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 answering for two reasons. First, the Society is about celebrating happiness, not telling people how to be happy. Second, there isn’t a simple answer.
Of course, as a mostly happy person, who’s studied happiness for the past two decades, I have developed what I consider are the secrets to happiness — or at least, the secrets to my happiness.
Recently, 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.
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 enjoy reading books, others don’t own a single book
• Some people are the life of the party, others would rather read a 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 – even things that may not initially seem fun to us.
When we arrived at the snow tubing place I watched people slide down the hill, which all of a sudden seemed rather gigantic and daunting. 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.
When we decide to share something with someone else that makes us happy, it might make more sense if we ask them about it before bugging them to try something they may not want to, or already have and know they don’t like it – remember my lavender story.
If we’re the one someone keeps trying to share their happy-maker with, and we know we won’t try it or already have, then be honest and tell them you aren’t interested. You may or may not want to give them the reason because happiness is personal.
It can feel a little like rejection if someone doesn’t want to partake in something that makes us happy — but it’s not personal. They aren’t rejecting us – they are rejecting a possible happy experience. It’s the same situation when we don’t want to try something – we’re rejecting an experience, not a person.
Is It Time To Go On A Happiness Hunt?
Although happiness is personal, in order to do more of what makes us happy, we have to know what makes us happy. Sometimes we literally have to go on a happiness hunt every so often to find out because another happiness secret is that we’re always hunting for it because what makes us happy changes as we change.