What My Parents Taught Me About Happiness

TIMEJune 8, 2014

I was an adored only child and had the happiest of childhoods. I was very close to both my parents and we spoke a great deal. They would explain things to me and gave me what I now call “life lessons” on how to be a happy, healthy, and productive human being. They each gave me one piece of advice, from different angles, on being happy. At the time, I thought their advice was incredibly wise, and today, with added maturity, I know it to be true and I pass it on to my friends as well.

I will preface it with a story.

Recently, a friend told me that she was very unhappy. She was especially upset with somebody she knew and was very envious of her. She couldn’t understand how this other person had so much and she had so little. In her self-defeatist attitude, she was convinced she would never have what she wanted. I told her what my parents taught me—their “life lessons.” She thought about their words of wisdom and we continued to talk. As we spoke her thoughts cleared and she realized the wisdom of what I told her.

And here it is: Among the many things my mother told me, what I remember vividly is “Never envy anyone. You don’t know what that person’s life is really like. You may think you do, but you don’t. It’s entirely possible that if you knew what their life was really like, you’d thank God that it’s not your life.”

My mother told me this when I was in high school, at a time when I was very envious of a friend. I soon realized that things were not as I thought they were in her life. I still keep in touch with her and I do thank God that her life is not mine.

My father told me something equally wise. He said that having what you want is not the key to happiness. No one, no matter how wealthy they are, will ever have everything they want. There will always be something that someone else has, that they can’t have. No, the key to happiness is being content with what you have.

By that standard, I am a very happy person. I don’t have everything I want, not by a long shot, but I’m happy with everything I have.

So many people live in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. As soon as they see something they want, they buy it, convinced that the acquisition will immediately make them happy and satisfied. But it doesn’t. No sooner do they have it, they grow bored with it and look for something else that will make them happy. But they never find it. It’s a kind of craving that is never going to be satisfied.

I believe that this is the reason why so many wealthy, famous people succumb to using drugs and even commit suicide. They can never find happiness. They are always searching for it in the wrong places—outside of themselves, in things they can purchase.

You might be able to purchase something, but if it has a price tag, you can be sure that what you’ve bought is not real happiness.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan. She may be reached at