The Key to Happiness and Leading a Fulfilling Life


By Hugo Huyer, Author at Tracking Happiness, lifelong happiness tracker and passionate about all things mental health and well-being. 

If I ask you “what is happiness?”, then what would your answer be? It’s probably difficult to come up with a simple answer. Yet, here you are, looking for a key to happiness and how to lead a fulfilling life.

The truth is that a universal key to happiness is a myth.

That doesn’t mean that you should stop looking for yours right now, it only means that you need to be careful when reading articles about “a key to happiness.”  The universal key to happiness is non-existent because happiness is one of the most difficult things in life to define.

How Do You Define Happiness?

Now, let’s go back to that difficult question: “what is happiness?”

Have you thought about it already? Let me give you an example of how hard it is to define happiness.

Right now, I’m drinking a cup of coffee while writing the outline of this article about how to define happiness. Am I happy right now? Yes, I’m feeling pretty happy:

  • I’ve got nothing to worry about.
  • All my basic needs are met.
  • My family, friends, and girlfriend are all happy as well.
  • The weather is nice.
  • I’m going outside in a couple of minutes to go for a walk.

These things are all making me feel pretty happy right now.

By that logic, let’s define my happiness as follows:

“Happiness is when I’m in a worry-free state, the weather is nice, everybody I know is alright and I can enjoy a hot cup of coffee.”

Voila. There it is. My definition of happiness.

The keys to my happiness are obvious now, and I know enough in order to lead the happiest life I can. I just need to focus on the things I listed above.

Wait a second… If it were this simple, then why have I ever been unhappy?

You might have guessed it already, but I made a very simple error. I assumed that what makes me happy today will make me happy for the rest of my life. And that’s just wrong.

Happiness is something that not only changes from person to person, but it’s also constantly evolving from day to day.

Your definition of happiness changes over time. This is why happiness is such a difficult concept, and why there’s not a single “key to happiness”.

Whoever tells you otherwise is likely not aware that people change, and that people don’t always share the same values, goals, and purposes.

Finding Your Key to True Happiness

So, where to look for true happiness if a single key to happiness doesn’t exist?

Read on to find out…

Define What Happiness Means to You

For a minute, I want you to do consider your own happiness. I want you to think back of last week, and consider what things you did that had a positive effect on your happiness.

What things had a significant influence on your mood? What comes to your mind?

Was it spending time with your friends? Was it a great movie you watched? Did you attend an exciting sports event? Or did you enjoy sipping hot coffee on a sunny Wednesday morning? It could obviously be just about anything!

It’s important to realize that all these things were part of your “key to happiness.”  Your happiness was defined by these things, and you just measured a small part of that.

Does that mean you now know all the answers? Do you now know how to live the rest of your life? No. But you do know what things made you happy last week, and that’s very useful information when determining your own definition of happiness to build on.

If you consciously keep track of what factors determine your happiness, then you are more likely to find out just how much your definition of happiness can vary from time to time. This knowledge can help you find your key to happiness.

You see, even though happiness is claimed to be the factor of life that’s the most difficult to measure, you can still measure how you define your own happiness each day. It’s simple.

For me personally, when I think back of last weekend, I remember that I really enjoyed spending time with my girlfriend, walking through the woods on a sunny day and just relaxing (a.k.a. doing nothing!)

These are happiness factors that were a vital part of my happiness definition this weekend. I had just survived a long and busy week at work, so I was really trying to find some easy enjoyment. The things that I did this weekend were perfect for the occasion, as it was a very happy day for me.

If you were to ask me what the key to my happiness was that weekend, I’d give you the following answer:

To spend quality time with my girlfriend, being able to enjoy the good weather while being carefree and relaxed.

While this is unlikely to be the key to your happiness for the rest of your life, it is a pretty good start.

You can do exactly the same. All you need to do is to define your own happiness from day to day.

Find Your Purpose in Life

The next step to determining your key to happiness is to determine the things that give you purpose. You will live a fulfilling life when you’re happily tracking towards a purpose. Something that you’re passionate about.

Let’s use the previous example of my key to happiness. Will I be happy for the rest of my life when I focus exclusively on a relaxed and carefree feeling? Probably not, because it will not lead to a very fulfilling life. Not for me, at least.

There are some things that drive my actions in a much bigger sense than only my daily, short-term happiness. For some people, that purpose could be:

  • To take care of a loving family
  • To build a successful company
  • To climb the highest mountains
  • To be rich and famous

You have to find out what your purpose in life is in order to truly determine your key to happiness. Only then will you be able to define a sustainable plan that will make you both happy and fulfilled.

It’s important to know that you can find your purpose only when trying out new things. This is a crucial part of finding your key to happiness. You can’t read an article online (like this one) and suddenly learn about what your key to happiness is!

The same thing goes for finding your purpose. You can’t expect to find your purpose without trying new things. People stumble upon their purpose in life in lots of different ways.[1]

If you find figuring out your purpose challenging, take a look at this article: How to Find the Purpose of Life and Start Living a Fulfilling Life

Combine Your Purpose in Life with Your Definition on Happiness

Now, this might sound like a mouthful:

A purpose in life x keys to your happiness = fulfilling life?

It’s actually really simple. Let’s take the following example:

I’ve found that my purpose in life is to become the CEO of a great and powerful charity (I know, I know…)

I feel a purpose and sense of accomplishment when working towards these goals. However, should I therefore sacrifice everything in my life in order to reach that purpose? Should I work 100 hours a week, disregard any relationships and use sleep medication just to fall asleep under the stress?

Nope. If I do that, I might reach my purpose, but I won’t still be happy.    

However, if I spend the rest of my life similar to how I spent my last weekend (enjoying the sun and walking through the forest) I will also miss long-term happiness. That’s because I won’t feel like my life has a purpose.

Your key to happiness and the purpose of your life need to compliment each other. They need to be in balance.

You’ve probably heard the saying:

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination”.

Think of the destination as your purpose, and think of the journey as the things you do that make you happy (the keys to your happiness).

You can’t spend your life running (or sprinting) towards your destination, because you’ll forget to enjoy the journey. At the same time, you can’t head out on your journey without having a destination in mind. That’s why I believe your happiness is a product of both the journey and the destination.

Or in other words, you need to combine your purpose in life with the keys to your happiness in order to lead a fulfilling life. This will allow you to create a road map – a specific and concise plan – that will help you determine how to best lead your life. If you’ve done that, you’re ready to steer your life in the best direction possible!

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember when trying to define your keys to a happy and fulfilling life is simple:

There is no universal key that leads to your happiness. That’s because your happiness is unique in each and every single way. What you can do is:

  • Realize that you can define the factors that make you happy.
  • Know that your happiness – and the factors that influence it – change over time, and so will your “key to happiness”.
  • Find out what your purpose in life is. You can only do this by trying out many things. You can’t learn this from simple reading an article!
  • Combine your purpose and the things that make you happy in order to get the best idea of how to steer your life in the best direction possible!