Posts for Grandkids: The Secret to Happiness

Hey there! This is the first in what will be an occasional series of posts that are directed at you, the children of my children. We’ll let other people read them, too, because that’s kind of the age I live in now, and they might enjoy or benefit from what I’m writing now.

I also don’t necessarily expect you to read them now; you may not even read it ever. But that’s ok too; one of the nice things about journaling and writing like this is that it benefits both the writer and the reader, and so consider this to be me leading by example.

This first one is both the easiest one and also possibly the most useless.

I’m going to tell you the secret of happiness.

Dan Gilbert Was Right

There’s this cool book called Stumbling on Happiness by a pretty fun scientist guy named Dan Gilbert. He played all kinds of games and tests and things to try and figure out what made people happy, and then he wrote a book about it.

In the book, he made a pretty weird promise. He said “At the end of this book, I’ll tell you how you can be happy. And then you won’t do it.

There’s a thing that you may have gotten this from me; I’m pretty sure I got it from my parents, and I see it in your Moms. It’s a reaction to anyone telling me You won’t do this, and it basically is me growling and saying Oh, yeah? I’ll show you! I decided to read the book, and at the end, no matter what, I was going to do what it was that would make me happy.

Now, I should tell you, at the time I was living in Seattle, which is a really neat city with some of the most amazing ideas and companies and inventors going on. It’s also beautiful, with mountains and ocean, and some of my best friends in the world lived there. It’s right near Canada, which is a great place to visit.

I was working hard on things that were important to me — but I wasn’t happy, and that’s why I was reading the book.

Also, I wasn’t seeing my family much — my parents, my kids, you all lived in the Midwest. Seattle is way out west.

People Are Bad at Being Happy

Anyway, I started reading the book. And it was great, because Dan Gilbert is a great storyteller. Over and over he showed how people are really, really bad at figuring out what made them happy. They’d look for things that other folks said would make them happy, or they’d imagine things that would solve all their problems. Kind of like if you say Man, I really wish I had a million dollars!

Dan Gilbert went to find people who had done things like actually win a million dollars! And you’d expect that would make them happy! But turns out, it didn’t. In fact, it usually made them less happy.

It’s not like he was saying being poor made you happy. It was more like…money wasn’t the thing that made people happy or unhappy. Because it turned out he also talked to people who had horrible things happen to them. They’d had accidents, they’d lost everything, they might have almost no money at all…and it turned out that they could be happy. In fact, they were often happier than the people who had everything.

Even people who lived in Seattle.

The Simple Secret

Finally, he gave two secrets to happiness. I won’t tell you the first one, yet, because I want to write more about it later. But I’ll tell you the second. He said that people who spend their time trying to be closer to family and friends are, in general, happier than people who don’t.

When I read that, in Seattle, it was hard to read at first. I had worked hard to be there, and that’s where all this exciting stuff was happening! I had spent a lot of time there in Wisconsin, and really didn’t feel that it was a place where I could do the work and find the cool projects and chances to make a difference in the world.

But Dan Gilbert made me remember one thing, the one thing that Madison WI had that Seattle didn’t:


I realized one of the great truths of being a Grandpa: you don’t get a second chance to see your grandkids grow up.

And besides, like I said, I wasn’t happy there in Seattle, even with all those cool people and cool projects. So if I wasn’t happy, and this smart guy tells me that this is the way to be happy, it would be pretty dumb for me not to do it, right?

I moved back to Madison. I started spending more time with you and your moms and my parents. I missed my Seattle friends, of course, but it turned out that I could still talk with them through the internet and even see them. It also turned out that I could still work on cool projects – even cooler projects than I had in Seattle.

And best of all: I have never been happier.

So there’s the secret to happiness — well, at least, to my happiness. Ignore all the pressure for fame and money and fancy cities, and just try to spend more time with your family and friend and connect with them.

I’m not promising it will make you happy. But it’s got a better chance than most things.

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