There are a lot of happiness hacks floating around right now.
Some are good, and some are downright silly. Sleep is good. So is salad, and exercise. Meditation has its benefits. I like folding my clothes into tidy vertical packets, but I’m not sure it’s necessary to my happiness.
Most happiness hacks are just that — fleeting. They quickly lose their shine. Lasting happiness has to come from a different place.
My dad is by far the happiest person I know. I’m sure some of that happiness is simply innate. But a lot of that happiness comes from lifestyle choice. I’ve spent a lifetime marveling, and trying to mimic, my dad’s patterns. While it's impossible to distill someone's personality into a tidy list, here are eight choices my dad makes that have taught me about everyday happiness.
1. My dad derives a lot of his happiness from loyalty and routine. This may sound simple, but I think there’s power in not overanalyzing day-to-day choices. He shops at the same grocery store, and picks up his clothes from the same dry cleaner, for years and years and years. He exercises every evening. He buys the same kind of car. My dad is exceedingly creative, but he saves his creativity for mind work, not in switching up his daily habits and choices.
2. I joke that when I was young, I never saw my dad sit down for an entire movie. He would stand behind the couch, laugh at the funny parts, then zip off to finish a project. He works hard, not in a frenzied sort of way, but a steady, productive way. The trash is always emptied, the fridge always stocked with milk and oranges. He finishes what he starts, and he doesn’t procrastinate.
3. He is always concerned about the people around him. He opens doors, retrieves drinks and keeps his pockets stocked with gum and handkerchiefs. He greets every store clerk or waiter with a smile. He takes up the rear to make sure no one is left behind. When you are in his presence, you feel safe — he takes people right where they are and loves them for it.
4. My dad learns, and remembers, peoples’ names. And he calls people by their names. Service workers are more than just placeholders — they are real people with lives and worries. He makes sure they are valued and heard.
5. My dad is generous. We once tried to compile a list of all the charities to which my dad donates — we lost track around 29 or 30. He buys lunch for maintenance workers who come to his house. He brings Christmas gifts to the front-desk employees at his local gym. He sends thank-you cards. Every time a friend or family member gets married or has a birthday, he writes them an original poem. In college, I received a weekly note clipped to an interesting newspaper article. It was my dad’s way of telling me he loved me.
6. My dad is not a complainer. You won’t hear him talk about a difficult boss or a sore ankle. He is truly an eternal optimist.
7. He delights in the little things: Every meal is the most delicious. Every song is the greatest. He once, famously, got a speeding ticket because he was listening to the Eagles and got overly generous with the gas pedal. He loves mountain vistas and funny movies, epic poetry and grandchild piano recitals.1 comment on this story
8. My dad is deeply faithful. He has both awe and reverence for God and for Jesus Christ. He lives his faith with joy and hope.
The greatest lesson my dad has taught me, by example, is that happiness comes from a steady gaze that is both outward and upward. He is the kind of person, and I’m sure you’ve met people like this, who elevate those around them. When you’re in their orbit, you shine with a different kind of light. Some of us have to work extra hard to be that kind of person. For me, it will be a lifelong pursuit. But it’s a pursuit that I’m happy to try.