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 Personal
A friend of mine was going through one of those abundantly stressful times. She had lots of big life changes happening all at once — job, marriage, and parental caretaking. When big things change, related things also change. She was a ball of stress, and there wasn’t much she could do other than manage it while the stress-makers resolved themselves.
Naturally, I wanted to help, so I suggested several times that she try using a lavender essential oil. I even quoted studies showing it helped reduce stress. I offered her some of mine, but she’d never try it. She’s the type of person who never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, but finally she told me, “The smell of lavender makes me want to throw up.”
I chuckled when she said that. Obviously, anything that makes you want to throw up won’t reduce your stress—let alone give you a smile.
Even if something makes the majority of people in the world happy, it won’t matter to you if it doesn’t make you happy. This is the second Practical Happiness Principle: Happiness is Personal.
There are millions of examples of how happiness is different for different people – but here are a few to ponder:
• Some people smile when they cook, others know their take-out delivery person by name
• Some people grin when they run marathons, others frown when they walk around the block
• Some people literally kiss their pets (yes, I kiss Tater), others believe animals belong outside
• Some people sing out loud, others long for silence
• Some people happily scream riding roller coasters, others turn a shade lighter simply seeing a roller coaster
• Some people are the life of the party, others would rather read a book
• Some people enjoy reading books, others don’t own a single book
Happiness is personal because we all have different tastes — which is wonderful because it makes our world full of so many smile-making experiences.
However, most of us want to believe that if something makes us happy, it will make everyone we love happy, too. This is natural – we want our smile-making experiences to create smiles for others.
Be Open To Discovering New Happiness-Makers
Of course, everyone should be open to trying new things – as long as they don’t make us feel like throwing up.
When we arrived at the snow tubing place I watched people slide down the hill. All of a sudden, this hill—and the idea of tubing down it—seemed daunting, and my initial instinct was to go back to the car.
However, my friend Kari and I were visiting her brother and his family in Iowa. They’d been wonderful hosts and wanted me to experience one of their winter activities. I felt like I should try it at least once – right? Otherwise, I’d have been a rude guest – and there’s nothing happy about that.
Being pulled up the hill wasn’t as bad as I initially imagined. Actually, it was nice to watching the blue sky and passing the tall trees from a moving sitting position. Once we were at the top of this seemingly big hill, I wanted to get back to the bottom of it as quickly as possible. As it turned out, the quickest way down was tubing.
I took a deep breath, plopped down on my tube and closed my eyes as they pushed me down the hill. It was kind of like being on a roller coaster — except the track was slippery, bouncy and made of snow and ice. To my surprise, I had fun bouncing down what initially appeared to be a scary hill. Even though my heart was racing as I reached the bottom, I wanted to do it again.
If I’d let my fear stop me from trying tubing, I’d never have discovered that I liked it. So, although happiness is personal, we have to be willing to try new things and experience new happiness.
Happiness Is Different For Different People
However, if we’ve tried something, then we usually know if it’s one of our happiness-makers or not.
Years ago I decided to quit eating red meats. However, when people discover this, most want to feed me their steak, brisket or BBQ – since theirs is “the best.” They sincerely believe that if I just tried their famous meats, I’d want to eat beef again. This isn’t the case for me — and that’s okay, because happiness is personal.
You Have To Know What Makes You Happy
Our friends won’t always enjoy the things we enjoy and vice versa. We may feel rejected if someone doesn’t want to partake in something that makes us happy — but it’s not personal. They aren’t rejecting us: they’re rejecting an experience. Just like when we don’t want to do something.
Since happiness is personal, we have to know what makes us happy in order to do more of what makes us happy. So, the next time someone asks you to try something new (like, say, slide down a snowy hill on a tube), give it a shot. It might put a smile on your face because although happiness is personal, it changes as we change.