The Hard Work of Happiness

The Hard Work of Happiness

On a recent cold, wind-snapped morning I asked class of college-bound high school seniors a simple question.

What brings you happiness? (I know…a dicey question to ask a bunch of bored 17 year olds).

Their answers were both surprisingly PG and unsurprisingly boring: Sleep, Saturday, my bed, Netflix, my dog…because all he does is sleep.

“Do you considered yourselves happy?”

Answers were mixed. Some students said yes, some said no, and others just stared at me.

I asked if they even wanted to be happy?

Yes, more than anything.

I asked if happiness, like success, is something we need to work for?

The sky clouded over. The radiator hummed. Heads began to nod. Yes. Happiness like good grades, they said, is something we need to work for.

I lean on my desk and hold a long, contemplative teacher’s stare.

“So more than anything you want to be happy?”


“So, are you willing to work for your happiness?”


“Sunflower”. Courtesy of and taken by Mary S..

After 39 years, through my own trails, my own delusions I’ve learned happiness is not given. I am not privileged to happiness.

Happiness can’t borrowed like Algebra homework. It’s not a signed check tucked in a graduation card. And happiness is certainty not found in such desperate acts of hoping or wishing.

Happiness is work. Muscle-straining, hand-wringing, earth-turning, bone-breaking work.

Happiness is a result of doing.

Happiness is earned.

Happiness is not for the weak. the faint of heart, or the procrastinators.

Because real, lasting happiness requires you to do uncomfortable things.

Let go.

Give up.

Be honest.

Move on.


Admit flaws.

Admit mistakes.

Accept judgment.

Accept a challenge.


Happiness begins when fears are conquered. When you take the first steps of a desired journey. When you utter the first, fragile words of the conversation you’ve been avoiding.

Wind slapped the classroom windows.

A throat cleared.

It takes a daily courage to roll up your sleeves and work through the unhappiness of your life. It is then, and only then, when you acknowledge and accept that happiness is work, hard-earned work, that you begin to feel it’s great warmth and reap its great rewards.

Be well,


Here’s an excerpt from What good advice do you fail to take?

In fact, I take comfort in knowing no one really knows what their doing. Sure some of us have refined skills or practices of our craft, some achieved “expert” status but this “everyone-knows-what-to-do-except-me” illusion is causing you to doubt your abilities and ignore your own voice.

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