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  • Ian Henderson

Lesson #3: Happiness is an Inside Job

Updated: Jun 2



People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.

- Abraham Lincoln


Do you ever think about the future, Linus? asks Charlie Brown.

“Oh yes, all the time,” Linus replies.

Charlie Brown continues, “What do you think you’d like to be when you grow up?”

Linus replies, “Outrageously happy!”

What would make you outrageously happy? Really ponder on that for a moment. Personally, I’m not sure how many chocolate chip cookies it takes for me to be outrageously happy, but so far, it’s not twenty-seven.

What’s one of the best parts about life? Every morning you have a new opportunity to become a happier version of yourself.

How would you answer the following statement: Nothing’s as good as…!

When I posed this question to a few colleagues, I received these responses:

  • A good yawn, with a good stretch.

  • Being two pounds lighter on the bathroom scale.

  • A new puppy.

  • A reachable itch.

A father decided to have a conversation with his six-year-old son on the issue of honeymoons.

“Andrew, when you grow up, when you get married, your honeymoon will be one of the happiest times of your life.”

“Oh, you mean I get to take my toys along!”

“Uh, no, you probably won’t want to. But you’ll still have a fantastic time.”

“Well then, can Jeffrey from next door come along on my honeymoon?”

“No, sorry, Jeffrey can’t come.”

“Then, I don’t know if I want to go on a honeymoon, Daddy. It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.”

Christopher Morley penned this wonderful children’s poem:

Animal crackers and cocoa to drink, This is the finest of suppers, I think. When I’m grown up and can have what I please, I think I shall always insist upon these.

Marianne Williamson chips adds, “Children are generally happy because they don’t have a file in their minds called, “All the things That Could Go Wrong.”

A very ‘together’ and independent ninety-two-year-old lady was moving into a nursing home. Since she was legally blind and her husband of seventy years had passed away, it seemed the move was her only option. She waited in the lobby of the facility for a long time before finally being told her room was ready. As she was escorted down the corridor, her attendant described the room, down to the curtains hung on the windows.

“I love it,” the lady enthused.

“But you haven’t even seen the room yet. Just wait.” The attendant responded.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged. It’s how I arrange my mind.”


Each of us must take responsibility for our own attitude.

John Maxwell, often called America’s number one leadership authority, is a best-selling author, coach and speaker in North America. For over 20 years, I have been using his books as resources when doing personal coaching sessions. In ‘Today Matters,’ he shares this story:

After my wife, Margaret, and I had been married for four or five years, we went to a conference for pastors where I had been asked to be one of the speakers. Margaret had also agreed to be a breakout session for spouses. Speaking is not a passion for her as it is for me. She does a good job, but she doesn’t really enjoy it that much. I wanted to support her, so I attended her session. During the ‘question and answer’ time, a woman stood up and asked, “Does John make you happy?”

I have to say, I was really looking forward to hearing Margaret’s answer. I’m an attentive husband, and I love Margaret dearly. What kind of praise would she lavish on me?

“Does John make me happy?” she considered. “No, he doesn’t.” I looked to see where the closest exit was. “The first two or three years we were married,” she continued, “I thought it was John’s job to make me happy. But he didn’t. He wasn’t mean to me or anything. He’s a good husband. But nobody can make another person happy. That was my job.” As a young newlywed in her early twenties, she figured out something some people never learn. Each of us must take responsibility for our own attitude. Happiness is an inside job. Don’t ever assign anyone else that much power over your life.

Most people are searching for happiness outside of themselves. That’s a fundamental mistake. Happiness is something you are, and it comes from the way you think.

Happiness starts with you. Not with your relationships, not with your job, not with your circumstances, but with you. The secret of being happy is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day. Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you’re living. Johnny Cash never had to look far to find happiness. When asked for his description of paradise, he replied, “This morning, with [June Carter], having coffee.”

Dolly Parton wrote, “You have to work hard at being happy, just like you have to work hard at being miserable. I wake up every day expecting all to be good and right. And if it’s not, I set my mind to making it so by the end of the day.”

Arthur Rubinstein adds: “I live by one principle: Enjoy life with no conditions! People say, 'If I had your health, if I had your money, oh, I would enjoy myself.' It is not true. I would be happy if I were lying sick in a hospital bed. It must come from the inside. That is the one thing I hope to have contributed to my children, by example and by talk: to make no conditions, to understand that life is a wonderful thing and to enjoy it every day, to the full.”

John Lennon wrote: “When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”


Happiness is something you are, and it comes from the way you think.

We all know individuals who say, “When I graduate, then I’ll be happy.” “When the mortgage is paid, then I’ll be happy.” “When the kids have left home, then I’ll be happy.” “When I retire, then I’ll be happy.” When, when. Then, then. Then they die, having seldom been happy. Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present. I like the old proverb, ‘The foolish person seeks happiness in the distance, the wise person grows it under his feet.’

Happiness comes when we stop complaining about the troubles we have and offer thanks for all the troubles we don’t have. Stop looking for reasons not to be happy and start living for reasons why you are. Oscar Wilde adds, “With freedom, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”

You never know how much time you have left. I have always wondered why so many people save things for special occasions. We are all guilty of it, buying a new special garment and letting it hang in your closet, because you’re saving it for a special occasion. The problem is that the special occasion may never come. Life is short and tomorrow is promised to no-one. Every day on this earth should be considered special, so why not dress for it? Being alive every day is a special occasion.

A father became upset about the time his seven-year old son was taking to get home from school. He determined to make the trip himself to see how long it should take to cover the distance. He concluded that twenty minutes maximum was enough, but his son was taking well over an hour.

Finally, the father decided to walk with his son. After the trip, the man said, “The twenty minutes I thought was reasonable was right, but I failed to consider such important things as a side trip to track down a trail of ants, or a stop to watch a man fix a flat tire, or the time it took to swing around a half dozen telephone poles, or how much time it took for a boy to get acquainted with two stray dogs. In short, I forgot what it was like to be seven years old.” Remember when you were a kid and were happy for no reason. Be that again. If you need a reminder of what happiness looks like, watch children playing together. There is no such thing as ‘age appropriate’ when it comes to play. At every age play is not a luxury, it should be a necessity. Be the first one to make footprints in new snow.


Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.

Happiness is not for sale in any store. We can’t buy happiness. We can’t fill the void with stuff. It doesn’t work that way. No matter how much stuff we buy, that stuff won’t make you happy. At best, it may pacify us momentarily. George Carlin summed this up so beautifully, “Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.”

Joyce Bothers adds: “What’s important is how frequently you’re happy, not how intensely. Those peaks of happiness - getting swept off your feet, scaling a mountain, winning a bundle at Las Vegas - are nice, but happiness comes down to being quietly content most of the time.”

Jim Clemmer in his book, Growing @ The Speed of Change, talks about the ‘speed index’ in an ever-accelerating world: “Ten years ago I bought a summer toy: a two-seat roadster convertible. At first, my wife, Heather, was just indulging me when she agreed to go along for a few rides. Fairly quickly though, she got into the joy of cruising along tree-lined country roads in the open air as we chatted, basking in the sunshine, and sang along to our favourite music. On warm weather ‘cruising days,’ when I am heading out on business, instead of blazing the fast lane of the expressway, I have found a variety of quiet back road alternatives. It does take extra time for these trips. Too often we’re so intent on getting to our next destination that we miss the joy of the trip.” Pat (my partner) and I, when planning little getaways will actually map out back road country road alternatives and just sit back and enjoy the drive. And yes, it does take more time. We have been known, following a good rain, to go for drives in search of rainbows. Anonymous adds: “The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”

I want you to read the following paragraphs about unhappy and happy people, what they do and don’t do. And I want you to concentrate on each item listed. Give this some time. No speed reading. Spend some time reviewing each characteristic. Do any of these resonate with you? Are there any significant changes you need to make?

Things that unhappy people often do: Compare themselves to others, complain, blame, judge others, make up excuses, dwell on the past, feel sorry for themselves, listen to and spread gossip, wait for life to improve, procrastinate, hold grudges, hide from necessary change, avoid risk, view failure as the end of the world, live by other’s expectations, try to please everyone, depend too much on others, demand perfection in themselves and others. If your life is a canvas, and you are the painter of your own mood, your days are only as grey as you allow them to be. Eight-year-old Hannah Cheatem has some sound advice for us: “If you’re feeling blue, try painting yourself a different colour.” Life is about using the whole box of crayons, even if some of them are broken.

Things that happy people do: design their own life, have a growth mindset, exercise self-discipline, practice self-care, savour the moment, manage expectations of self and others, surround themselves with the right people, learn new skills, avoid negative self-talk, listen well, look for the good in every situation, cultivate optimism, view problems as challenges, are open minded, are busy but not rushed, step out of their comfort zones, avoid social comparison, develop an attitude of gratitude, count their blessings, practice acts of kindness, forgive both self and others, help the less fortunate, laugh more, go to sleep when they are tired, develop strategies for coping, and savour life’s joys. These are just some of the factors that create happiness.

Pretty well all of these positive characteristics will be covered in some detail in future lessons.

Joyce Meyer writes, “If someone decides they’re not going to be happy, it’s not your problem. You don’t have to spend your time and energy trying to cheer up someone who has already decided to stay in a bad mood. Believe it or not, you can actually hurt people by playing into their self-pity.”

I’d like to close this lesson with this beautiful writing by Drew Silvern:

“There are days when I wake up, strap on my portable CD player, and walk Beasley, my pet Labrador Retriever, for an hour along Sunset Cliffs. Often, I feel an incredible joy that I am able to do this. It’s a cancer dividend, and I always offer a prayer of thanksgiving at the midpoint. In my first life before being diagnosed with cancer, the morning walk would probably just have been another thing to get done before work. Cancer has given me a new appreciation for life I would never have felt without it. In a way, my cancer came along at the worst time, and maybe the best. It made the past the past and the present the present. It healed most of the old scars and propelled me beyond regret or family resentments. It brought clarity to my life.”


Make a list of things that make you happy. Make a list of things you do every day. Compare the lists. Adjust accordingly.

Close your eyes and think of five things that make you smile when you think about them. What are they?

Why does watching a dog be a dog tend to fill most of us with happiness?

Pick one day each week. Your assignment is: Be the reason someone smiles today.

Just think how happy you’d be if you lost everything and everyone you have right now, and then, somehow get everything back again, one thing at a time.

Choose one quote every day or perhaps one or two every week if you like. How do these quotes speak to you? What applications do you see in your life? Share your chosen quotes with a family member, a friend, a business colleague. Create a ‘quote of the day’ club at work.

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never lost it to begin with.

- Judy Garland (in The Wizard of Oz).

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.

- Marianne Williamson

Today, I’m going to be as happier than a bird with a French fry.

- Anonymous

To a young heart, everything’s fun.

- Charles Dickens

To be granted some kind of usable talent and be able to use it to the fullest extent of which you are capable-this, to me is the kind of joy that is almost unequalled.

- Lawrence Welk

Be happy with what you have while working on what you want.

- Helen Keller

Think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings.

- Peter Pan

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.

- Mother Theresa

Every job has drudgery, whether it is in the home, in school or in the office. The first secret of happiness is the recognition of this one fundamental fact.

- M.C. McIntosh

When I’m happy, I feel like crying, but when I’m sad, I don’t feel like laughing. I think it’s better to be happy. Then you get two feelings for the price of one.

- Lily Tomlin (as Edith-Ann)

I figure if I have my health, can pay the rent and I have friends, I call it ‘content.’

- Lauren Bacall

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

- Charles Kingsley

I’m happier. I guess I made up my mind to be that way.

- Merle Haggard

Happiness is a state of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things.

- Walt Disney

Just because you are happy, it does not mean that the day is perfect, but that you have looked beyond its imperfections.

- Bob Marley

Keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.

- Marilyn Munroe

If only we’d stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time.

- Edith Wharton

A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.

- William Arthur Ward

The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment.

- Doug Larson

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

- Jack Nicholson

You may have missed the recent study showing that suppressed laughter goes down to spread the hips and produce gas.

- Jim Clemmer

He who laughs, last.

- Robert Fulghum


Next Lesson: Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

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