People often ask me, “Come on, what’s the key to happiness? If you had to pick one thing, what would you say?”
I think that question can be answered in several ways, depending on what framework you use.
But one answer would certainly be: self-knowledge. It’s the Fifth Splendid Truth: We can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature.
But it’s surprisingly hard to know yourself! So how can you sneak a glimpse into your own nature?
You can ask yourself: Whom do I envy? What do I lie about? The answers to these questions reveal the way in which your life doesn’t reflect your values.
You can ask yourself: What did I do for fun when I was ten years old? You’d probably enjoy as an adult a version of what you enjoyed as a ten-year-old.
You can ask yourself: What do I actually DO?
You can ask yourself: Who are my patron saints? (A “patron saint” is a saint who has a special connection to a person, place, profession, or activity, or in more casual terms, a person who serves as a particular leader or example.)
I have many patron saints, but here are six of them:
Benjamin Franklin: practical, curious, inventive.
St. Therese of Lisieux: showing great love through small, ordinary actions. St. Therese is also my spiritual master.
Samuel Johnson: wildly eccentric, with a deep understanding of human nature. This patron saint made it into the subtitle of Happier at Home!
Julia Child: goofy yet masterly; light-hearted yet authoritative. For some reason, she’s been on my mind lately.
Winston Churchill: indefatigable, indomitable. I wrote a biography of Churchill, Forty Ways To Look at Winston Churchill, so I have a special attachment to him.
Virginia Woolf: intensely attuned to the power of the passing moment.
When I look back on the pieces I’ve written about my patron saints, I see that they’re among my favorite posts.
How about you? Who are your patron saints, and why?