Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt – from Happiness by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)

If You Want to Be Happy

Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life ranks high in the cluster of the commonplaces of happiness. No matter where we are on the economic chart, it’s knowing what we exist for that counts. No matter how mundane our gifts may seem to be, even to ourselves, the world will be the poorer without them, and we will be poorer, too, for not having given them as best we can. My life has meaning to every life I touch. It’s knowing that and living accordingly that counts.

Clearly, life does not give us meaning. Life has only the meaning we give it. Without a reason larger than myself for which to get out of bed in the morning, I am losing my life one day at a time, like water drops in an ocean, without so much as a ripple to show for it.

It’s one thing for a person to realize too late that they have lived for no great purpose and so will die with little impact. It’s entirely another, however, to live with the discomfort of knowing that we are living in vain, that we do nothing for no one that has meaning to anyone. But a sense of purpose and meaning, an understanding of why we are doing what we do, has the ring of immortality to it. Then we suddenly come to realize that we are leaving something of value behind us. Then we can be happy for having lived at all.

As the Chinese proverb puts it:

If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day—go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime—help someone else.

– from Happiness by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)