Three Simple Ingredients to Have Happiness in Life


Life satisfaction and happiness does not come from having a lot of stuff or a large social circle. It comes from the higher things of life, those things that transcend physical reality and fill what otherwise is the void of this world's materials. After all, what is the purpose of all those things we can buy if there is not some end, some telos, greater than merely those items?

Charles Murray, social scientist and author of the groundbreaking book Coming Apart, believes there are three important ingredients in any recipe for happiness in life. As Annie Holmquist of Intellectual Takeout sums up the points, these ingredients are:

1. Life Purpose
According to Murray, lasting happiness stems from doing something important in life. He goes on to say that “trivial” matters can bring temporary happiness, but that long-lasting satisfaction is only found in pursuing the important things in life.

2. Diligence
Long-term “effort,” Murray declares, is key to achieving life satisfaction. He notes, “The cliché ‘Nothing worth having comes easily’ is true.”

3. Responsibility
Taking “personal responsibility for the outcome is essential,” says Murray. “In the case of events close to home, you have to be able to say, ‘If it hadn’t been for me, this good thing wouldn’t have come about as it did.’”

Each of these three areas are aspects of life that are higher than the material; we can't materialize what "life-purpose" is; it's one of those immaterial things that drives how we act in the material world.

What are some of the things we can do to find these three ingredients? Well, it requires effort on our part. These are not things that just magically appear.

How do we find a purpose in something? We have to work for it, seek it out. And there are really just a select few things in life that really have to offer what human beings truly long after.

There aren’t many activities in life that satisfy the three requirements of importance, effort, and responsibility. Having been a good parent qualifies. Being part of a good marriage qualifies. Having done your job well qualifies. Having been a faithful adherent of one of the great religions qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours qualifies. But what else?

Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the domains through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life – achieve happiness – the answer is that there are just four: family, vocation, community, and faith…

See those last four there? Now look at the categories we have here at TPOH. That's not a coincidence. Murray's insight has real value, and those looking for happiness in life may want to consider these three areas.

I'm working on each of them myself as I progress through life. I'm trying to be active in my community, helping out neighbors and even just getting to know them. At my job, I'm looking to do the best that I can each day. In my marriage, my wife and I are working towards a relationship that mirrors that of Jesus Christ and the Church, one of self-sacrificial love and care. And in my faith, I'm working toward becoming more Christ-like in the way I live.

Each of those things give a sense of meaning in my life. If I did not have those emphases, what would I be doing? I don't know, but it would not be anything constructive most likely. But since I am aiming to hit these targets, I am at least making some semblance of progress over time.

I can probably do better, we all can, but the goals are what keep me going, and I will continue to do these things for the rest of my life. And by doing so, I will be an agent of change in my own life, and that's just an incredible thing.