Column: Ticket to happiness

“Have a happy heart,” I tell my children. This comment usually follows a bout of ungratefulness, a sniffle of self-pity, or a sour facial expression. “Woe is me,” their looks reflect.

“Have a happy heart,” I cajole.

This is because happiness is a choice. It’s a habit. It’s an action.

Happiness is not something to be pursued (sorry, Founding Fathers). It is something to embrace. Every day. Every circumstance.

The very idea that we can achieve happiness by doing a little bit more, going a little bit further, or climbing a little bit higher keeps happiness itself at bay. Our efforts will never be enough. More money, better health, greater accolades, smarter children, and a cleaner house do not create happiness. Sure, they feel great, and they look great. And they aren’t bad. But even combined, they aren’t the recipe for happiness.

Of course, we all know that. Look at Hollywood. Look at Wall Street. Look in Silicon Valley. Billionaires have depression, feel angst, worry, fly into tirades, stress, stomp, and sniffle just like the rest of us. They might blow their noses into luxury, monogrammed hankies, but they still deal with disappointment. And unhappiness.

So what’s the ticket? How do I turn my grocery-shopping, dinner-making, carpool-driving, meeting-attending, project-planning, story-editing life into one with a happy heart?

“Put a smile on that face,” I say to the kids. But does it work?

I think it’s a start.

Not long ago, I was having one of those days. One of those days where I felt I was doing everything halfway, and nothing well. The more I thought about it, I began to believe that I was a terrible mother, an erratic employee, an irresponsible wife and a needy friend. What’s more, my pants felt tight, my complexion was on the blink and damp towels were escaping from my laundry room and staging a coup near my back stairs.

Woe is me.

Then I heard a saying on the radio that stopped me in my tracks.

“Don’t think less of yourself. Think of yourself less.”

It occurred to me that self-deprecating thoughts are just as poisonous as self-inflating thoughts. They are still focused on self. They were stealing my joy.

Again, it is something we all innately know. People who think about themselves all the time are miserable. But we are living in a culture that strongly suggests that more is more, and self is the focus. And whatever you are doing now, you could and should do more. At least you should try.

Not true. Put a smile on that face. Reach a hand out to those struggling around you. Embrace joy. That’s the real ticket to happiness.

We are fortunate. We are strong. We are blessed.

And those damp towels will get washed. They will.

Have a happy heart.