Since I founded the Secret Society of Happy People over twenty years ago, I’ve been asked countless times, “What is the secret to happiness?”
It’s an obvious question that I’ve avoided directly answering for two reasons. First, the Society is about celebrating happiness, not telling people how to be happy. Second, there isn’t one simple answer.
Of course, as a mostly happy person who’s studied happiness for more than two decades, I have identified what I consider are the secrets to happiness—or at least the secrets to my happiness.
This year I was interviewed several times about a study by Gallup and Sharecare of 2.5 million Americans that shows, despite a robust economy, people are unhappier than they’ve been since 2009—the year that unemployment hit an all-time high during the Great Recession.
That study and the Society’s 20th Anniversary — or birthday as I think of it — has inspired me to share my Four Practical Happiness Principles – or my secrets to happiness.
First, what is practical happiness?
Practical happiness helps people discover realistic happiness.
Second, what are the Four Practical Happiness Principles?
- Happiness Zappers Zap Everyone
- Happiness is Personal
- Happiness Changes as We Change
- Happiness is Bigger Than You Think
Happiness is Bigger Than You Think
When I started the Secret Society of Happy People, over two decades ago, our original slogan was, “Are You Happier Than You Admit You Are?” The Society wanted people to pay attention to what they were talking about.
For example, were they talking about their happy moments as much as they did their unhappy ones? Did they do it with the same zest and enthusiasm they talked about their happiness zappers with?
One day, it occurred to me that if I wanted people to talk more about happiness, they first needed to recognize more happiness.
What Does Happiness Feel Like?
Of course, that forced me to think about the definition of happiness. We usually know when we feel happy — it’s when we feel good, when we naturally smile, when we laugh, and when the small things really don’t bother us.
However, all happiness doesn’t always feel the same. The feelings can be different, and so can the causes. Think about these different happy moments and the different feelings that they evoke:
- There’s the happiness we feel when our child makes us smile – love
- There’s the happiness we feel when we accomplish a goal – satisfied
- There’s the happiness we feel when we’re at a party – celebrating
- There’s the happiness we feel when we do the right thing even when it’s hard – honorable
- There’s the happiness we feel when we anticipate going on vacation – enthusiastic
- There’s the happiness we feel when the worst didn’t happen – relief
- There’s the happiness we feel when our life is mostly drama free – content
- There’s the happiness we feel when we realize all of the good things we experience – blessed
- There’s the happiness we feel when we help someone – helpful
- There’s the happiness we feel when we do our best – proud
- There’s the happiness we feel when we feel connected to something bigger than ourselves – spiritual
- There’s the happiness we feel when we recall a memory from the past that makes us smile – nostalgic
- There’s the happiness we feel when others appreciate us – valued
Recognizing The Little Moments That Make Us Happy
There are many experiences that fall under the happiness umbrella because they make us feel good. Ironically, recognizing the many different types of happy feelings can be a little complicated – not because feeling good is complicated, but because we’re often oblivious to all of the little moments that make us happy. We take them for granted, and sometimes don’t even notice them.
When I started the Society, I was working in the mental health field. There was a popular poster, “What Am I Feeling Today?” that therapists used to help clients recognize different feelings. It had 40 or more faces on it with names of feelings, since this was the pre-emoji era.
SOHP’S 31 TYPES OF HAPPINESS
For kicks, I divided the different types of feelings into categories—those that felt good, and those that felt bad. Once I tallied it up the poster identified three negative feelings for every positive one.
That made me think: “Shouldn’t the poster have identified half happy and half unhappy feelings?” I wondered if the therapeutic community was inadvertently teaching people to identify more unhappy than happy feelings.
A few weeks later, at a national sales meeting, a coworker and I amused ourselves by identifying 18 Types of Happiness. Over the years, this list grew to 31 Types of Happiness and has even changed a few times. There are actually more, but 31 Types of Happiness makes sense for the Society – a different type of happiness for each day of Happiness Happens Month.
PRACTICING MINDFULNESS TO DISCOVER MORE HAPPINESS
When we live in the moment or practice mindfulness, we often discover that we have more happy moments than we initially think we do. This, of course, means recognizing the two previous Practical Happiness Principles:
Happiness is Personal – What makes us happy may not make others happy and vice versa.
Happiness Changes as We Change – What makes us happy changes as we change – this includes momentary to life changes.
Happiness isn’t linear. It’s not one size fits all. It’s also not stagnant. It is abundant.
Happy moments happen all of the time – even in the midst of unhappy moments. It’s up to us to recognize them—when we do that, we realize happiness is bigger than we think.
Of course, the Society has a couple of tools to help you identify and count your happy moments.
Happiness Counter App — Search SOHP in your app store
Despite the fact that happiness is bigger than we initially thought there will be moments when we aren’t feeling happy because of happiness zappers. That’s normal, and to be expected. Sometimes when that happens, the best way to find our happiness again is to feel the unhappiness for a bit, and to let it work itself out.
However, on most days, feeling a little happier is as easy as taking the time to notice and count all of the happy moments that we take for granted.