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Secrets to Happiness

Find your joy and it will spread

Recently, my 11-year-old and I were talking about what parents want most
for our children. I explained to him that the big three I hear all the
time in my workshops are wanting our children to be happy, wanting our
kids to be successful and wanting our children to be good people.

I went on to explain to my son that, unfortunately, you can’t be in
charge of someone else’s happiness or success. In fact, the only thing
that you can truly be in charge of is whether your kids are good.

At end of the day, everyone needs to be in charge of whether or not they
are successful. I can teach my son certain things and show him certain
techniques that will help him be successful. After all, I teach these in
my trainings and many of my students have become very successful.
However, ultimately to become successful one must practice these
techniques. And, by that time, he will be older than 18 and his success
will be in his hands.

With happiness it is the same way. It would make everyone’s life easier
if they had control over other people’s emotions. I am a father, a
teacher and a boss. If I could make my kids, students and employees
happy with a wave of a wand, that would be great. However, it doesn’t
work that way. I explained to my son that, even as kids, we all have to
be in charge of our own happiness in life.

Ultimately, as a parent, I think I’m only going to have a true influence
over whether or not he is a good person. I can talk about being polite
and having respect. I can assist in changing behaviors and that is my
focus. Yet our conversation gravitated back toward happiness.

My son discussed how he works hard at making people happy. He explained
how he wants to make his teacher happy with his grades and work, he
wants to make his parents happy with his behavior and he wants to make
his friends happy while he is with them. In fact, it seemed this was a
good portion of his day. And yet he said he was not happy.

As a parent, I might have a misconception that I have control over my
kids and could make them be happy. However, I know I don’t have that
level of control over my friends and students. So I asked my son if he
has that level of influence (like a parent has with a child) with his
friends and teachers. He of course said “no.” I also asked him, “what do
you think your friends want?” He responded that they want him to be

So I told him: “You don’t have any influence over others to force them
to be happy. And if you spend all your time trying to make someone else
happy and then fail, it makes you unhappy. Here you are wanting to make
others happy, only to be unhappy in the process.” My son agreed!

I think we all experience this in our lives. We spend all this time
miserably trying to make other people happy, something we obviously
can’t do. We do it because we want to see other people happy all around
us. But the paradox is, the harder we try, the more miserable we get.
Others pick up on these negative feelings and the process just keeps
spiraling down.

Question: Why not just be happy yourself and do what makes you happy?
Then other people will see that you are happy and respond to your joy.
If people do this with the goal of seeing others happy, then this would
work. All we have to do is be happy ourselves to begin that process.

So my thinking, with everything I’ve learned in psychology and
communication skills, is that we should all give up trying to make other
people happy because it’s impossible to have that level of control over
someone else. If we instead begin to focus on being happy ourselves,
then I believe we will begin to see happy people all around us.

Give it a try. It could start a happy epidemic.

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is president of Kona University. His new
book, The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times details
forgiveness and meditation techniques used in Hawaii for hundreds of

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