Here in mid-life I have come to believe that happiness* comes from having passions that are their own reward. Acceptance, accolades, and good hard cash money for doing what you are passionate about are all nice but they are not a given and counting on them to result when you really don’t control if any or all will come is not a prudent plan.
The passions needn’t always be the same ones over the course of a lifetime. In fact, sometimes the things we love when we’re young are things that we can’t do later in life. Or maybe later in life something strikes your fancy that would have left you cold when you were younger. The people I see who are most unhappy are the ones who don’t have passions that fire them up and engage them. The people who have good reason to get out of bed in the morning are the happiest. Even if nobody else cares about those reasons but those individuals.
These passions are harmless by definition; that is they can’t hurt the individual or anybody else. Being passionate about drinking a bottle of wine daily does not count. Being passionate about screwing other people out of their money does not count. And so on.
You’ll notice I’m not saying anything about love or relationships with other people bringing about happiness. It isn’t that I’m discounting them (hardly) so much as I believe they alone are not enough and you can actually overburden your relationships when you try to get everything from them. Also – your passions are something under your control. They feed you independent of your relationships with other people.
*If you don’t like the word “happiness” (one which I generally don’t use because I think it’s a transient state, one of many), feel free to insert contentment, peace of mind, or satisfaction.
NOTE: I’m having internet issues and may not see or respond to your comments right away. But it doesn’t mean I don’t like ’em!