By Marci Shimoff
I was crammed in the back of an ancient flatbed truck with thirty other Westerners, bumping down a rock-strewn dirt road heading toward the foothills of the Himalayas. We each had a bandana covering our nose and mouth to keep us from choking on the dust. We were on our way to a small, remote mountain village where we would provide humanitarian support for the villagers’ educational, medical, and housing needs. I was tired, grumpy, and sore all over. After six hours, the driver stopped the truck, got out, and unceremoniously hauled all our luggage onto the dusty ground.
“You’ll need to walk the rest of the way,” he said. “It’s another mile, and from here on, the road is too steep and narrow for my truck.” As the truck rattled off, I looked at my ninety-one-pound suitcase with dread. Why had I packed all that unnecessary stuff? Ridiculous. I tried dragging it a few yards up the rough, mountainous trail, but it was hopeless; I wasn’t strong enough. Dusk was falling; what could I do? Everyone else in the group was wrestling with their own bags; no one could help me. But they were managing to make their way up the hill and soon were nearly out of sight. I sat down and spent a couple of minutes fighting down a rising panic. Were there tigers here?
Then a tiny, barefoot old woman, her face seamed with wrinkles, came out of the forest and up the road toward me. She approached me with a warm smile, picked up my bag, and, astonishingly, hoisted it up onto her head as though it weighed no more than a basket of fruit. Then she headed up the hill, motioning for me to follow.
As we ventured up the path together, though we had no language in common, I was struck by the twinkle in her eyes and the simple happiness that she exuded. When we finally reached the top of the mountain, I was met with the huge smiles and enthusiastic greetings of her fellow villagers.
I spent the next two weeks working side-by-side with these people, attending to the children, preparing food, and helping administer medical care. Like them, I slept on the ground, bathed in the river, and drank milk fresh from the cow. To my surprise, I found that this no-frills lifestyle agreed with me. I felt clear, peaceful, and full of energy.
During my stay, I also spent a lot of time observing my mountain hosts. Here were people who had no electricity or running water, living on the bare minimum with no creature comforts. Yet there was a lightness of spirit, a sense of humor, and an easy friendliness about them that was remarkable. They were simply happy from the inside out.
Of course, I realized that their happiness wasn’t a product of their poverty. I’d seen plenty of dirt-poor men, women, and children in all corners of the world who were utterly miserable. I’d also met people with every shiny, expensive toy money could buy who were ecstatic about their good fortune, as well as fabulously wealthy folks who were living proof of the saying “Money can’t buy happiness.”
The experience reinforced my conviction that happiness isn’t about having everything you’ve ever dreamed of, nor is it simply negating the need for material pleasures in life. It goes deeper than that. What we’re all really looking for is happiness from within that doesn’t depend on external circumstances—the kind I call Happy for No Reason.
My time among the Himalayan villagers crystallized my goal: without giving up my regular life, I wanted to find a way to enjoy that kind of happiness, no matter where I was or what I was doing.
Chances are you picked up this book for the very same reason. If you’re human, it comes with the package: everyone, everywhere, wants to be happy. You might already be pretty happy and just want to crank up the volume a notch or two. Or you may be seriously unhappy and wondering how others around you manage to find delight in their lives. Perhaps you’ve created your version of the American Dream, but still feel an emptiness inside that nothing on the outside seems to fill.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter where you begin. Wherever you are right now, this book will show you how to be happier. You don’t have to have happy genes, win the lottery, or become a saint. By the time you finish reading these pages, you will know how to experience an authentic state of sustained happiness for the rest of your life.
My Heart’s Quest
This book was born of my own deep longing to be happy. The kind of happy that is solid, true, and anchored in my being, so that no matter what my external circumstances are, there is still a feeling of unshakable fulfillment, joy, and inner peace. Other people lived this way, so I knew it was possible. Yet for so many years, no matter what I did, it seemed to elude me.
As you’ll read in my story in Chapter 1, I was unhappy from the get-go. As a young teen, I began a personal, and later professional, quest that lasted over thirty-five years and ultimately led me to the amazing findings in this book. During that time, I took every transformational seminar under the sun. For years I studied and taught success principles. I applied them in my own life and gained a good measure of success. I had plenty of reasons to be happy: I was a #1 New York Times best-selling author, I’d received national acclaim as an inspirational speaker, and I’d touched millions of people’s lives. I was very familiar with what it meant to be “happy because . . .” The problem was it didn’t bring me the happiness I wanted.
Looking around, I saw that the happiest people I knew weren’t the most successful and famous. Some were married, some were single. Some had lots of money, and some didn’t have a dime. Some of them even had health challenges. From where I stood, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what made people happy. The obvious question became Could a person actually be happy for no reason?
I had to find out.
The Study of Happiness
So I threw myself into the study of happiness. I interviewed scores of experts and delved into the research from the burgeoning field of positive psychology, the scientific study of the positive traits that enable people to enjoy meaningful, fulfilling, and happy lives. I soaked it up like a sponge and found a number of gems—fascinating, amazing, and useful information that’s changed my life and will change yours too.
My first major discovery was that scientists have found that we each have a “happiness set-point,” the genetic and learned tendency to remain at a certain level of happiness, similar to a thermostat setting on a furnace. Fortunately for those of us not born on the sunny side of the street, it’s been shown that we can change our happiness set-points. I’ll discuss this more in the next chapter and offer you specific exercises throughout the book to raise your happiness set-point.
I also learned that two of our greatest barriers to happiness, fear and anxiety, have been hardwired in us for millennia to ensure our survival as a species. In today’s world, however, that old wiring has become more harmful than helpful. In the coming chapters, you’ll discover ways to disconnect that internal alarm system so you can lead a happier life.
Research findings like these thrilled me, but I still wanted more. In my years studying success, I’d found that success leaves clues. You can look at the lives of successful people to learn how to become successful yourself. I figured that the same must be true of happiness, so I set out to interview 100 truly happy people.
From Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff. Copyright © 2008 by Marci Shimoff. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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