As I approach half a century of existence, I’d like to take a shot at answering one of life’s greatest mysteries. I am not yet qualified to define the meaning of life (but I’d take a shot at that if I live for another three decades). For now, I think I can answer another of life’s conundrums – what is the key to happiness?

Always have a purpose

Nothing makes one feel more alive than waking up in the morning with a sense of purpose. From the moment you open your eyes, the world is filled with possibilities and hope. There is spring in your step as you orchestrate every movement towards an end goal. Whether you are a scientist working on a cure for cancer or even a gamer on a mission to defeat the boss of the next level, simply having a purpose in life generates happiness by putting spring in your step and focusing your energy.

It is not the fulfillment of purpose that creates happiness, even though that might make you happy for that moment. In fact, the achievement of a purpose may lead to a sense of losing one’s identity and unhappiness if one does not find further purpose in life. Some see retirement as the end game, but many retirees report being unhappy because they have lost their purpose in life.

Appreciate what you have

Many people believe that being content is the key to happiness, but I beg to differ. It is not easy to be contented – I’d go as far as to say that it is our lot in life to be discontented. It is human to nit-pick and find ways to find more efficient and effective ways to do things. In fact, it is this sense of discontentment that creates our need for a sense of purpose. Things can always be better, and thus it is difficult to be contented.

Instead of contentment, appreciation is the key to being happy. You appreciate your achievement, your possessions, and the people around you. Things are not perfect, and they can always be better, but you are appreciative and grateful, and that is the basis for happiness.

Reframing your perspective on minor inconveniences in life is also a great way to achieve happiness in life. For example, you may be annoyed to be stuck in a traffic jam, or you can be grateful that you are sitting comfortably in a car. You can grumble about waking up early for a the morning jog, or you can appreciate your health and ability to run. Happiness depends on your perspective. You can lament that your glass is half-full, or you can be appreciate having half a glass of water.

Be at peace with yourself

Unless you are at peace with yourself and others, you will never be truly happy. It is tiring to live a life full of hatred, guilt, and regrets. There is a Buddhist saying: being angry with others is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die – the only one who suffers is yourself. Learn to forgive, or at least move on. Do not make decisions that go against your conscience, even though you have the legal right to do so. You may not benefit from taking the high road, but you will sleep better at night.

Always do your best in everything in order to avoid regrets. Understand that we made our decisions with the information we had at that point in time, and we usually do not have the privilege of knowing the consequence of the decisions we did not take. Regret is water under the bridge – it is not easy but we should move on.

When you are at peace, your mind is quiet and still. There is no monkey chatter, no weight on your conscience, and no history to hold you back. Your mind and heart are 100% focused on the present, and moving forward in life.