found out the secret to happiness and I am going to share it with you. Are you ready? Here we go: you can’t find happiness by looking for it. Happiness comes to you when you stop pursuing it and start pursuing ways to help others.
I’ve learned this by experience. I’m lucky enough to have a job that serves others. Ultimately, my career choice was law or teaching. I had excellent LSAT scores and undergraduate grades, so most likely I could have gotten into a top ten law school. All my friends did. But by the time I was ready to make a real career commitment, I was already a mother, and I wanted to have a work schedule that would work with my daughters’ school schedules. Law would be a good financial decision, but I really wanted to have time with my children and all my lawyer friends seemed so unhappy. All they ever did was work, and they spent very little time with their children.
Besides which, I came from a family of teachers, and teaching seemed like a good fit. I understood how to become a teacher: I knew the kind of graduate degree to get, and my mother-in-law even had connections with the union in the city, so negotiating the labyrinth of paperwork to get that job would be smoothed for me. I didn’t expect to be happy in my career. Both my mother and my mother-in-law hated their jobs. Happiness wasn’t the point. I was looking for a steady paycheck and time with my kids.
Well, I got that steady paycheck and I had time with my kids. But now my girls have grown up, so the reason for my choice is no longer operable. So why don’t I regret that decision? Because I got so much more out my choice than I anticipated.
Every year I get a new set of students of my very own to serve. We discuss books and morality and life. We wrestle with difficult texts and struggle to write clear and cogent analysis. We contemplate the most difficult questions of the ages, such as, “What is the human condition?” and “When do I use lie and when do I use lay?” Our days are filled with the cacophony of moving desks and group discussions and the silence of individual concentration. The whirlwind of school and the complete immersion in helping students to improve themselves calms me and focuses me on the needs of others. Helping my students takes me out of myself. My own selfish cares sweep away.
So that is my secret to happiness. Don’t go looking for it. Happiness will come to you when you stop looking for it and start looking for ways to help others.