Psychologist John Izzo interviewed seniors who had a reputation for wisdom to find out what they knew about happiness. He describes the ideas he gleaned from these interviews in his book The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die (also a five-part television series that aired on PBS).
As the title suggests, Izzo doesn’t shy away from discussing death. He suggests it is important to remember that live is short and our choices define our lives. We all want joy, contentment, connection and purpose. We can learn from the example of people who have achieved such lives and have a more satisfying life as well.
First, follow your heart. You will not be happy if you try to be someone else. You can be more authentically yourself by living intentionally and examining your life to see if you are doing what matters to you.
Live without regrets. You can forgive yourself for the mistakes you make (if you try), but you’ll likely regret the important things you left undone. Encourage yourself to take worthy risks in life. If you love someone, put the work into fixing a broken relationship.
Love is incredibly important to a happy life. Make room for people in your life and practice loving them. Love is more than a feeling toward others; it is kindness and generosity.
Almost everywhere I look, I see books, articles and television segments on mindfulness. Izzo suggest that a kind of mindfulness—living in the moment—is practiced by happy people. Recognize that every day of life is a gift and we should enjoy it while it is here.
Finally, give. Giving is a way to connect to something larger than ourselves. It is a path to purpose, love, and joy.
Izzo isn’t simply concerned with giving advice; he wants to equip people to apply that advice. One of the ways he suggests this can be done is by paying attention to the way we want to live. Each chapter ends with a short list of questions that are collected in one of the later chapters. Izzo suggest reading and answering these questions in a weekly time of reflection. Often all we need to do to make the changes we want is to intend to do it and remind ourselves of that intention.
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