Supposing you were told, “Today is the last day of your life. Make a list of all the things that you feel you have accomplished, all the things that have made you feel truly happy; what are the things you would put down in that list, knowing that you have only hours left to live?”
I’m certain that your car, bungalow and bank account will find no place on the list. What you are sure to put on it would be the most fundamental elements of a truly happy life — your love for God, the love and respect you have earned from your near and dear ones, the sunshine you brought into people's lives by your warmth and affection, the compassion you have received from your friends, the love and kindness you have shown to people. Thus, happiness is in the little things that make life significant.
William Lyon Phelps was a distinguished writer and critic, as well as a popular Professor at Yale University. He had inspired and guided hundreds of students during his long and distinguished career. When he was asked to write a message of guidance and inspiration for the American people, he asserted: "The principle of happiness is like the principle of virtue: it should not be dependent on things, but be a part of your personality."
When Professor Phelps had been a young student, he had drawn inspiration from the words of President Timothy Dwight who had visited his college and addressed the students. Dwight had told them emphatically, "The happiest person is the person who thinks the most interesting thoughts." This was what he taught his students too. Real happiness cannot come from external things, he told them. The only lasting happiness that you will experience is that which springs from your inner thoughts and emotions. Therefore, he urged them, cultivate your mind. For an empty mind seeks mere pleasure as a substitute for happiness.
The happiest people are not the ones who make money, buy property and own stocks. The happiest people are those who cultivate their minds with interesting and invigorating thoughts.
(Dada J.P. Vaswani is humanitarian, philosopher, educator, acclaimed writer, powerful orator, messiah of ahimsa, and non-sectarian spiritual leader.)