Shayna at the Detroit ZooWhen I received this picture of my very happy great-niece Shayna at the Detroit Zoo, I could not help but smile! What a happy, joyful face on this delightful two year old, out for a day of fun in the sun…with some animals and a snazzy outfit thrown in the mix! She comes by this smile naturally. The ability of a human to be happy is a birthright. Humans enjoy laughter, sarcasm, tickling, jokes, hugs, smiling together, and all of the other things that make us feel happy. Shayna’s uninhibited giant smile cues in other humans the desire to smile back at her. Think of the times you are standing in line at the grocery store or the post office, and a baby or little child is just in front of you. Your eyes meet, the baby smiles… and so do you. That baby has used a survival mechanism – to trigger this instant connection – that we just “come with” when we enter the world.

Somehow, as we get older and we get buffeted about by life’s small and large troubles, we lose the ability to be happy all of the time. We find that seriousness is more appreciated by our teachers and parents than silliness. As we enter adulthood, we find that bosses and coworkers might not always appreciate our sense of humor and upbeat attitude. Being happy – consciously being happy – starts to become less automatic and important to us. We stop the spontaneity, and we forget to fake it until we make it. Yet, if you browse the self-help book and magazine article titles these days, it seems that we all want to be happier.

Well, you need to know that nobody can make you happy. You are in control of that feeling, that reality. You might not recognize how low you have put happiness on your priority list. It’s time to think about this constructively, to find ways to be as happy as you want to be. Remember the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands?” Check in with yourself to see if you feel truly happy. Satisfied. Pleased.

If you are only doing some very quiet clapping or perhaps just looking at your fingernails because there’s nothing to clap about, it’s time for you to take this happiness seriously. In January 2009, I started to change my approach to my life by starting a Happiness Quest, with the goal to be in a much happier place in December that year than where I was starting off. With a lot of work, I have to say “Mission Accomplished!” It’s not easy to focus on yourself – with all of the things you have going on in your grown-up life and all of the people to or for whom you are responsible. However – this is big – you need to remember that if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot expect anyone else to do that job for you.

Your Happiness Quest requires a few things:

  • A plan! Know how long you want to work on this. Where will the travels start? What are the easiest things to address? The most difficult?
  • A team! Will you be traveling this quest alone or enlisting the help of others? It may be appropriate to get into a counseling situation, where someone can help you keep your focus as you examine the aspects of your life that you want to change or adjust.
  • Action items! What do you want to change? Where do you have enough control to be able start the change? It might just be your attitude, so whatever it is – big or small – it has to be viewed through your eyes. It’s YOUR life, and only you will know where to make the changes.
  • A goal! Where do you want to end up? How will you know that you got there?
  • The answer to “What’s in it for me?” Understanding that you need to feel awareness of your situation is the first part – understanding that you need to be grateful for what you have is the next part! What do you want to get out of this quest? How will you know that your needs have been met?
  • A party! At the end of your quest, you need to kick back and celebrate! The first six months will be difficult as you change your perspective. Suddenly, you will find that you are on the right track – THAT’s the time to celebrate your success!

Your state of happiness is up to you. You are the only person who knows if you are truly satisfied. For that reason, if you don’t feel that you are as happy as you want to be, today is the day to choose to follow a quest for the joy you used to feel when you were two years old. With work and focus, you can get that happiness back. It’s up to you!