Find and Share Your Core Joys: Some Advice to My Grown Children
By Scott Farnsworth
This is an open letter to my six adult children. They are pictured above, dancing together at their cousin's wedding in New Orleans. It makes me happy that they enjoy being with each other.
I love being a father, and I love being your father. I love each of you individually and all of you collectively. My greatest desire for you is that you find happiness.
Mark Twain once wrote: “When I was 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
I am hoping that you believe that I — like Mark Twain’s father — have learned a few things since you were 14 or 21, therefore, that I possess a few nuggets of wisdom that might aid each of you in your quest for a joyful and productive life.
There was a time in your life when your mother and I felt we had both the capability and the responsibility to mold you into the kind of adults you would eventually become. That stage has passed. J. K. Rowling expressed that idea somewhat differently: “There is an expiration date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you." Now, as adults, you are who you are and it is up to you if you wish to change yourselves.
Over the years I have made certain “stupidly simple and duh-obvious” observations about happiness and people. I want to mention three of them here. I believe that understanding and applying these three principles will greatly increase your overall happiness.
My advice today is that you pay close attention to the you that you have become and consider how these principles can help you enjoy the kind of life you want for yourself.
Principle No. 1: Different things make different people happy.
We are all built differently and we have our individual paths to passion and purpose. That’s part of the marvel of this world our Heavenly Father has created for us to experience.
To apply this principle to yourself, I invite you to thoughtfully inventory the activities that make you happy and commit that list to writing. Think about the times and circumstances that made you smile inside and out. Remember the magical moments of your life and consider what made them sparkle. Peel apart those blockbuster occasions and discover the essence of those experiences for you.
Focus on what you were doing, not on what you owned, what you were wearing or driving, or even where you were at the time. Ask yourself, “When I am doing _________, I feel great happiness or joy.” This is primarily an activities list.
It is important to write down your ideas. Don’t allow them to merely swim around untethered in your head. Putting pen to paper will help crystalize and clarify your thinking and feelings. Don’t rush this task, but likewise don’t delay getting started. Get the process underway and then let it marinate for several days. Take plenty of time to make as detailed and extensive a list as possible. Remember, this is your list and no one else needs to approve or disapprove.
Principle No. 2: There are different levels or degrees of happiness.
Top: Nathaniel, Paul, Evan
Bottom: Sara, Kate, Elisabeth
To apply Principle No. 2, I want you to evaluate the activities on your list from Step 1 of this process.
Some things we do are fun, amusing, or simply pass the time. Other things we do have deep and lasting impact, with life-long or even eternal consequences. Other things are somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum.
I think a wholesome life includes a healthy mix of these activities. It is true, as the old saying goes, that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” but it is equally true that, “all play and no work make Jack a poor and spoiled boy.” Balance is required.
Let me introduce you to “The Farnsworth Felicity Scale.” I picture a continuum of activities that add to our individual sense of well-being. On one end I see “having a good time.” Near that is “present pleasure.” Next on the scale is “gladness.” Moving to the right is “happiness,” followed by “great happiness.” Then comes “bliss,” and on the other end is “pure joy.”
When I use the term “pure joy” I’m talking about those things that, at the very core of your being, fill you with deep meaning, a sense of purposefulness, and lasting satisfaction. These are things of enormous importance that lead to long-term happiness. When you do those things, you feel that you are being true to yourself and you are making a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I don’t want to get tangled up in semantics; different people may use these various terms slightly differently. If you want to move the words around on the scale to suit your own personal lexicon, that’s okay. The point is that different types of activities create different types of felicity or happiness for each of us.
Now take the activities list you made in Step 1 and place each activity somewhere along the continuum of The Farnsworth Felicity Scale. With each activity, ask yourself, “When I do ____________, what is the length, breadth, and depth of the good feelings I experience? In what way and to what degree does this activity add to the quality of my life?”
Just as the list you made is for you and you alone, this process of evaluating the activities on your list is likewise for you and no one else. With any luck, it will give you significant insight about yourself, and lead you to a greater understanding of how to increase the quality of your own life. One secret to a better life is to spend more time doing things that make you happy and less time doing things that make you unhappy or produce only shallow happiness. (Another “stupidly simple and duh-obvious” observation, I know, but how many people never seem to figure that out?)
In my experience, the most valuable outcome from this exercise is to identify for yourself those things that are located on the far right of your scale. Hopefully you will find a cluster of related activities that fit in the “pure joy” area of the scale. These I call your “core joys.”
Identifying and articulating your core joys is one of the great breakthroughs of life. When you know what activities give you pure joy, you can start to focus on them. A second key to a better life is to spend more time doing things that give you a deeper, more meaningful, longer-lasting level of happiness. When you tailor your life by devoting more energy and time toward your core joys, you end up compounding your joy. That’s when life becomes rich and sweet.
Principle No. 3: Life is sweeter when we share our core joys.
(In 2017, we gathered with four of our six children and all eight grandchildren.)
Once you’ve identified your “core joys,” keep your list at the top of your mind. Pay attention to the Felicity Scale as you choose your friends and associates. Pray that God will bring to your attention those people who share those same joys. And when you find those folks, hug them and keep them close. Life is more fulfilling when you work with, play with, and live with people who find joy in the same things.
By way of illustration, I have a cousin who is a woman of adventure. That’s one of her core joys. She has gathered a circle of close friends who share her love of outdoor challenges, and they are constantly hiking, camping, and exploring. From her photographs and stories, it is apparent that her happiness is multiplied as she and her cohorts enjoy their adventures together.
This issue is especially critical as you choose your life partner. I recently wrote to one of my younger children:
"I will suggest that seeking someone who shares your core joys will be one of the most important things you can do to have a sweet and joyful marriage. For example, one of your core joys (in my view) is being generous. It oozes out of you and brings great meaning to your life. You love to serve the elderly, the overlooked, and the less-fortunate. Now let’s suppose you were “unequally yoked” to someone who did not share this as one of their “core joys.” It’s easy to see the kind of tension this would create in your family."
"You can be on different pages in lots of ways that won’t ultimately make much difference. However, if you are mismatched in your core joys, all the other similarities won’t help very much."
I think each of you children can vouch for the fact that you grew up in a home with parents who loved each other. I have thought a lot about why Marcie and I have enjoyed such a sweet, harmonious marriage, and I believe this issue is the key.
In the early years of our marriage, many who met us believed we were a completely asymmetric couple and some even expressed that thought aloud. Our personalities were polar opposites. I was a socially awkward farm boy from New Mexico who hadn’t been many places and hadn’t had many outside experiences. Marcie was an outgoing, socially-confident Southern Belle who had traveled widely and had a much broader world experience.
But notwithstanding our outward differences, we just seemed to click from the moment we met. That’s because we found joy in the same things, and we were both very intentional about finding someone who shared those same core joys. As a result, from the beginning of our marriage we were close and supportive, and we have consistently remained so through the years. We have lived a joyful life together.
My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will find deep and meaningful joy in your lives, based on how and with whom you spend your time. I trust that these three principles will be trail markers along the path of your life journey and will help you create relationships like your mother and I have.
Thus, my formula for enjoying greater happiness in life is to understand and apply these three principles:
- Different things make different people happy.
- There are different levels or degrees of happiness.
- Life is sweeter when we share our core joys.
The implementation of these principles is not extraordinarily difficult or beyond the reach of anyone. The ability to identify and prioritize core joys and surround yourselves with others who share them are essential keys to an abundant and rewarding life. Far beyond wealth, power, prestige, or material possessions, these steps will largely determine the quality of your time here on earth.
I encourage you to take the first step by writing down the things that make you happy, and then follow the process from there. You’ll be glad you did.
All my love,