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The Real Secret to Joy

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The phone rang at 2 p.m. It was my daughter Ana, calling from her after-school program. “Tiera and Mia won’t play with me,” she wailed. “Come get me.” I felt a giant tug on my heartstrings. Of course, I’d go right over—and give those two an earful on the way out! Then I stopped.

What message would I send 7-year-old Ana? To look to others for her happiness. But I knew she needed a bit of support.

“Look around the room,” I said. “What are the other kids doing?”

“Well some kids are beading,” she replied. “Some are doing art, and others playing Legos.”

“Do you think you could join one of those groups?” I asked.

“Yes,” she responded, hanging up.

When I arrived at the regular pick-up time to get her, she was her usual cheerful self.

I’ve often written that Ana is one of my greatest teachers. That day she proved to me that, while I may think my job as a parent is to make her happy, my real task to is help her figure out how to make herself happy. It’s not our job to rush in and rescue others from life challenges. However, many of us take our loved ones’ unhappiness personally. I know women who devote every waking hour to meeting the wants of their spouses. I’ve seen a man move 12 times in 12 years for the sake of an unhappy wife. But I’ve never met a person who has become happy as a result. Dependent? Yes. Temporarily victorious? Yes. Happy? Never. Joy can’t be granted by one person to another.

Happiness is earned through taking time to savor the pleasures of life and finding a way to offer your talents to others. And those are things you can do only for yourself. Remembering this truth is particularly important this time of year, when you’re trying to please every-one. It saves a lot of heartache when you remember that ultimately each person’s happiness is her own responsibility.

So, if you can’t “make” a person content, what can you do? Here are three ways to offer support.

1) Help expand options by asking, “If there were no obstacles, what would you do?”
2) Boost positive thinking with questions such as, “What did you enjoy today?” “What do you feel satisfied about?” “What are you grateful for today?”
3) If it’s a chronic problem, suggest a visit to a positive psychologist who is trained to help people change negative thinking patterns and develop a more optimistic outlook.