What really matters?

It’s easy to get lost on the treadmill of life, but it’s worth getting off to start living.

He was on his cell phone. Driving and talking. Talking and driving. Driving and talking. Talking and … CRASH!!!

She was in her hospital bed. Breathing and gasping. Gasping and breathing. Breathing and … you get the idea. Too bad his business had to come before her life.

Is it just me, or does it seem we have lost more than a little perspective? [Read more…]

The definition of happiness

There are so many ways to define happiness. Here are some definitions of happiness to inspire you.

Finding happiness is like finding yourself. You don’t find happiness, you make happiness.

You choose happiness.

Self-actualization is a process of discovering who you are, who you want to be and paving the way to happiness by doing what brings YOU the most meaning and contentment to your life over the long run.

This definition of happiness by David Leonhardt, The Happy Guy [Read more…]

Thanksgiving Day – celebrate happiness with the two most important words

If appreciation is the most important ingredient for happiness, then Thanksgiving Day gives us a unique occasion to focus on what makes us happiest.

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year.

Oh, sure, Christmas is grand, and I know it has many, many fans. I’m not knocking Christmas. But the Thanksgiving story is more important.

Easter has its fans, too. Rebirth is a wonderful thing, but I still say Thanksgiving is more important.

Yes, kids jump for joy at the thought of Halloween. I am sure they enjoy the costumes almost as much as the candy and chocolate, but the Thanksgiving story is even more important than overdosing on sugar.


Because the two most important words in the English language are “Thank You” – the ultimate in positive thinking. This is true for business success, for social pleasure, even for self-actualization.

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For business success, a thank you tells a prospect or partner that you are appreciative of what she has just done and that you are happy with them. It shows you have a genuine interest in that person and the business relationship.

For social interaction, expressing gratitude is equally important to show how you value the other person and the social relationship you have with him. “Thank you” is a bonding phrase.

But giving thanks is most important on a personal level for our own pursuit of happiness. This is true for anybody who has ever lived, but it is even more true for us today.

A Happy Thanksgiving of gratitude

Consider how much we have today. More than any of our ancestors, we live in The Land of Plenty. We have more than anybody who has lived at any time before. And for those of us who live in the developed world, we have more than most people on our little planet have even today.

I’m not just talking about our abundance of “stuff”. Oh sure, we have ten-foot tall digital color televisions with 594,798,345,691 channels and the ability to program them several light years into the future, the past and the 13th dimension. And we have computers that send us around the world faster than the speed of a turbo-jet on growth hormones. And we have 31 flavors of ice cream waiting for us on every second street corner. And we throw out more “junk” than we ever could find a use for in the first place.

But we have so much more than just ‘stuff’. Consider the following:

FREEDOM AND CHOICE: More of the world lives in a democracy than ever before, and democracy is becoming more open or “democratic” with every year (perhaps in part due to the Internet?). For most of mankind’s existence, democracy was as common as scale models of tourist destinations and automated toothpaste squeezers.

Tourist souvenirs

For most of mankind’s existence,
#democracy was as common as scale models of tourist destinations.

OPPORTUNITIES: With freedom and affluence comes opportunity. We have more opportunity to make money, to earn it the way we wish, to choose our careers, our location, even our lifestyle. Women have just about reached equality with men in most of the developed world, and more people are able to flee oppressive regimes for the Land of Milk and Honey. Actually, does that not sound like a continuation of the original Thanksgiving story?

KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? With freedom, comes the ability to satisfy our curiosity: knowledge. And with knowledge comes a thirst for freedom. Let’s face it, the idea of “the ignorant masses” has become an anachronism. Even the dumbest among us has more knowledge than most people who lived a couple centuries ago. (I said more “knowledge”, not more “wisdom”, but that’s another topic.)

HEALTH: Just surviving past childhood used to be a major success. Now we expect to live comfortably into our 80s or 90s. And we expect – no, we demand – to have exceptional health care all along the way (even for those who are afraid to go to the doctor!).

Make every day Thanksgiving Day

This list could keep growing, but these are the major benefits I am grateful for living in twenty-first century North America. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving Day and happiness?

Well, follow this train of thought. Whatever you have, you can either appreciate or not. If you appreciate it — I mean really notice that you have it, that it is good, that you feel good about having it — it will bring you happiness. However, if you get used to it, take it for granted, and focus on things you don’t have, then whatever you do have just won’t bring you happiness; it is just part of the scenery, background noise.

Read also: Yes, Virginia, there is a secret to happiness.

Appreciation is the key to happiness. And daily appreciation is the key to daily happiness. Whatever you truly and proactively appreciate, whether “stuff” or education or a vacation or a nap (as I write this, there is nothing I would appreciate more than a nap!), will bring you joy. But in this fast-paced, dog-eat-dog, over-stimulated society, how can we appreciate anything?

Sadly, many of us who have the most to be grateful for express gratitude the least, and feel the least appreciation. It seems the more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the less we appreciate what we have. The less we appreciate, the less value there is to having anything, which may explain why we keep wanting more.

We who are drowning in luxuries and hold the world in our hands can’t seem to find the time to appreciate what we have … but we still make time to whine and complain. We still find things, however petty, to feed our negative thinking. How can we learn to appreciate our abundance and live a happy life?

The secret to feeling the appreciation we often overlook is in expressing our gratitude vocally or in writing. How can we possibly fail to appreciate something when we say “Thank you” for it and focus our attention on the appreciation? As I said earlier, “Thank you” are the two most important words in our vocabulary.

Happiness workbookI offer several ideas on how to express gratitude in the Get Happy Workbook and my self-help book Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness, including keeping a gratitude journal, saying grace, practicing “bolsterism”, or just sending flowers, cards, or a thankful e-mail message – to name just a few ideas. Perhaps the most useful of all ideas is to make Thanksgiving Day every day – and really feel the gratitude.

Christmas is important. Easter is important. Halloween is important for the kids. But for our own personal happiness, there is nothing like a truly heartfelt Thanksgiving.

So have a Happy Thanksgiving today, and every day.  And I invite you to express what you are grateful for in the comments below.

Read also: Last year’s Thanksgiving Day message.

Spare a smile?

The wonderful thing about a smile is that you always have an extra to spare. Because as soon as you give it away…Presto! You have another one just waiting to be shared.

One of the four categories of this blog is frugal. That’s all about saving money, living simply without the need for very expensive tastes.

Being frugal with money is one thing. Being frugal with smiles is quite another. For most of us, money is a limited resource.  Being frugal means allocating limited funds where they are most needed, rather than being frivolous with it.

Tweet this quote: “Smiles are the ultimate renewable resource. Don’t be stingy with them.

But smiles are not limited.  They are the ultimate renewable resource.  No matter how many smiles you give away, you will always have as many as you started with.  In fact, you’ll have more, because every smile you share will get you at least one smile shared back, if not dozens.  Loaves and fishes are all very well I suppose, but a smile replenishes itself just as well and it won’t go stale by tomorrow.

Spare a smile


The man in this photo, snapped on Queen Street in Toronto, asks us whether we are willing to spare a smile.

Children spare a smile.  You can too!

Children smile a lot.  They will smile for almost any reason, and for no reason at all.  Adults don’t smile nearly as much.  Why?

Smiles open doors.  Do adults not need any doors opened for them?

Smiles make friends.  Do adults not want friends?

Smiles reduce stress.  Do adults like stress?

In fact, the only stress reliever in shorter supply among adults than smiling is laughter.  Yes, that most amazing, all-natural stress reliever that adults seem to find so hard to embrace.

Read also: The Happiness Poem

But laughter is smiling.  It’s smiling big and wide.  Did you know that in Spanish the word for smile is “sonreír” and the word for laughter is “reír”?  In French, the word for smile is “sourire” and the word for laughter is “rire”.  Coincidence?  I think not.

We have both laughter and smiles in endless abundance.  There is no reason to be stingy with them.  Share as many smiles as you can.  Laugh as often as possible.  Watch how your life improves the more often you spare a smile.

* Photo credit, with permission: Sam Javanrouh




The secret of (synthetic) happiness according to science

Research shows that we have the capacity to synthesize happiness when we don’t get what we want.  But is synthetic happiness as good as “real” happiness?  Or is all happiness just a concoction?  Let’s look at the science behind happiness and synthetic happiness.

This is a very instructive TED talk by Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert.  He explains all about the secret to happiness – synthetics.  Yes, we all synthesize happiness.  Is it fake?  Yes…and no.  When we fake happiness, it turns out that we make happiness.  And that makes it real.  But I should let him explain it, as he does it so much better than I can.

He quotes the words of Thomas Browne:

“I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Archilles; Fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

This is a quote that I very much like.  It is empowering.  It is very positive.  Repeat it over and over and you might even become invulnerable to emotional distress.

Tweet this quote: “When we fake happiness, we make happiness.”

But the best part of this video is when Dan Gilbert lays down the four secrets to happiness, as gleaned from scientific research.  And here is the screenshot from the video:

Secret Of Happiness

OK, those are not really the conclusions he draws.  But he does call on the same type of research that I address in my own book, Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 habits of maximum happiness, namely that three to six months after a major life event, people return to their pre-event level of happiness. Consider these events:

  • You win the lottery.
  • You become paraplegic.
  • You get divorced.
  • You have a miscarriage.
  • You win the marathon.
  • You win an election.
  • Your home is destroyed in a tornado.
  • You are presented with an award.

And a few months later…nothing.  The event was traumatic or exhilarating, but it has no long-term effect on your happiness.  How can a paraplegic be just as happy as he was before the accident?  How can a lottery winner be no more happy than before the windfall?

Read also: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Happiness.

Happiness is not something tangible.  It is how we feel, and that is something we synthesize.  Is it real?  Yes.  Is it genuine? Yes.  De we “create” it?  Yes.  There you have it – the real secret to happiness.  You can now safely join The Beatles.  Or go to jail.  Either way, you’ll end up just as happy.

Read also: A happiness poem.


Happiness book in large print

Large print happiness book coverGood news for those who require large print to read comfortably.  My happiness book is now available in large print through DoctorZed Publishing.  You can get your copy of 9 Habits of Happiness (Large Print) here.

The regular edition of Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 habits of maximum happiness can still be purchased on Amazon.  Here is the description posted there…

Its a manual: Yes, this is a manual for making your life happier. It offers step-by-step instructions for building a happier life through nine important habits.Its a science class: Here you’ll find all the science of happiness you can use and more.Its a story book: Chock full of entertaining stories, you’ll actually enjoy reading this book. In fact, you may get so lost in the stories that you don’t realize how much you learn.Its a fortune cookie: Its a very BIG fortune cookie, sprinkled with tidbits of wisdom handed down through the ages and some invented just for the occasion. It’s Super Book: Where else can you find such a blend of self-improvement, psychological science, and entertainment, all wrapped up in a giant fortune cookie?

Or you can pick up an autographed copy through me directly (not the large print version, though). Here’s the page.

Montreal Review of Books loves this book:

"His nine habits are achievable. All this is delivered with pop quizzes, stories and quotable quotes. A great spring pick-me-up."

Happiness and Sadness

Happiness and sadness are twins. They walk hand in hand. We must learn to embrace each of them for what they are, to harness our inner happiness and to shake off our sadness when it is time.

happy and sadWhen you spend a lot of time talking about happiness, one can forget that sadness has value, too.  One thing I have always told people is that it is OK to mourn a loss. It is not just “normal”, but it is necessary.

What is not necessary is to remain in a rut of sadness and self-pity.  One needs to mourn, then push the sadness aside and get on with making the most of this wonderful world we live in.  The object of our mourning needs to be transformed from a sadly-missed part of our present to a wonderfully-remembered part of our past.

There is an interesting article on happiness versus sadness in Newsweek right now.  Interestingly, the article makes a case for happiness, but not too much of it over the long run.  Here is a quick excerpt:

On a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is extremely happy, 8s were more successful than 9s and 10s, getting more education and earning more. That probably reflects the fact that people who are somewhat discontent, but not so depressed as to be paralyzed, are more motivated to improve both their own lot (thus driving themselves to acquire more education and seek ever-more-challenging jobs) and the lot of their community (causing them to participate more in civic and political life). In contrast, people at the top of the jolliness charts feel no such urgency.

Of course, “successful” is an interesting word. The happiest people might just consider themselves to be more successful, having reached the most happiness possible.

Happiness is homeless

Happiness is not about where you are. Whatever window you look through, you can find happiness…if it is happiness you are looking for.

Jeanne Malmgren tries to define happiness, but she finds it’s not that easy.  Her article raises some interesting questions about why certain countries rank higher in happiness than others.  But in the end, she answers her own questions: “But you and I both know that happiness isn’t really about where you are.”

Window of happiness

That’s right.  One time I thought I could never be happy if I could not see a tree outside my window.  I needed to see real life, a connection to Mother Nature.  But it was in our tiny downtown Toronto Condo, where all you could see from the window was concrete, glass and bricks (the Attorney General’s office, a coffee shop, some traffic lights), that I mapped out my own vision for happiness and wrote my book about it. You can believe it was not the view out the window that inspired me, but the view inside me and inside others I spent time with that did.

And wherever I went, I found myself there.  I was mobile (still am, thankfully) so my happiness followed me around like a shadow.  So did my frustrations, my love, my eccentricities, my desires and pretty much everything about me.  One shadow after another after another. So many shadows. So many shadows to choose from.

The same can be said for my friends and family and for all the strangers who passed in and out of my life each day.  Each carried happiness within.  Each carried love within.  Each carried fears and frustrations, desires and gratitude. Each was followed by shadow after shadow after shadow. All of these shadows are pretty much independent of location.

In real estate, it might be location, location, location. But when it comes to happiness, it is all about you, you, you.

By the way, about the title to this blog post…I did not say that homelessness is happiness.  🙂