Three keys unlock happiness and success

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell

I have had the privilege in my life to know both riches and poverty. I have eaten stone crabs in the finest of restaurants with captains of industry and shared a can of potted meat and white bread with my roommate because there was nothing else in the cupboard. I have spent time on the reefs of Caribbean islands and enjoyed lawn darts with neighbors in an empty lot. I have had the comfort of living the Ritz-Carlton lifestyle and the pleasure of sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment with little more than a blanket. At different times in my life, I have been afforded both the high and the low life, and loved them both. As I get older, I have come to realize that there is a lot of truth in the statement that happiness is a state of mind.

There are several factors that have led me to this conclusion. I feel fortunate that I have acquired what I believe are the three keys necessary to achieve a level of happiness and success: education, flexibility, and experience. These can be attained in many different ways. Let me explain my path to this realization.

Education is essential. It provides the basis that makes everything else possible. A good education from the earliest years allows a child’s mind to grow. Children read of hobbits and unicorns; they discover the magic of tadpoles turning into frogs, how stars become supernovas, and the mystery of pi; and they learn of the stately pleasure-dome of Kublai Khan. Education empowers us to chase our dreams. Our kids with a good education can grow up to be architects, teachers, mechanics, lawyers, or whatever they chose. Education provides the ability to understand people different than you, comprehend these differences, communicate, accept, empathize, and develop lifelong bonds with those both similar and dissimilar. Education is the component to make lifelong learning a reality. Education is a precursor to one’s ability to become truly flexible.

Flexibility in my eyes is what enables people to adapt. Adaptation is the ability to accept different people, opinions, and situations and to involve oneself within an ever-changing world. In turn, this affects every aspect of one’s life. Flexibility is to see changes in your environment and realize that your perception of it may not be the only correct one. I credit my wife with providing this insight to me. Recently, she pointed out that although our whole family was looking at exactly the same thing (ie, an historic landmark), our children’s perception of it was quite different from ours due to their limited frame of knowledge. While this is a simplistic example, we all need to be flexible in realizing how everyone—on the basis of varied life experiences—views the world a bit differently.

Experience is the final piece of the puzzle. My father used to quote an old cliché, “You can’t put an old man’s head on a young man’s body.” As much as I used to hate to hear it, I finally begin to see the truth in this statement. Experience allows us to see the big picture, whether it is in the realm of family life, personal relationships, work, politics, or global events. Experience enables one to react in a responsible way to both familiar and unfamiliar stimuli that intrude into our environment. Experience teaches us about the risks we are willing to take and about the need for risk aversion. When I was younger, this line was much less defined—usually for the worse. Statistics bear this. Our prisons are disproportionately filled with those under 25, auto insurance rates are higher for wreck-prone youths, and the highest mortality rates for violent death are for the young. Experience teaches boundaries, how to react in different situations, and when to modify our behaviors to meet socially accepted norms. As Kenny Rogers sang, “you got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Knowledge comes from experience.

In my life, the modicum of success I have attained is directly related to the education. The opportunities my education has afforded me and the experiences I have had due to this have brought a sense of fulfillment. My true state of happiness has grown as I have learned to be more flexible and understanding of my environment, friends, and family. I challenge you to reflect on what is really important in your life. To what do you attribute success and happiness?

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a freelance writer, National Board Certified Teacher, and educational consultant. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maxwell via email at


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