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The Annoying Secret to Happiness

Do one thing every day to make someone else happy.

For a while now, I’ve been on an anemic roller coaster where the high is a sort of okay feeling and the low is I’m in bed all day.

There are a million things I can do with that. I can read all the reassuring articles telling me to stop trying to be so productive. I can talk to my therapist who reminds me how mean I am on myself and to explore how I might be able to stop trying so hard. I can flip into my default mode, grit my teeth, and try to work anyway — sitting at my laptop and “writing” (read “scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Covid-19 news). But it always ends the same. I’m tired, and then I feel ashamed of being tired. And then I sleep.

Last week, I lay in bed one morning and realized one thing that made all the difference: I’m waiting all day long for me to feel better, for the world to be different so that I can be happy. This puts all the power out there, where I have absolutely no control. Of course I’m unhappy! I’m depressing myself with the unending chaos and grief out there, and…waiting for it to change!

Thinking all day long about the almighty Me is a narcissistic prison of my own making.

So I tried something that ushered me into a world of happiness, true happiness, even in the midst of this worldwide tragedy. I identified something I could do that wasn’t just for me. Something I didn’t particularly like to do. But I pushed back against the resistance and did it anyway, for someone else’s happiness.

Our kitchen floor had gotten so gross over the past week. I mean, the whole house has degenerated into clutter and dust and it all needs tending, but this is one thing I can do that could make a small difference. It’s not rocket science. I just started doing it. Moved stuff out of the way, got my supplies, and dug in.

Suddenly, there was dirt everywhere. Despite the momentary overwhelm, I kept going, cleaning where I could and bookmarking the rest. I had my beats on, the Hamilton cast recording blasting in my ears. Inevitably, there was a little shy dancing, a little earphone singing (that embarrassing too-loudness), mopping to the rhythm of What Did I Miss?

The floor got so clean it made the rest of the kitchen look bad, so I kept going. Worked on one of the pieces of furniture we have in there that had been covered in dust and grime from years of not noticing.

When I reached the end of my energy, the place was sparkling. It was beautiful. It smelled great. And I felt fantastic. When my wife came in from her long walk, her happiness made me so happy. And in that moment, I realized that I’d stumbled onto the key to creating joy for myself.

In the prayer I say every morning and every evening, it starts with “May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.” That wording is important. Because you can fall into some good fortune and have happiness. But the good fortune is not the cause of your happiness. Only when you figure out that benefiting others is what makes you happy, only then do you have control over your happiness. That’s when you have the cause of happiness — your own actions for someone else’s smile.

It’s something we all know. I know. It’s almost annoying in that way. So obvious. So worn out as a saying. But I learned it on a deeper level the other day. I learned it in a way that no one can ever take away from me.

Do something that someone else needs done today. Do something that makes life a little easier for them. Do something that makes them feel good.

Be a conduit for someone else’s happiness, and dig into the big scoop of happiness you just ended up with yourself.


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