by Ken Wert of Meant to be Happy
Character is not the only characteristic of happiness. There are also particular ways of thinking, attitudes, fundamental beliefs and specific actions that can either detract from or add to the level of happiness we experience at any given time. But character is still one essential component to living life at its happiest.
Why Character Matters
Who we are makes a difference. The way we treat others matters. The decency or indecency that fills our hearts and minds matters. Our values as expressions of what we believe and how we live our lives really does make a difference to our happiness. The traits we’ve developed over time is of no little consequence to how we feel about who we are.
When we look in the mirror, it’s often our character (or lack thereof) that speaks the loudest.
But not all character traits are created equal, at least not insofar as happiness is concerned. Following, then, are those traits I’m convinced will have the greatest impact on your happiness.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
Fear is the great thief of happiness. It is parent to surrender. It sneaks in closed doors and robs us of resolve and the commitment and ability to endure to the end.
Courage, on the other hand, is fear’s great nemesis. It challenges fear, pushes it back, and keeps it in check by taking steps toward its objection. Courage thereby shatters the shackles of fear, sending it into the insignificant margins of obscurity.
Courage allows us to challenge our comfort zones, approach people and situations, embrace life and accept the pain that’s inevitable in all of life’s changes and challenges. Without courage, happiness is little more than an illusion, a temporary mirage, a puff of smoke that dissipates into thin air at its first challenge. (Read Learned Optimism.)
Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.
How happy are impatient people? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is obviously “not very.” At least not for very long. Impatience is another major bully to happiness. It pushes happiness out of the neighborhood almost as soon as it shows up.
But learning to accept and allow, to go with the flow and relax a bit is critical to living a happy life. Impatience is often the irritation we feel at the loss of control. But life bubbles and gurgles in ever-changing streams and flows of unpredictable activity. It simply is not 100% controllable. And the more we try to control and manipulate the outcome of life and the events that boil up around us with any kind of precision, the more frustrated we’ll be at the effort.
So breathe. Relax. Take it in. Be patient. Learn to accept the uncertain and buddy up to the unpredictable. Let life happen, at least a little. You’ll find it that much more beautiful and happy when you do.
Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.
To be grateful is to notice the good amidst the bad, the color against the backdrop of gray, the lovely even as it’s surrounded by the ugly. It’s to count your blessings and recognize how beautiful life is even when life isn’t quite going as planned.
Learning to be grateful requires the desire to see what’s sometimes hard to locate for those who are not accustomed to seeing it. It requires retraining your mind to think about the silver linings in life. But for gratitude to affect happiness in the deepest way, requires it to permeate your soul, encompassing attitude and thought, and becoming the general way you perceive life.
It’s not that grateful people don’t notice the difficulty of a challenge. It’s just that they’re too focused on the benefit the challenge provides and the opportunity it opens.
When we’re grateful, our problems don’t disappear, they simply occupy less space in our hearts, minds and lives. The reason is that grateful people are focused on that for which they are grateful. By definition, that means the difficult, disappointing and painful commands less of our attention.
As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there is a single more important character trait to your happiness than developing the persistent, even automatic grateful response to life. (Read Happiness Is a Serious Problem.)
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Love conquers all, as they say. And while perhaps not always technically true (I don’t think any person’s love of murder would make this act of violence any less evil, for instance), love certainly goes a long way to being nearly true. To recognize the centrality of love to living a happy life, just imagine a life lived without it. Imagine a hateful, loveless life of happiness (I know. That’s the point. It’s not possible).
The more love that beats in your heart, the happier and more buoyant your heart will be. The more you love life, the more life will love you back.
Love overlooks weakness and closes its eyes to idiosyncrasies. It accepts and serves and blesses and seeks what’s best in others. This is plainly a better path to happiness than its alternative. (Read The Happiness Project.)
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.
There’s not much more conducive to happiness than the ability to forgive quickly, spontaneously and freely.
People who hold on to pain, who nurse their wounds, who call out the troops to seek vengeance for the wrongs done to them, may win battles here and there. But the war against unhappiness will largely be lost before it’s even started.
Unforgiving people cannot know the level of happiness, the peace, joy, and pleasure of releasing others from the prisons of their unforgiveness that forgiving people regularly experience.
It’s the very bars that keep others imprisoned in our hearts that keeps happiness far away, at a distance, peering in at best. It’s time we free ourselves by letting old pain dissipate into the darkness, so new opportunities can take us to greater heights of joy.
So, have you forgiven your parents for their weaknesses as parents? Have you forgiven the playground bully or abusive ex-spouse, or your neglectful children or inconsiderate neighbor or insensitive church leader?
If you haven’t, you’re picking at the open wounds that can only irritate, infect and fester. Such open wounds often turn cancerous, metastasizing, entering the blood stream of other relationships, infecting them with its mortal disease as well.
Instead, open your heart to forgiveness. Then your heart will finally be open enough to catch its share of happiness as well.
So much ink has been spent on the power of positive thinking and optimism and finding your passion to live a happy life. I write about such things myself. But not enough ink has dried on enough pages to draw enough connections (perhaps with the growing exception of gratitude) between character and our personal happiness. I hope this oversight is soon corrected. And I hope this post helps close that gap a bit.
So where does that leave us? We are left with the knowledge of what traits to develop, but also of the distance we have to travel to develop them.
The beauty of life is that we can change. We can learn and grow and mature and expand, acquiring traits we don’t yet have or haven’t yet fully developed. All it takes is a little humility, the desire to start and a little determination to see it through. You might want to start by adding those character traits to your list too.
- What character traits have you found improved your happiness?
- How have the 5 listed here affected your life?
I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Author Bio: Ken Wert is a personal development blogger at Meant to be Happy where he inspires readers to live with purpose, act with character, think with clarity and grow with courage. Sign up for his free eBook, A Walk Through Happiness! Connect with him on Twitter.
Photo by: Vee
Dwight Robarts says
How about contentment? If we are insatiable, if we always want more, if no matter what we have we want something else it will be impossible to be happy. So much of our culture is about creating discontent, fear and anxiety. We are daily bombarded with thousands of messages from advertisers trying to convince us that we need something else or that how we look or how we are built makes us “less than.” Currently, the whole political discourse and constant news cycle is about playing to fear and fostering discontent. No wonder so many of us are malcontent and unhappy. Contentment goes along way in creating happiness.
Kari M says
The last two months have been pretty rough, people close to me have let me down several times and broken promises they made more than once, I have been working ridiculous hours haven’t been in the water in ages, and the lack of the gym or Insanity is catching up quickly and I have been absolutely exhausted. The negativity has festered itself and I do think is creating a horrible snowball effect. Today a long time friend posted this blog on his FB wall and I am glad that I took a few minutes to read it. So true that the negativity creeps up and I haven’t seen the silver lining in a long time. Its time to start getting back to what made me so happy this time last year.
Thank you for reminding me attitude means so much. I really needed this pick me up!
Martin Christenson says
Acceptance that pain is universally experienced by all people.
Understanding that life is about change and to not struggle against change. Most changes bring about new possibilities if you think about the merits of a change.
No matter the situation, how others treat you is about them, not about you (and vice versa). This helps me greatly to take things less personally, be more compassionate and forgiving.
I enjoy your insightful, provocative posts that encourage continual self-examination in the pursuit of the good life. Without internal work, I truly believe we cannot live joyfully.
I agree with your list–especially gratitude, as focusing on blessings rather than circumstances provides necessary perspective. And forgiveness–the most difficult for me–is crucial to not allowing the past to dictate the present and future. Finally, I would add integrity.
Vidya Sury says
Ken, these five traits are very relevant. It takes courage to speak up sometimes, especially when no one is ready to listen. Patience is a large part of life, although I keep asking God to hurry up about it. For me, love is the invisible thread that holds our wonderful relationships together, and gratitude makes living worthwhile. Forgiveness, sometimes tough, is also critical for our own mental health.
I add compassion and empathy, for I realize that these are two traits that are very important while striving to make peoples’ lives better.
Thank you. Always a great read. 😀
Ken [email protected] says
Once again, the feedback has been awesome. Thanks everyone. Great comments by your readers, Marc and Angel! Thanks for the opportunity given to interact with them.
@Marin, frankly, I think your courage, patience and gratitude may have been misapplied. There is no virtue in courageously taking abuse. There is no virtue in patiently accepting poor behavior from a guy in a relationship. There is no virtue in being grateful for scraps of love from a significant other. Such character traits only become character traits when they are applied toward a noble end. Trying to see the good in someone doesn’t mean ignoring the bad or accepting it either. It also doesn’t mean you have to be in a relationship with the person. I can try to see the good in a person I end a relationship with. But I’m glad you’re out now. Hopefully a little wiser now?
@Argenta, you’re right that love is an emotion. But to me, that’s a very limited definition of the term. It’s also the way you treat others. It’s compassion and kindness. To feel love for a person and treat them like crap is not very loving. I don;t care how much a spouse or parent proclaims or even on some level feels love for their wives or children. If they are abusive, their feelings of love are meaningless and have nothing to do with character. But Mother Teresa’s love and Gandhi’s love and Jesus’ love were direct extensions of love as a character trait. Here’s a great test to better understand what I’m trying to say. Try loving someone who is very difficult to love — a snotty teenaged son, a difficult inlaw, a neighbor who treats you poorly. Loving such people can be one of the hardest things you can do. It’s reflected in how you treat them. And without the character trait of love, the emotion will be nowhere is sight.
As for self-control, yes, I would add that to my list for sure. The ability to subordinate immediate gratification for higher, longer-ranged goals is essential to happiness. Great point, Marin!
Once again, thanks to all for the insightful comments. Honesty, persistence, commitment, acceptance, compassion, empathy, understanding, contentment, and others. Thanks for adding these to the list.
Looks like gratitude wins the day for those who commented. And looks like patience most regularly compromises happiness, with forgiveness a close second. Both are tough qualities to acquire. I like Vidya’s statement of asking God to hurry up in granting more if it!
I think the more we check under the hood of our own lives, adjusting things like compassion, patience, persistence and gratitude, our lives begin to run that much more smoothly and happiness becomes a much more constant companion.
I think having an honest understanding of who you are, and a commitment to the person you want to be, is an important factor in holding on to (and building) these characteristics as challenges occur along your journey.
Forgiving ourselves is important, and making amends along the way as we reflect upon our own mistakes. I find that it’s not up to me to forgive others for their transgressions (unless they ask), but to put those transgressions into perspective as to how I want to react to them and/or let them take up my energy.
autumn rinaldi says
Exactly. Just what I needed to read, as usual. 🙂
Shan Karna says
“The beauty of life is that we can change. We can learn and grow and mature and expand, acquiring traits we don’t yet have or haven’t yet fully developed. All it takes is a little humility, the desire to start and a little determination to see it through.”
These lines should be quoted in quotable quotes. I like that.
The question is: “What character traits have you found improved your happiness?”
For me, I’d have to say that it was – resolution.
I remember saying to myself: “I’m going to be happy. Whoever treats me the way that makes me unhappy, I’ll close the door to them”. And I literally had to slam some doors in front of some people’s faces, before they got the idea. And they either walked away from me or they adapted to my new behavior.
It’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
Thank you for the marvelous posts.
Humility… dont leave home without it.
You wont get far in your efforts to improve on these ideas. my 2 cents.. thanks for all the efforts and post of all the kindred spirits. Thanks for sharing.
Am I allowed to mention 2 traits? The first would be humility. In my more humble moments, I find that my mind is open to learning. When I feel boastful or put myself upon a pedestal my mind seems closed to new ideas or perspectives. The second would be curiosity. This may go somewhat with humility. There is so much to life that I haven’t yet explored. There is so much more to learn. I want to live every day with curiosity, with a desire to learn something new, experience something new. (Would you be surprised to know that I’m a teacher? One of my core goals is to learn something new each and every day. Your posts help me get there frequently!)
Jayne S says
Nice to know I’m not alone in my quest for a happier, less stressful life. Rebuilding ones life at any age is difficult, in middle age it is a challenge I didn’t expect to have. This process has been bittersweet…being vulnerable and open to the lessons life has sometimes pummeled at my door has given me insight into what is really important in life. Choice is huge. I have chosen to be happy and positive..it is a work in progress but reading the comments left here by other readers and the uplifting site offered by Marc and Angel (and now Ken) is a step in the right direction. Being conscious of how we live, being present and open to the good changes that await. Never too late to ‘tweak’ a life and being happy in ones own skin is the ultimate in acceptance and self love. The rest all flows from this I think. Again-it’s the journey not the destination.
Onward and upward!
Thanks for sharing-the attitude of gratitude and forgiveness is the key.
Lots of thoughtful people here. What percentage of individuals have some degree of introspection? There is so much of life to ponder.