Fortunately, I grew up happy, and for many years, I had a very optimistic attitude. But, gradually, my optimism faded.

Fortunately, I grew up happy, and for many years, I had a very optimistic attitude. But, gradually, my optimism faded.

Life is hard, and sometimes the hardest things are the smallest things — slights from friends, disappointments in work, small changes in daily life.

But last week, I started thinking about what Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Last Friday night, I asked myself a question — What makes me most happy? Then from midnight to 2 a.m., I set out to answer my own question.

I asked what had made me happy today and conversely what had made me unhappy? Then I asked the same question about yesterday, last week, last month, last year, five years ago, 20 years ago and so on.

As I wrote, I discovered a contradiction in myself. Two of the things that make me happiest are being with people and being alone!

At age 12, I loved to walk through our sugar bush when the spring flowers were in bloom, daydreaming and thinking about being a teacher. And at age 21 during my first year teaching high school, I walked through the Rockery in Kitchener, Ontario, listening to the sounds and enjoying the flowers.

Even today, I love to spend time working alone in my office, looking out at the beautiful reds and greens in our wooded yard.

Yet, many of my happiest times have been with family and friends. What made me happy 30 years ago was having coffee with good friends like Aldine, Helen and Vernette. And just last week, I was happy while sitting in the garden visiting with Lester and Winnie.

On the other side of the coin, what made me most unhappy last week was the clutter on my desk. Having too much “stuff” makes me unhappy.

It made me think how easy it was to move our whole household 40 years ago and how impossible it would be now. And I thought “stuff” was supposed to make us happy!

The final question I asked myself late last Friday was: What will make me happy tomorrow?

That was the most interesting question of all. Would serious decluttering make me happy? Or having friends over for coffee? Or sitting in my comfortable La-Z-Boy reading?

How about you? What made you happy 40 years ago and last week? Can you draw from those memories to make tomorrow happier? And also ask yourself what made you most unhappy yesterday and when you were age 30.

You may surprise yourself. And I hope you gain some new insights as I did.

But don’t expect miracles. Remember most people have to work at being happy.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) wrote about happiness in a 1930 book, titled “The Conquest of Happiness.” His purpose in the book was “to suggest a cure for the ordinary day-to-day unhappiness from which most people in civilized countries suffer.”

Russell came to the conclusion that happiness is “an achievement rather than a gift of the gods.”

An achievement you have to strive for yourself, by figuring out what brings you happiness and then making it happen.

©2008 Marie Snider

Marie Snider is an award-winning health-care writer and syndicated columnist. Write Marie Snider at or visit her Web site at