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What is the secret of happiness?

The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky had a surprising response to that question:

Man is unhappy because he doesn’t know he’s happy. That’s the only reason. The man who discovers that will become happy that very moment.”

Really? I’m not happy simply because I don’t know I’m happy? Is this some kind of naive, spiritual fast food? Some kind of spacey, psyche-yourself-up psycho-babble?

Coming from someone else, it might be. But listen to Dostoevsky’s story.

As a young man, he became involved in a political conflict; he was put in prison by political enemies and sentenced to death. Execution day came and he was led out in front of a firing squad, blindfolded. The soldiers raised their rifles…and at the very last moment, a rider on horseback approached with news from the Duke, staying the execution. Dostoevsky had been spared.

Dostoevsky credited that experience with opening his mind and inspiring him to write the works of fiction he devoted his life to.

One footnote: even as he wrote the above words about happiness, Dostoevsky was suffering from lifelong, debilitating bouts of epilepsy. So perhaps his thought is at least worth reflecting on.

Imagine that your life was taken away from you today—and then given back. Wouldn’t you then be happy to be here? Happy being who you are, where you are right now?

Wouldn’t this ordinary day, with whatever problems and frustrations and disappointments it may have, take on a heightened glow?

Wouldn’t you be happy in the wonder of just being alive? Being human? And being you?

Maybe Dostoevsky is on to something. Maybe happiness is not the end goal.

Maybe happiness is the place to begin.