Monday, September 17, 2012

Three Things That Will Increase Your Chances to Find Happiness

On Vacation in Rome, 2001 Nate, Dad & Linda
Photo Credit: Mark Grace

The photo above is far from the best picture I have ever taken, but I can tell you that it is in the top five photos that give me the greatest pleasure. To begin with, there is the woman in the foreground, looking so beautiful and happy.  When people ask me how in the world a guy like me ever got to Rome, for Pete's sake, I tell them "You just have to marry the right person."  In my case that was Linda Wilkerson.  Without her, I'd still be trying to figure out how to get the tax man paid off.  More important, without her, I could have traveled the world and would never have been half as happy as I am with her.  Not one tenth as happy.

You'll also see my father in that picture.  There was a moment on the trip across the Atlantic, when we were cruising 30,000 feet over the ocean that I still remember vividly. I came as close to panicking as I ever have.  I was thinking, "What in the world, have I done, dragging my parents half way around the world for their fiftieth anniversary?  What if they don't like it in Rome?  What if something horrible happens? My siblings will never, ever forgive me if I don't bring Mom and Dad back safe."  

Do you see the smile on my father's face?  He had a great time. On a gimpy knee. One of my most unforgettable memories is of the next-to-last day in Rome.  He and I navigated the city on our own.  Linda, Mom, Nate and Meg had taken a train to Florence to see Michelangelo's David.  Dad and I found our way to St. Peter's, then to the Pantheon and back to our apartment near the Termini train station, all by our lonesome.  

It was a marvelous day.  My father, who doesn't speak a lick of any language except West Texan, pantomimed and gesticulated, cajoled and charmed his way into the hearts of the citizens of Rome as we wound through the narrow streets looking for the Pantheon.  A priceless memory.

That trip was Nate and Megan's first experience in Europe.  It lit a fire of imagination and passion in both of them that eventually led to Meg spending a year in France learning the language.  It has taken Nate back to Europe twice, once as a tourist and once with his band.  

Now look.  I am not saying you have to go to Europe with your parents, your wife and your kids in order to find happiness.  But the reason that picture is so important to me is that it reminds me, especially on Monday mornings, about what happiness is and what it is not.  So consider these three things:

Happiness Takes Root in Experiences, Not Primarily in Possessions

There is a psychological phenomenon known as the adaptation-level phenomenon that explains why possessions rarely give us happiness, or at least why the happiness wears off so quickly.  We adapt to possessions.  But investing in experiences gives us memories, and there is quite a bit of evidence to show that when we invest in significant experiences, we are almost twice as likely to derive happiness from them.  I can tell you that picture above means more to me now than it did at the time I first took it, or even the first time I looked at it, or the tenth.  The further away I get from that experience the more I savor it.

Happiness Grows When We Focus on Others, Not Just Ourselves

I talked to a friend recently who was speaking about a relative of his.  He stated, "Well, the one thing you always know about Johnny is that Johnny is for Johnny."  The other thing I know about Johnny is that he isn't a very happy person.  In fact, psychological studies have repeatedly shown that the happiest folks are those who volunteer.  You read that right, people who give their time away.  

Happiness Blossoms with Persistent Repetition, Not with Grand Gestures

Now you could ask the question, "Wasn't going to Rome a grand gesture?"  You are absolutely right about that one. But it was a grand gesture that wouldn't have been possible without the patient and persistent application of smaller gestures- like saving money, delaying gratification, and investing in relationships before and after those trips.  We have all known people who have dragged their parents or their kids on vacations that turned out to be pure hell for everyone involved.  

We've witnessed others give gifts that were later used as emotional blackmail against those to whom the so-called gift was given.  Memories like that turn sour with resentment, greed and bitterness. 

On the other hand, happiness blossoms when we tend to the important things on a daily basis, when we put time in to nurture love and hope and care.  In that sense, happiness responds to persistent nurture just like physical and spiritual health do, through repeated doses of the things that are likely to encourage its growth.

Thanks for stopping by today.  I know that I've missed something important here, so please leave a comment and help us all to increase our chances for happiness!


Photo Credit:


  1. Mark,
    I SOOOO love this! You absolutely hit the nail on the head! Your so right developing those relationships that create those wonderful memories.. its funny after I was reading through it brought back to me there have been times that we (RJ & I) thumb through our pictures of our selves when we first met, pics of our children when they were younger & most of all pics of our grand children.. we can sit there for hours looking, laughing, remembering and believe me maybe in less than a minute both of us are balling our eyes out.. I mean literally balling like babies.. I dont know it triggers this emotion that is so uncontrollable & I have come to realize that emotion is the sense of "BLESSINGS" the sense of "GRATITUDE" for the experience.. its truly an AMAZING feeling that is unexplainable! Of course there are rough waters we are on from time to time but over all its TRUE HAPPINESS! Thanks for reminding me of it this on this manic monday!

    1. Your picture of that is so vivid, Joanne. Gratitude needs to be nurtured just the way you two are doing it.


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