What is the Secret to Happiness?

by joshhanagarne on October 16, 2011

smileToday I want to tell you about four of the happiest days of my life, and see if they have anything in common. Perhaps we’ll discover what is the secret to happiness?

Perhaps not.

1. Sleepover

In fourth grade a kid in my class invited me to sleep over at his house. His mom bought a 12 pack of grape soda just for us. I got there at about 7 PM. His parents went to sleep around 9. We turned on the TV and watched whatever was on. We fired up the stereo–the soundtrack for Cocktail, a tape I had brought from home–and danced and spilled soda all over. We laughed harder than  would have thought possible.

I look at it now and think, Wow that doesn’t sound like fun at all. I just don’t know if it’s possible as an adult to actually have that much fun, at that level of intensity. It was a time where “tomorrow” didn’t really factor into decisions. What was coming over the horizon never diminished the enjoyment of whatever was happening in the moment.

So why did this make me so happy? Was it the camaraderie? The music? Being away from home for a night? Being on our own? Too much sugar?

2. Surprise from my dad

Computer class in 8th grade. Blah. First class in the morning and I was already bored. Not that computers were boring, but we had a teacher who was the love child of inertia and monotone. He was fairly uninspiring. A lot of the time we just sat around typing or doodling. This was back when our screens still had green letters and sounded like rockets taking off when they booted up.

Suddenly, the teacher said “Josh, can you go down to the principal’s office?” What!

I stood on shaky legs and asked him if he knew what it was about.

“Just go.”

Was I in trouble? Had someone died? Was my family all right? As I walked down the endless corridor I saw my friend–the one from the Cocktail party–coming out of another room. We walked, compared notes, wondered aggressively, and rounded a corner only to run into his mom and my dad. Were they about to tell us they were having an affair? Were we going to be brothers?

No! Even Better! My dad reached into his pocket and handed me two pieces of paper. They were tickets to a playoff game for the Utah Jazz vs the Seattle Supersonics. In Salt Lake City, four hours away. For that night! And he was bringing my friend!

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so excited, so quickly. It was almost unbearable. And the day only got better. My dad brought a friend as well, and they talked in the front seat while my friend and I played cards and imagined how fun it was going to be when Karl Malone called us down out of the stands to help out in the game.

It was a perfect day. The memory and the afterglow of that perfect day sustained me for a long time.

3. August 14, 2001

By 11 AM I was married to a woman I loved more than anything. I chose her and she chose me. We finished the luncheon by about 12:30 and were on our way to Moab for our honeymoon shortly after.

We were absolutely drunk and stupid on each other. I had never felt more whole.We got to Moab, got to our room, and only left twice over the next two days: once to recharge while watching the stupid Planet of the Apes remake, and once to get a bunch of good, which we took back to the room. I could have stayed in there forever, in that state of intoxication.

I would never say that anyone has an obligation to get married, but it was certainly the right choice for me.

4. February 19, 2008

We spent the entire day in the hospital together. I was sick with bronchitis, she was about to deliver our son. Or so we thought. The hours passed slowly. She slept occasionally. I coughed constantly. And then suddenly it was time. By 8 PM I was holding my little son, wondering how anyone’s head could be so pointy.

It was the happiest I have ever been. Sitting there with my wife and the life we had made…it was indescribable, so I’ll quit trying.

What do all of these things have in common?

I have a few ideas. These were all instances where:

  • I was truly living in the present
  • I was with people I loved
  • I was fortunate–those people loved me as well
  • I wanted nothing more than what I had in those moments and days

For me, happiness cannot be reduced to anything I can pay for with money, although I have tried to disprove it. Oh, how I’ve tried.

It has never been living in a new place. But I have tried my best to escape more than once.

Or changing jobs.

Or wishful thinking.

Or having more sex.

I’ve wanted badly for these things to be answers, but they are inadequate solutions to the problems that a life presents when spread out over the years and decades. They are fleeting comforts.

It has simply been wanting what I have–but being so content with the moment that I’m not even aware that I have something I want.

Is there a secret to that? Is there some secret to happiness that can be applied to every single person?

I don’t know. But if I had to choose, in my case, I would say that the key to my own happiness is knowing who I love, and knowing they love me as well. It doesn’t always help, but that’s my own occasional failing.

What is true happiness? I think maybe it’s just always being in a state of mind so that the things you know should make you feel better actually do. That’s my goal–to be able to feel what I know is true, no matter what else is happening.

If you like what you’re reading, you’ll love the newsletter.

Free newsletter for the painfully awesome

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tomas October 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Your points sound perfect, Josh. May I add that when one gets better at the things he likes to do, he’ll be happier? That’s how I feel at least. 🙂

Better happens = better is more = more happiness

It was so much fun to spend a night at a friend’s house as a kid. Today it seems so…mundane.


Michelle October 18, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Wow, I did a blog post similar to this not too long ago. Really, it’s just about one happy moment, similar to your #3.


joshhanagarne October 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm

That’s a beautiful post, Michelle.


Leave a Comment

Next post: