Back in the early-90s, I began searching for a life philosophy with all my might. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, from books on traditional religions to different strains of new age philosophy, hoping to find the ideal code or set of rules to live by.
This included the works of author and philosopher Robert Pirsig. I read his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, followed by the slightly less dense, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. In both books, Pirsig tried to set up a philosophical system by which you could indentify “quality” or value in life, including its ultimate expression, the highly subjective “dynamic quality”.
It was all heady stuff, much of which I could barely comprehend, but it got me thinking. What I was searching for wasn’t this indefinable dynamic quality, but something a lot more basic. I wanted a simple road map to help me find my own sense of happiness and contentment. So I set up my own system.
I broke down my life into categories to try and figure out where things were right in my life—and more importantly, where things had veered off course. I identified five distinct segments, each of which I had some control over, that could spell the difference between a life that was good and satisfying and one that was lacking in one or more important ways.
I named the list The 5 Keys to Happiness and I used to check it every now and then to see where I stood. Here’s a quick look at the list with a deeper dig to follow.
The 5 Keys to Happiness.
My thought was if I could achieve happiness in all five areas, I’d be leading something close to a blissful life. But the fact is, it’s really hard to have all five facets of your life going right at the same time. Chances are that at any given moment, there’s an area or two that can stand some improvement.
The key for me was to isolate the single area that needed the most work—and really focus on it, doing everything possible to make the changes necessary to improve it. Once there was improvement in one area, it was then time to move on to the next area that needed attention.
Here’s the list again, with a closer look at each of the five categories:
Family. (Including close friends.) Is everything right between you and those closest to you? Do they know their importance to you? Are you spending quality time with them? Are you in regular contact or do you owe someone a visit or a phone call? Are there any problems that need to be addressed or fences that need to be mended?
Love. Is there a significant other in your life? If yes, are you happy with your situation? Are there steps you can take to make your relationship better? If it’s not working, are you taking the steps necessary to move on? If you’re solo, take a close look at who you connect with on a regular or semi-regular basis—is there someone who might become more than an acquaintance or a friend?
Work. Knowing that you need to pay the bills, do you like your job and find it at lease somewhat satisfying? Does it put to use your unique talents? If needed, can you do something to improve your circumstances at work? If your job isn’t working for you, are you taking the steps necessary to embark on a new path?
Hobby. Do you have the time and space to do the things you love most? If not, what’s holding you back? Can you take any steps to help you pursue your passion or passions more vigorously?
Place. Do you love where you live? Are you in the right apartment/condo/ house? Are you happy with the geographic area you live in? Does where you live give you a sense of place, where you either have roots or can grow them? If not, are you exploring other possibilities?
I’ve got to admit that 20 years after I wrote the original list, I don’t think about it much. Rather than divide my life into categories, I tend to view it as a seamless whole. But this may be because, unlike my younger self, I’m now more settled in terms of my family life, my career and the things I now know are most important.
What about you? What steps are you taking to find your bliss?