Get Happy by Trying Not To

The secret to more enduring happiness is to do less for yourself and more for others. Happiness comes to you not when you are making yourself the center of your universe but when you forget yourself and look outside.

This is a truth I learned late in life. And it is one I have to relearn almost every day.

I “got it” 25 years ago when I took the Dale Carnegie course in winning friends and influencing people. One of our weekly tasks was to greet everyone we met with a big smile and a happy voice.

This was contrary to my natural disposition. It took a good deal of effort to break out of my slope-shouldered attitude. But I forced myself, and it worked.

Almost immediately, my employees began to perk up when I walked into the room. Not hunch down or run for cover as they had been doing. I got more feedback from them, too, and eventually more suggestions. Productivity flourished.

I did the same thing at home. When I first broke out my happy hello, my children looked at me like I had grown an extra head. It was more difficult with my loved ones because I was under the mistaken impression that I had to be “honest” with them about my feelings. And since I was feeling worn out at the end of the day, that’s what I was giving them.

I still keep falling back to my default gloominess. But each time it happens, I tell myself, “Fake it until you make it.”

It’s a lifelong effort, but very much worth it.

Start to “practice happiness” with your immediate family. Smile. Say a happy hello. And sound like you mean it, even if you don’t.

When you are feeling especially downtrodden, remind yourself that your spouse and children, mother and father, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews were not brought into this world to listen to and/or solve your problems. That’s your job.

Resolve to spend less time complaining and more time listening. Hold your tongue when you feel like criticizing. And don’t allow yourself to ever say anything that will deeply hurt anyone. As your grammar school teacher told you, you will only be hurting yourself.

Make your friends happy too. Smile when you see them. Listen to their stories. Give them the advice they want and shut up when they don’t want any. Become the person they turn to when the chips are down. Above all, be loyal.

Be a reliable and steady resource for your business colleagues. Help them achieve their goals — not because you want their loyalty but simply because you care about them and want them to succeed.

Make this outward focus a part of your daily life. Do it purposefully and deliberately until it becomes second nature.

You will know when this happens because you’ll be feeling happy most of the time.