What Happy People Know

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

I first saw her through a window, sitting outside the Earthblend coffeehouse. She wore a bright turquoise pant suit with a colorful scarf. Her hair was a brilliant red, softly spiked, wind blown swirl. Several interesting looking women gathered to sign copies of the books Heart of a Mother, and Heart of a Woman in Business. All of them had contributed chapters to the books edited by international speaker and author Sheryl L. Roush. I approached to shake the redhead’s hand and was greeted by a happy, warm, guileless smile. Struck by her colorful eyes, that matched the pantsuit, and her personal warmth, we discussed her cover art for the book. It took a few moments to notice she was sitting in a different kind of chair. Beverly Weurding sat in a wheelchair. We discussed her art and her other passion. Dancing. Yes, Beverly performs ballroom dancing in a wheelchair. I told her of my passion for tap and soon we were shuffle-hop-stepping together shamelessly. We exchanged cards, talked about the studio where she dances (www.wheelchairdancing.tv) and ways to raise money to help others get chairs so that they can dance too.

Beverly radiated happiness and an infectious passion for life.  How refreshing to find someone not limited by a wheelchair, still daring to dance, while inspiring others to live their dreams.  Happy people know adversity, just like unhappy people.  Happy people lose loved ones, have near death experiences, suffer financial hardships. Happy people know that despite difficult circumstances they can learn, grow, nurture relationships, explore interests, meet new people and delight in simple things, like a shuffle-hop-step.

The late, great Martha Mason, who lived 60 of her 71 years in an iron lung said “I’m happy with who I am, where I am.” Despite a life confined to a metal box, she obtained an education, developed life-long friends and published her memoir Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung. Her boundless curiousity, interest in news, information and people, kept her life full, meaningful and happy. She focused on what she could do everyday, instead of dwelling on what she could never do.

People like Beverly and Martha remind us that we can be happy, enjoy life, bounce back from adversity and live a full, productive life. Here is a list of things you can do to get happier:

  • Follow your interests. Are you a politics junkie, sports fanatic, antique collector or wine enthusiast? Do something daily to feed your interests.
  • Connect to something larger than yourself. Some of the happiest people I know spend their summer vacation every year building houses for Habitat for Humanity.  Join a religious organization, the Sierra Club, a community center, and offer your talents for use.
  • Make someone happy. Remember the old song, “make someone happy and you will be happy too”? Well it’s true.  Show appreciation, give generously, nurture your important relationships.

Another great woman, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Happiness isn’t a goal, it’s a by-product.” Happiness surprises us when we’re vigorously engaged in life, exploring our interests, observing something beautiful, connecting with others. A genius of Positive Psychology, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson recommends asking yourself, “What can I celebrate?” Take a moment and look around you. Look for something lovely or interesting. I see a spider web in the corner of my office. Fascinating. Now celebrate that.