Among the most common complaints a therapist hears is about “happiness.”

A single person is unhappy because he has not found the perfect mate – someone who will make him happy. A married person is unhappy because her spouse is not making her happy. The focus on someone or something outside yourself to bring you happiness will miss the mark every time.

The danger in focusing on unhappiness is that we believe that happiness is an external treasure that we can discover in another person, in circumstances, or in some form of success.

May I share with you the secret to happiness? I’ve discovered it over more than 60 years in the counseling office. Here it is: Happy people give others the gifts of happiness. What are they? Attention, appreciation and affection!

Some adages may catch a part of the truth. One says happy people figure out what they enjoy doing and find a way to make a living doing it. That’s good but still somewhat incomplete.

Another adage says happy people are those who have something to do and someone to share it. That’s also partially true.

This is not an adage, but a formula for happiness. All of us need three things to feel fulfilled in life: attention, appreciation and affection.

The first is attention: We want someone to listen to us. It begins in infancy when we learn to talk and we compete for the attention of our parents. Embedded in that need is the focus on who we are and what we need. John Maxwell, the leadership guru, says: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” If you have someone in your life who listens to you with focus, you are likely a happy person!

The second key word is appreciation. Is there someone in your life who values you? Happy people feel appreciated by others. They feel that significance of knowing that someone is grateful they are alive and a part of their world. It’s a gift that can be conveyed at times by a word of encouragement, a knowing smile, or a gentle touch.

The third need is affection. Happy people feel loved. From the earliest moments of our lives we crave reassuring touches. We experience security when a mother affectionately cradles us to her breast. No matter how much we age, we never lose the joy of an intimate embrace.

This column would be incomplete if I did not emphasize the deeper foundation of happiness. We discover it when we give away what we need. Happy people find ways to share attention, express appreciation, and give affection to those in their lives. When I give away what I need I receive as I give.

Two wise sentences catch this meaning: “It is more blessed to give than to receive;” and the wisest of all teachers said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” If you are looking for happiness, practice this formula and you’ll discover it.

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as

president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is

a resident of Canton.

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