Suck it, Barbara Ehrenreich: Science says that positive thinking can make you happier! “Despite the finding that happiness is partially genetically determined, and despite the finding that life situations have a smaller influence on our happiness than we think they do, we argue that still a large portion of happiness is in our power to change,” says UC Riverside psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. The article includes five activities in which you can engage to make yourself more chipper. (There is also, naturally, an iPhone app.) They are mostly on the order of thinking nice thoughts about yourself and others. Fair enough-some of these things very well may work-but I still have doubts. Why? Because I personally know the actual secret to happiness. There are five simple rules, and a bonus caveat. Would you like to hear them? Very well, come closer.
1. Be kind to other people. Ignore those people to whom you cannot be kind. When you are seized with the urge to be rude to or about someone, clear your mind, preferably with a drink.
2. Be content with your own successes, whatever they are. No one is doing “better” than you, even in cases where this seems demonstrably untrue. What do they have that you don’t? Money? Healthcare? Famous Golfer-amounts of sex? Focus on whatever you have in your own life-it could be something as simple as a favorite CD, or a bottle of bourbon-and remind yourself that these are tangible things that bring you happiness no matter what.
3. Listen. There is nothing nicer you can do than listen to another person unspool their own sorrows and insecurities and general discontentment with life. Nod frequently, leave plenty of spaces for them to continue, pat them on the shoulder appreciatively when appropriate. If this is particularly difficult to do-and we all know someone it is almost impossible to tolerate in these situations-try to have the conversation over a series of drinks. You will feel better for having been “a sympathetic ear,” you will feel better about your own life, and you will feel better because of the drinks.
4. Endure suffering as stoically as possible. Surely you’ve had one of those dark nights where the idea of a quick plunge off the fire escape seems like an eminently sensible solution. In many cases you are probably right. But it will pass, I promise. And there’s a new season of “Party Down” coming soon; do you really want to miss that? Probably best to put a lock on the window, hide the cutlery, and hole up with a nice bottle of something until you start to feel better about things. Or pass out.
5. Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Grab a couple of drinks with them.
It seems like common sense, right? Be nice, be good, be kind, don’t be envious, keep things in perspective, remind your loved ones how special they are to you, try to find the best in everyone. Now I personally cannot adhere to any of these rules all the time. Odds are, neither can you. We are human beings, not saints. Most days you will fail at all of these, several times, frequently simultaneously. It’s okay. That is the real secret to happiness: Knowing that mostly you are not going to be happy. Once you accept that, you will find yourself surprisingly relaxed. Particularly if you keep a bottle nearby, which is pretty much key to the whole thing. Here endeth the lesson.