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I often ask clients “What makes you happy?” and I get a variety of responses. “Happiness is such an illusory thing!” “I don’t know what makes me happy!” “I think I know what makes me happy.” “Um….Happy?…..Um….”

Well, it turns out that the science shows that people are consistently poor at predicting what makes them happy.

Then when I ask, “What brings you joy?” Without fail, every single person slows down, looks off and says, “My daughter’s smile,” “My faithful dog” or a “Love letter from my sweetheart.” They all come up with something that makes their innerds all tender and gooey! I love my job!

You will find that as soon as you determine “that” thing that will make you happy, you take on a certain ‘ennui’ or desire to move on to something. But joy? It hangs around and it heals us and connects us to others. So yeah, go for joy over happiness, but please know this: Happiness is the tool that gets us to joy.

Different things make people happy. What makes you happy may not make me happy. I met a lady this week who was sad that Spring has sprung in Atlanta and she loves the cold of Wisconsin. She misses the wind in her face and the stillness and quiet by the lake. I am so sorry y’all: My brain could not wrap itself around that. She actually felt happy in the cold? I cannot imagine a life in which I would be “happy” in cold weather. I can manage it but not be “happy” in it!

Happy for me is different. I love warm weather but not too hot! And each person has their own unique perspective. Each of us has to learn the unique DNA of our own carefully curated happiness.

Just for laughs and giggles, write down what makes you happy and then let us go through this information and see where we land.

What makes me happy?

Well, ….Butterflies, OMG – butterflies are so beautiful, art, color, flowers, jazz, Fela’s music, Bob Marley’s music, hot spicy food, the most luxurious fluffy, oily shea butter lotion on the planet and rubbing it deep into the skin on my hands, a hard pillow, really awesome cotton sheets, my bare feet, mani-pedis, good fitting socks, inspiring words, solitude, my sister, puppies, cats, Apple products, papyrus cards, the most awesome smooth writing pens ever, Teva cups, awesome smelling candles, lavender essential oils on my feet at night, the scent of other essential oils, foaming hand soap, soft high quality toilet paper, good absorbent Bounty paper towels, Viva paper towels too, the color teal, the color yellow, books, coffee table books, smart people, a clock on the wall that I can actually read the numbers, a stool to kick my feet up and the list goes on and on….

Literally, when I am around some of this stuff, I can feel my innerds smiling!

That list is what pops in my head when I think of happiness. However, because there is no “one size fits all,” happiness appears to be illusory as it varies for each person and in each moment in time. Our list is constantly changing as we discover new things and get bored with old things. I bet your list looks totally different.

What I do know is that the things that make me happy, also make me experience awe.

Synonyms for happiness give us a broader feel for the word and include pleasure, contentment, satisfaction cheerfulness, merriment, gaiety, joy, joyfulness, joviality, jollity, glee, delight, good spirits, lightheartedness, well-being, enjoyment….Phew! I get it.

This all feels internal as if it is all about how “I am feeling.”

However, this is a very modern definition of happiness. Turns out that the word “happy” used to mean: “Lucky, favored by fortune, being in advantageous circumstances, prosperous.”

Happy did not use to mean how your internal state feels! The definition of the word was based on something external that you had no control over. In fact, linguists say that in every single Indo-European language, going all the way back to ancient Greek, that word “happiness” is related to “luck” as in “the gods are smiling down on you.”

This means that people did not expect to control their own happiness. Later, through the development of the classic philosophers, happiness evolved into something that could be earned by living a good life: Because you lived a good, moral life, you experienced the outcome of happiness.

However, today, we think of happiness as an inside job. It speaks to our feelings, our attitude and even our Constitution (in the USA) gives us the inalienable right to pursue “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Some folks even think that it is selfish to pursue this happiness because it may disconnect you from caring about others.

Gretchen Rubin wrote a New York Times Bestseller called The Happiness Project and she says that seeking happiness is not selfish. She says that her research shows that happy people are givers and they love making others happier. Because they are not obsessed about experiencing happiness, since they already have it, she says this about happy people: “They’re more altruistic, they give away more money, they volunteer more time, they are more likely to help someone who needs a hand. They make better team members, they’re healthier, they suffer less burnout. When people are unhappy they tend to become isolated, defensive and preoccupied with their own problems. When you’re happier, you can turn outward and think about other people.”

“An acorn does not have to say, ‘I intend to become an oak tree.’ Natural intelligence intends that every single thing become the highest form of itself and designs us accordingly.” ~ Marianne Williamson 

This is happiness. All those things that give you pleasure, joy and happiness are indicators of your highest form: They point the way. They are the pathway, the walkway to Joy. This awesome thing called “Joy” is the destination!

Beloved, as a butterfly hatches from a chrysalis joy, hatches from happiness!

The fascinating thing is that our biology even speaks to happiness. There are four interrelated “happy” hormones in our bodies:

  • Endorphins are designed to mask physical pain. This is what we normally think of as a “runners high.” We do not feel that pain when we have high endorphin levels. But this is a very selfish hormone. It is all about us and we generate it for ourselves. It helps to relieve stress and pain. It makes you feel euphoric and releases sex hormones as well as enhance the immune response.
  • Dopamine is the feeling that you found something you are looking for or you conclude a task and feel a sense of accomplishment. This is the hormone that creates motivation in your life. It boosts drive, focus, and concentration. Every time you cross something off your to-do list or achieve a goal, you get a dopamine hit. This too is a very selfish hormone. It is all about what you accomplish and what you do. This hormone is highly addictive, and we can also get hits of it through alcohol and gambling and other addictive activities. Social media and constantly looking at our phones give us hits of dopamine. This is also known as the pleasure hormone. In talking about how marketers abuse this, Seth Godin says, “Pleasure is short-term, addictive and selfish. It’s taken, not given. It works on dopamine.”
  • Serotonin: This is a social hormone that helps us feel a sense of safety and belonging. This is the hormone that is related to confidence and allows us to have wellbeing and happiness in relationship to others. When we trust other people it boosts our serotonin as well as their serotonin. We feel a sense of safety that we have someone we can trust.  Simon Sinek, a leadership thought leader calls this “The Leadership Hormone.” This is the hormone that feeds the desire to be the “alpha” in society and belong to a group. Seth Godin says that when it comes to marketing, marketers do not use enough serotonin to motivate. He says, “Happiness is long-term, additive and generous. It’s giving, not taking. It works on serotonin.” And, Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary, a neurologist, says that 95% of all our serotonin is produced in the gut and that the gut produces as much dopamine as the brain. This is why food is so social!
  • Oxytocin: This is also a social hormone that generates love, trust, and friendship. This is called “The Bliss Hormone.” This is released when we have physical contact with others. This is also released when you give of your time and expect nothing in return, like when you volunteer. Witnessing acts of human generosity releases oxytocin. Oxytocin helps your body boosts its immune system and it wards off addiction. It also increases our ability to solve problems and increases our creativity. This is why we need touch. If newborn babies are not touched, they die as a result of lack of oxytocin.

The fascinating thing about all this is that I can see the correlation between all these pointers:

  • Luck – Science tells us that some people just show up on the planet with a sunnier disposition than others. Check out Gretchen’s video herewhere she talks about this. I consider this “the gods smiling down on you.” This could be how we all show up with those four hormones in varying amounts when we are born (nature) and through proper nurturing, we may develop more of the right hormones in the right quantity.
  • Striving to live a moral life– Gretchen’s talk about altruism addresses this. When you live a life that is congruent with your values, you experience more happiness.
  • An inside job – You can intentionally work to increase hits of your endorphins and dopamine to ensure that you are feeling no pain by releasing stress, and be a productive, motivated person who can accomplish his or her goals. These hormones help you have a sense of esteem when you relate to others.
  • A relational job– With serotonin and oxytocin, you experience more happiness when you have a firm sense of belonging to a community and when you feel loved and appreciated. I love how these hormones make us interdependent on each other to experience happiness, and therefore, joy.

When you go over my list that I made earlier of what makes me happy, I actually associated “happiness” with what brings me pleasure which is only one dimension of it. Those activities I listed probably feed mostly my endorphin and dopamine hormones. Do you see how that list only included one other human being? That is my access to serotonin and oxytocin.

(Believe it or not, I test as an introvert. I am very social. I love people but that deep pleasure? I feel it most when I am alone and all by myself and I can think and be creative. But after a long while, I start craving the companionship of other people. Touch is also something that makes me happy: hugs, massages, dogs laying on my lap, etc.)

Beloveds, if you are not taking care managing your stress well, if you are not making sure you are productive and accomplishing your goals, if you are not experiencing a sense of belonging and if you are not touched and loved by other humans, you are not going to experience the pleasures that are associated with happiness.

Under the umbrella of emotional intelligence, happiness is the goal and is defined as having the ability to feel satisfied with life, enjoying oneself and others, and having fun. Doesn’t that just ooze with positivity? And joy? Also, leaders know how to use happiness (and serotonin) to connect with those they work with and to create a sense of belonging.

The Dalai Lama says, “The purpose of our life is to seek happiness.” And it turns out that distortions of reality kill happiness. When you start awfulizing and moaning and complaining and expecting the worst, happiness gets deflated and you move further and further away from what it is that you want.


Joy is so closely related to happiness and I actually believe that joy is more important than happiness. I believe that the things that make us happy, point us towards joy. I believe that joy is a spiritual gift and it connects us with the Divine. My god-father, Bishop Kirby Clements says “Joy is not an emotion. It is a conviction.” When you live your life out from your deepest, most positive values, your happiness transmutes into joy.

“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”  – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I pursue joy daily. I journal in the mornings and ask, “What will bring me joy today?” And always, it is an awesome adventure. This does not mean that I do not get caught up in negativity or “bad” emotions. Yes, I do. But I start each morning knowing that I was created to be joyful and that I do my best work when I am joyful and for me, a joyful state is a more loving state. I like joy. Joy makes the human experience satisfying.

This week, my hope is that you will lighten up and play with your happiness and embrace joy. Make lists. Laugh at yourself. Embrace the process. As you go through the week, notice where you are getting your hormonal hits and turn towards those that truly give you deep happiness and joy:

  • Pay attention to your own happiness hormones: Make sure you know how to release endorphins so that you are able to push through hard circumstances. To release dopamine, play with making a to-do list.
  • In your personal relationships, play with touch. Figure out how to release oxytocin and have deep meaningful conversations where you experience connection.
  • In your business, work or in the world at large, really play with your sense of self-confidence. Notice who you consider a leader. Does that person increase your sense of trust? Notice where you experience the feeling of belonging. And make sure you are generating trust and belonging to others as well.
  • Track your happiness and your joy in these three areas. When something feels deeply good and resonates, wash, rinse and repeat. You are precious, and you deserve joy. Go get it!

Let me know how it goes.

Peace! And amazing joyful hugs.

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I am committed to the success of all peoples. I actively work towards the equitable thriving of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, physical ability, sex, gender or national status. I offer a sliding scale for single parents, active-duty military, veterans, military spouses, the long-term unemployed, refugees and the formerly incarcerated.

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