How To Be Happy

Father and Daughter - Happiness

My sister had come to visit. Late at night, my daughter and I drove her to the station to catch a train home. On the drive back, as we often do, we chatted about stuff. Yesterday’s discussion was about being happy.

On our long evening walks, we thrash out several thorny, complex and exciting topics through debate and discussion. I wish we’d documented those conversations. Because I have learned much from a child’s wise insights, and the self-exploration her probing questions prompted.

This time, I decided to publish a ‘transcript’ of our chat. It started this way…

“There are only two ways you can be happy all the time” I declared.

“And they are…?”

“The first is…

To Get All That You Want

“Just imagine. If you want something, and get it, won’t you be happy? (Well, at least within reason? Remind me later to tell you the story of the gambler who died!)

But that isn’t practical. Not all the time. No matter how rich, powerful and influential you are, you cannot peg your quest for happiness to always getting whatever your heart desires.

In fact, that’s a surefire recipe for being unhappy – because the human state is to constantly desire and seek more than what it has now.

When you have one pretty dress, you’re happy – for sometime. Then you begin to think how nice it would be to have another… or ten more. And you see a friend who has many, and wish you could be more like her.

Before you realize it, you’re no longer happy with your one nice dress… you’re unhappy about it!

“Ok. That route isn’t going to work. What’s the other?”

To Like All That You Have

“If you have only one leg because you lost the other in an accident, you’re still better off than a guy who has none because he was born with a defect.

If you’re having spinach or broccoli for dinner – and you just HATE spinach and broccoli – you’re still lucky, because many people don’t have food to eat.

If your parents are divorced, or always fighting, you’re still in a position which is envied by another child who didn’t ever know her parents.”

And then I told her the story of the billionaire who killed himself after the stock market crash. He had a massive personal fortune of over $1,000 million, most of it in stocks. When the bottom dropped out of the market, his losses mounted quickly.

When he woke up one morning to realize that he had lost $300 million in wealth, the loss was too overwhelming – and he committed suicide.

He chose to die because he lost $300 million.

He could have chosen to live because HE HAD $700 MILLION MORE!

“This is an extreme example of the distorted perspective that keeps many people unhappy. But on a smaller scale, it is everyone’s life – including you and me.

We steadfastly refuse to acknowledge and appreciate the blessings showered upon us, and focus instead upon the things we don’t have – but want.

And that makes us unhappy.

The good news? You have the choice (as do I, and everybody else) to decide to like all that you have.

That changes everything. And leaves you happy all the time.

The nicer part is that this second option puts all control into YOUR hands.

You get to choose how you react to all that you have.

You can decide to regret, dislike, suffer from, choke beneath and suffocate under the burdens that life placed upon you.

Or you can decide to see things from a different perspective and appreciate, feel grateful for, nurture, treasure and love everything because it’s more than what some others have (or ever will).”

My daughter had been listening quietly, nodding her head at intervals. Now she spoke:


Won’t That Kill Any Ambition?

If I’m happy where I am, why would I have any desire to improve or change? I’d just stagnate and waste my talents!”

“Not necessarily,” I replied. “Because, while you are happy with all that you have, you can choose to be happier if you also get something else… making that desirable, motivating you towards it, fueling change.

With this difference.

You’ll always succeed, even before you begin.

Because, measured one way, success is about being happy about whatever you do – and you are already perfectly happy exactly where you are, with only the upside potential of being happier still if and when you attain your next goal!

It’s nothing but an intelligent way to frame your goals and targets. Too many people choose to focus on how unhappy or dissatisfied they are with their present condition, circumstances and status in life, making that their ‘powerful motivator’ for change.

Unfortunately, that mindset of discontent often persists even in the new, changed life they attain – so they’re merely unhappy somewhere else, with someone else, or something else.”

And then I told her this favorite story of mine.

The Wisdom of a Gatekeeper

A man arrives at the outskirts of a village, and is stopped by the gatekeeper.

“What do you want here?” he asks the man.

“I’ve left my village and am looking for a new place to settle down. Tell me, what kind of people live here?”

The gatekeeper gives him a long, hard look, and then asks:

“What kind of people lived in your village?”

The man paused for a moment, and replied:

“Oh, they were the worst kind of rogues. Cheating. Lying. Petty-minded. Always saying bad things about people. I hated it. That’s why I left.”

The gatekeeper looked grave.

“You’ll find the people here just the same.”

The man shook his head in disappointment, then turned around and walked away.

A few hours later, another traveller arrived at the same village, with the same question. Again the gatekeeper asked him:

“What kind of people lived in your village?”

“Oh, they were wonderful folks. Kind, generous, warm-hearted. I was torn to have to leave the place. I wish I could have stayed there forever!”

The gatekeeper said:

“You’ll find the people here just the same.”

… and smiled a welcome as he unlatched the gate.

The world ‘outside’ is just a reflection of the world ‘inside’ us. It’s like a mirror, projecting back to us the attitude, feelings and worldview we have evolved over years.

That’s why trying to change one’s inner state – like happiness – through a focus on external events or possessions or situations is usually a losing proposition. True, lasting change begins on the inside. It then (almost magically) manifests on the outside.

Inside each of us lies the seed of our personal greatness, and all that we need to attain it.

To the extent that we seize our opportunities and maximize our potential, we will fulfill our greatness.

And be happy as we do.

But when, instead, we obsess over other people’s achievements, or what they have that we don’t, we tend to lose our inner balance, grow unhappy and desire change for the sake of it – which never brings deep, inner joy.

We end up shifting the arena, never the game.

Instead, play the game.

Play to win.

Aim to be happy… no matter what.


“The Emotion Prism” is one of my first books. It’s about how to be happy when you’d rather be sad. Readers loved it and say it touched their lives deeply. Learn more about it here: click