Has Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
You can’t put a price on happiness. Like the best things in life, it’s free. However, happiness being free doesn’t mean that you don’t need to work for it to find it.
So where is the best place to start looking?
Luckily, best-selling author Matthew Kelly has mapped out the perfect path toward a contented and meaningful life. In the practical and philosophical sense, this book summary argues that the best place to start is by overcoming resistance.
Once you get rid of the little doubts and fears that often block you from attending to the things that matter most, you’ll be able to start on the path to discovering who you truly are and what your life’s mission is.
In this summary of Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly, you’ll find out
- why reading will make you happier than earning loads of money;
- how praying can improve your focus; and
- why embracing solitude is the best way to combat the fear of loneliness.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #1: When you’re able to overcome resistance, you’ll be able to be more productive and begin on a path toward a more spiritual life.
What is this resistance? Let’s look at an everyday example. Your alarm clock goes off in the morning and you react immediately by hitting the snooze button. That’s resistance at work. And you’ve just lost your first battle of the day.
At its core, resistance is that familiar, yet discouraging feeling while leads you to put things off that you know need to be done.
Resistance is a major problem, especially when it comes to long-term projects.
For example, most people who start writing a book never actually end up with a finished manuscript in the end. Laziness, lack of confidence, or just plain self-sabotage get in the way.
This is something Matthew Kelly knows quite a bit about. As a published author, he’s regularly asked for advice on how to get a book into print. However, the problem is, most of the people who are asking him for these tips haven’t even actually finished their own books!
Kelly often responds that they should get back to him once they’ve finished writing their books – and doesn’t actually hear back from about 95 percent of these people who contact him. Clearly, these correspondents lost their battles against resistance. Procrastination or sloth won out.
So how could these budding authors have achieved full bloom?
The best way to start fighting against your own resistance is to identify the obstacle. Once you’ve put a name to the hurdle you’re facing, it will be much easier to figure out how to, well, resist it.
Another option is prayer.
Take Kelly, for example. Kelly is a busy guy who spends a lot of his time on the road. He is constantly encountering new sights and sounds, which could easily become a source of distraction. This is why he decided to dedicate ten minutes of each day toward prayer.
When he prays, he considers four questions: Who am I? What’s my life’s purpose? What’s most important? What’s least important?
Finding the answers to these questions provides him with clarity and leaves him with a sense of purpose. These answers reaffirm what he’s passionate about, which is a great basis for making better life decisions.
The added bonus? It’s helped him become more spiritually fulfilled.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #2: Accepting our impending mortality and understanding that every human being on earth has their struggles can help you realize your full potential.
It’s hard to pinpoint happiness. Lots of people think that they’d only be truly happy if they could afford to buy a nice car, a luxury home, or even marry their true love. But reality isn’t like that. Oftentimes, conventional ideas and material goods won’t actually lead to lasting happiness.
So how do you figure out what will really make you happy?
It will be much easier to truly grasp what’s important to you when you confront the inevitability of your own mortality directly. This cathartic act will, in turn, put you in the direction of being able to lead a life that brings you true joy.
Kelly was able to come to this conclusion when he was a consultant for a well-known hospital. There was one day, where, on the job, he started talking to some hospice nurses. What, he asked them, do people talk about as they’re dying?
The nurses’ answer was a revelation for Kelly.
They told him that, at the end, most people dwell on their regrets. If only they’d been brave enough to be themselves, communicated their feelings better, or had the courage to take more risks….
Kelly was able to realize that this was a clue toward living a meaningful life. Through thinking about the death’s inevitability and imagining what you might say when you’re on your own deathbed, you’ll be able to start prioritizing what it is that’s really essential to your happiness.
This means that in your life you’ll be doing things that matter to you, which, deep down, are the things that will make you happy.
That’s easier said than done, right? What’s essential to this process is understanding that everyone on earth faces their own unique struggle to figure this out, and once you realize that, you’ll actually become more compassionate.
Kelly’s life provides us with a great example of this. This time, it was him who was faced with mortality—the day he was diagnosed with cancer forever changed his perception of the world.
He remembers it as a dazzlingly sunny day. He’d just heard the worst news imaginable. However, when he looked around, he realized that everyone in the surrounding area was just going about their daily business.
Nobody knew what he was going through. This lead to him having a profound realization about life: while people might look just find on the outside, they might also be struggling deep down.
Compassion is known as the awareness that everyone is always fighting their own unique battles. Having an understanding of what other people might be going through will also help you to have a better understanding of yourself.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #3: Reading can help you make life more meaningful because it can help you to recognize that money isn’t the most important thing in life.
No matter how prestigious the school might be, or even how kind the teachers are, the majority of kids dread the classroom, as well as the prospect of learning through reading books.
However, reading can be an incredibly valuable resource—books are similar to friends who can keep your spirits up, even when you’re going through something tough.
Just take it from Kelly, who owns over one thousand books himself.
In The Rhythm of Life
, one of his previous works, Kelly compiled a list of 37 books that he thought had the greatest impact on his life. These books live in the most prideful place in his home—at the top of his shelf.
So what did he choose?
It’s a diverse list of books, the ones that influenced him the most ranging from philosophy, to theology, to psychology, to business studies, and even history. They include works like Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak
and Peter J. Kreeft’s Three Philosophies of Life
The thing that helps him in his decision to choose a book for this list is their positivity. As he himself admits, he’s a fairly negative thinker.
The simple act of reading helps him to learn about his world, which allows him to have a broader perspective on things, and therefore, think more positively about his life.
Through reading, the author is reminded to strive to be the best possible version of himself—a much more gratifying approach toward life than most people’s simple pursuit for wealth. If you’re in that group of people who think money is all-important, try considering the following scenario:
Kelly knocks on his neighbor, Joe’s door, asking him if Joe can help plant trees at the local school for $1,000 an hour.
Joe, of course, shows up at the school and does a couple hours of lazy work. While he leaves $2,000 richer, he feels oddly deflated. This is because you really only feel satisfied when you’ve put your best effort toward your work.
Now, what if Kelly had knocked on Joe’s door, and instead, asked him if he had some time to volunteer at the local school planting trees. Joe would then spend the day giving it his all, and when he finishes, the teachers and Kelly thank him for a job well done. Joe leaves with a smile on his face, knowing he’s done his best.
What’s the difference? Well, money, for one. The second example shoes that while Joe has not left the school a cent richer, cash doesn’t make us happier, nor does it make us better people.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #4: Embracing time spent alone and becoming an active listener will help you to find your happiness.
Loneliness can be a heavy weight to carry. Indeed, isolation can be so scary that people do plenty of silly things to avoid it, such as making poor dating decisions and overscheduling their lives.
However, the real answer to combatting loneliness is spending more time alone!
This is because learning to enjoy your own company is essential to finding your happiness and passions in life.
For example, let’s look at a woman in her thirties. If someone were to ask her out on a date that she didn’t feel like going on, she’ll likely politely decline the offer, however, in her twenties, she might well have accepted, even if she really didn’t have any desire to go.
The difference here is that as she got older, she also grew a greater appreciation for solitude. She’s now realized that she doesn’t enjoy anything more than simply reading a good book and drinking a glass of wine in the bath, so why should she go out just for the sake of going out?
Truly, it’s when you spend actual, quality time alone that you’ll begin to understand your true identity. No one else – not your friends, or your parents, or society in general – can help you discover that.
Learning to live peacefully when you’re in solitude is a great way to truly connect with others. And then, once you’ve made peace with yourself on your own, you’ll be able to work toward becoming a better listener for others.
But how might one actually accomplish this?
Kelly has come up with five key techniques to help you instantly improve your listening skills, and therefore, improve your relationships.
The first technique is deceptively simple: make eye contact. Actually looking at the person you’re speaking with and smiling will display to them that you’re interested in what they’re saying.
The next technique is body language. If you pay attention to it, you’ll notice that the way people position their bodies says a lot about how they feel when interacting in conversation. If you cross your arms, for example, you’ll be conveying a lack of interest in the other person.
The third tip is to avoid interrupting others. No one likes being cut off mid-sentence. Doing this will suggest to your conversational partner that you believe that what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. Even if you disagree with something, it’s best to wait your turn before voicing your opinion.
It’s also incredibly important to be fully present in the moment of your conversation. Even if you don’t think you’re being obvious, the person you’re talking to will most definitely notice if you’re not fully engaged, so put your phone away and focus on the conversation!
Finally, a great thing to do is to ask questions. Following up on points is a great way to demonstrate that you care about what’s being said.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #5: Surrounding yourself with great friends and learning to enjoy delayed gratification will help you to become your best self.
One of the most universal human traits is the longing for a good sense of community. Everyone craves forming meaningful connections and relationships, so surrounding yourself with good friends is a fantastic idea. And it’s important to keep in mind that the best friends to surround yourself with are those who challenge you to become the best version of yourself.
Take another example from Kelly’s life.
There was a time when his friends invited him on a golf trip. He was so excited to get to unwind and spend time outside with his friends, but he was in for a surprise. When he got there, he realized he’d been misled and his friends had actually planned an intervention.
They told him that they were concerned about the amount that he was traveling, and that they were concerned that it was having a negative impact on his life. For example, his travel was the reason he was still single.
Kelly took this very badly at first, but he had to remind himself that they’d only come to him about this because they cared about him. Truly, they had his best interests at heart.
He ended up deciding to take their advice and use the power of the internet to connect with more people, and this turned out to be a great idea!
Kelly was able to use the internet to promote the Dynamic Catholic Institute, a nonprofit organization he’d founded in 2009, which has the goal of helping Americans reconnect with the Catholic faith.
Simply founding the institute provided them with another important life lesson: sometimes it’s important to delay gratification if you want to achieve success.
Founding Dynamic Catholic involved making plenty of sacrifices. Kelly spent about eight months per year on the road, which meant missing out on other opportunities, and rarely seeing his friends. However, this did end up paying off. After all, authoring multiple books, selling over ten million copies, and giving talks in 50 countries is nothing to be sniffed at!
But, you don’t have to just take Kelly’s word for it: it’s been scientifically proven that delayed gratification has positive effects.
A Stanford study known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment by professor Walter Mischel was conducted throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This study does a great job of showing this idea behind the benefits of delayed gratification. In this study, Mischel gave children the choice of either getting to eat one marshmallow immediately, or waiting 15 minutes to get to receive two marshmallows.
There was also a follow-up study on delayed gratification in 1988, which underlined its long term effects. In this follow-up, it was found that the children who’d taken the latter option in the original study were actually generally happier and healthier. These children were also more successful, and ended up doing better on their SATs.
Resisting Happiness Key Idea #6: Learning to help others and ignore criticism will help you to remain focused on your goals.
Oftentimes, people feel dissatisfied because they aren’t sure that it is they want to achieve in life.
Imagine trying to use a snowblower as a vacuum cleaner. The results wouldn’t be pretty, right? Life is like that too. When you attempt to use something for a purpose other than it was originally designed for, things tend to go awry.
In order to give your life more meaning, start by helping others.
Through his work with Dynamic Catholic, Kelly met a woman who is a great example of why this works.
Having reached the age of 70, she was homebound. She always said that if she could start over, she would want to spread the word of God the same way Kelly was, but in her present reality, this didn’t quite seem possible.
However, one day she woke up with an epiphany: she didn’t actually need to leave the house in order to help others – she had the gift of time. This prompted her to order a box of Kelly’s book Rediscovering Catholicism
and start sending copies to the most important people in her life.
Four years after she started doing this, she still receives letters from people whose lives she’s improved through this simple act.
However, actually pursuing what you believe you’re meant to do can be difficult: you’ll encounter plenty of naysayers. This is why it’s important to ignore the criticism you get from others and instead, listen to the people who actually want to encourage you.
Kelly also learned for himself the importance of having a thick skin.
When Kelly was just starting out in his career as a religious public speaker, he was old on two separate occasions, that the only thing he had going for him was his age. Once he hit 25, said he was told, that’d all change – people would no longer be interested in hearing what he had to say.
It was a good thing there were plenty of other people around to offer him their encouragement.
He kept doing what he loved well past age 25 and was able to show the people who’d doubted him that they were wrong through reaching millions of people around the world through his life’s work.
Rather than letting those doubters get to him, it was the people who’d kept their faith in him, even when things were looking bleak, who kept him motivated to keep going.
In Review: Resisting Happiness Book Summary
The key message in this book summary:
Whether it’s procrastination, self-sabotage, laziness, or fear, resistance comes in many forms. And resistance can be tricky. It has plenty of tricks up its sleeve that might stop you from accomplishing your goals and leading a meaningful life. This means that finding true happiness is linked to defeating resistance. Once you start defeating these obstacles, you’ll be so much closer to becoming your best self.
Write a list of everything you’d regret not doing if you died today.
If you were told that you only had the rest of today to live, what would your regrets be? Really take a moment to step back and make a list of the things you would’ve liked to achieve in your life. Now write them down! This is now your list containing everything you need to know about your life’s mission. The things on this list are what you must achieve if you want to find your true happiness.