What Is the 'Secret' to Happiness?

Sometimes we need a child to simplify our complex questions

Posted Jun 06, 2011

I am often asked what the 'secret' to happiness is.  Despite all of my education in the field of positive psychology I really struggle to answer that question.  Not only do I struggle to answer it...I hesitate to answer it for a few reasons:

  1. It strengthens the apparent tie between positive psychology and books like "The Secret" (Sorry Oprah I will never forgive you for releasing this idea into the universe...no matter how many cars you give away).  While the idea of positive thinking is a good one, the concept is presented in a way that lays blame on the individual if these good things don't happen.  Even worse it places the blame on the individual if BAD things happen.  'The Secret" is pseudo science at it's worst, and any association with Positive Psychology gives it undo credit, and diminishes the rigorous research being done in the field of positive psychology.
  2. It implies that there is some 'magical' way to be happy.  If you just do X you will be happy for the rest of your life.  It is akin to the 'quick fix' weight loss solutions that promise you will look like a supermodel all without doing a single sit-up or cutting cheesecake out of your diet.  Unfortunately this isn't The Matrix and all your problems cannot be solved by taking the blue pill.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that there are things that we can do in our lives that will make us happier.  There have been studies done to prove that there are interventions that do work.  I wouldn't really call any of these a 'secret' though, they require some effort, and are by no means a 'quick fix'.  Some of the pathways to well-being are difficult to master, and you have to be willing to accept some failure along the way.

In some ways learning how to be happy is like learning how to ride a bike; there is a learning curve, and sometimes you are going to crash.  A friend of mine recently posted this video on Facebook:

There is wisdom in youth, and in his own celebration this little boy shows us what the true 'secret' to happiness is.  In his nativity he has simplified 'happiness' down to 2 steps; believe in yourself and practice.  He doesn't know that there are studies that would back him up, nor does he care.  He doesn't know that there are many different pathways to achieve happiness and well-being, and again he doesn't care.  He simply wants everyone else to experience what he is feeling in that moment; "Happy of myself!".

It is true that becoming truly happy with yourself can be difficult, and knowing what you need to practice is extremely important, and this is where the education and knowledge come in extremely handy.  However, when it comes to giving an 'elevator speech', or an answer to a question asked in passing, I think I am going to stick with my little buddy...Believe in yourself and PRACTICE!

So as we shake off the 'Mondays' I will leave you with some words of wisdom from newest inspirational buddy (a little paraphrased) "Everybody! I know you can believe in yourself.  If you believe in yourself you will know how to be Happy!  If you don't you just keep practicing. You will get the hang of it I know it!  If you keep practicing and then you can get better and better at it.  Thumbs up everybody....for ROCK AND ROLL!"