Who are those strangers, really?

I used to think that if I had a negative judgment about someone I didn't know, it meant I was a rotten person.

This felt especially true if my judgment was toward a person of color, or a non-English speaker, or someone with a disability, or anyone else who tends to get discriminated against in our society.

I was scared of people finding out about all these judgments for fear of being labeled a racist, or a xenophobe, or simply a jerk.

But the truth is, I have a lot of judgments, about all sorts of people I don't know, on a regular basis. People at the grocery store. People walking around town. People with their kids on the playground. People in the news. Sometimes I do link the judgments to race or class, but it might also be the expression on their face, or the way they talk, or the kind of shirt they're wearing, or something even pettier than that.

What's striking to me is how automatic the process is:

  1. I encounter someone unknown
  2. I feel some fear (because unknown = potentially scary!)
  3. I justify my fear with a negative judgment

Those negative judgments can be enticing when I feel afraid, because they offer a sort of safety through certainty. (If I know there's a potential enemy out there, then I can protect myself, right?)  But the problem is, they're usually wrong! Or at the very least, based on very incomplete information. And they can easily magnify and globalize my original fear, so it's not just this particular person I have to protect myself against, but a whole category of people.

Holding on to negative judgments like that creates a scary world in which I feel vulnerable to people who are unknown and different from me. 

I don't know about you, but I really dislike feeling that way about the people around me. And so lately I've been trying to add step 4: reminding myself that the fear and judgment simply mean I don't know the person yet (or don't know enough).

I love that 4th step because it helps me let go of the false certainty of my judgment, and find some peace and humility in remembering how much I don't know. Who is that person, anyway? What is their life like? What might they be experiencing right now? Curiosity helps me expand my perspective and maybe even learn something new about a person.

As a human being, I'm not sure there's much I can do to avoid steps 1-3. I will always be encountering new people who are different from me, fear is a natural adaptive response to that novelty, and there are practically unlimited judgments and stereotypes I can draw on to turn someone unknown into a scary "other." But that's not where it has to end, for any of us.

I'm curious how you relate to the experience of judging and stereotyping strangers. What happens when you catch yourself doing it?  

And what about those people you struggle with whom you have known a long time? In what ways could you get curious about them?

It's never too late to say thank you

This week I received a text message from someone thanking me for a card I sent him over a year ago when a good friend of his had died. I'd mailed him a short note with three connection cards inside: You are loved. You are appreciated. You are not alone.

I know it was those three cards because he sent me a photo of them. They have been taped to his front door for months.

How cool is that?!

I don't think I will ever get tired of the way it feels to reach out to people with small gestures like that, not just because it feels good to do, but because there is always a chance that it will have a much larger impact than I imagine.

If you feel a tug to write to someone today, I highly recommend giving in to the urge. 

And by all means, if you have been avoiding telling someone "thank you" because you think too much time has passed, just go do it!  Sometimes "late" thank you's are the most powerful ones of all.

How to connect in an instant

I used to be scared to connect with strangers.

I know this because for a college psychology class one week I had an assignment to smile at people I didn't know. I remember trying it exactly one time, and it feeling so awkward and embarrassing that I couldn't bring myself to do it again.

What cured me of my fear was an activity during a personal growth seminar that got repeated several times over the course of a long weekend. We would break up into pairs, sit knee-to-knee, look into the other person's eyes, and take turns listening to each other's experiences, fears, and desires.

As far as I could tell, it was awkward for everybody. But it was the assignment, and we did it, and it actually ended up feeling really good.

I learned that weekend that it is possible to experience a sense of deep connection with a perfect stranger in a matter of minutes. And it doesn't take much longer to experience that same level of connection with a whole room full of them.

We know this, of course. It happens after natural disasters, for instance, when diverse communities naturally come together to support one another.

But it doesn't require a tragedy.

At the end of my personal growth weekend, it was clear to me that anyone could have been in that seminar with me, and I would have left feeling love and compassion toward them. Since then, I've realized it doesn't even take sharing a seminar to feel that way about someone. All it takes is a positive intention and a few moments of eye contact.

Last weekend, I had the joy of participating in the World's Biggest Eye Contact Experiment on Boston Common (see the news story here and more event details here), and got to witness that same magical connection happen over and over. In a time when there is so much fear and blame in the air, it was a great reminder of how powerful, and possible, it is to create something different.

I don't need to know the specifics of your joys and struggles to know that you have them, just like I do. And the ability to remember that connects me not only to you, but to everyone else on the planet.

If you've never taken a minute to just look into someone's eyes -- and allow them to look into yours -- I highly recommend it. I would love to hear what it's like for you.

How hard does work need to be?

Have you ever made something harder for yourself than it needed to be?

I caught myself doing it recently.

Last week, I set an explicit goal to arrange six separate conversations with people on a particular topic, and within an hour of doing that, an opportunity for the first of those conversations practically fell into my lap.

"What luck!" I might have said. "I'm off to a great start already, and I hardly had to do a thing!"

That would have been a great happiness-inducing response.

But instead, I found myself automatically thinking, "That didn't count."

It wasn't fair! It was too easy! Shouldn't I have to muster up courage and overcome obstacles to reach my goals? Shouldn't I have to work hard, and experience struggle and sacrifice?

It made me wonder what I was actually committed to. Was I just committed to achieving my goal, or was I also committed to doing it in a particular way (namely, the hard way)?

Apparently, I was committed to both. I did end up reaching my goal, but the process didn't feel good. All week, I was anxious about it, wondering what "counted" and what didn't, whether I was working hard enough. I created extra work and struggle for myself, despite the grace that was there right from the beginning.

The more I reflect on it, the more sad and ridiculous that mindset seems. Why would I want to make things harder than they need to be? How does that serve anyone? It just means spending more time stuck in my head, and less time out actually connecting to and caring for other people.

What if, instead, I were simply grateful for those things that come easily? Not only would I be happier, but I think I'd get a lot more meaningful and useful work done, too.

I wonder, of course: Can you relate to any of this in your own life? Do you ever feel guilty for receiving things that feel unearned? How do you respond to life's unfairness in general? How do your thoughts about all of this affect your happiness?

The gift of asking for help

Today was jam-packed with back-to-back meetings and activities, including an important evening event at my son's school. It is now late, past 9 p.m., and the kitchen is still a mess from dinner. And I have a blog post and newsletter to prepare for tomorrow morning.

I turn on some calming music and start emptying the dishwasher, preparing myself for potentially a very long night. In this particular moment, I'm not resentful, but I am feeling kind of sad, and a little afraid for what tomorrow will look like on just a few hours of sleep.

Then I remember I can ask for help -- even for this job that I have voluntarily claimed as my responsibility.

I go upstairs and ask my husband if he can do the dishes tonight. He is happy to. And so here I am, writing, as the kitchen magically gets cleaned up around me.

It is a gift I wouldn't have received unless I'd asked. My husband wouldn't have even known I needed it. 

This is such a tiny example, but still it makes me wonder: How many gifts do we rob ourselves of, simply by not asking for them?

How many times to do we rob other people of the joy of making us happy because we don't let them know what we would actually like?

How often do we assume we have to suffer and sacrifice, when it's really not true? Does that suffering and sacrificing serve anyone?

What if we didn't feel like we had to be totally overwhelmed before asking for help? What if we remembered how much people want to contribute to each other? What if we helped make it easy for them?

I also wonder, as always: How does this resonate with you?

What is your relationship like with asking for help? Is it easier in some circumstances than others? Is there help could you use right now? Who might be delighted to give it to you, if you gave them the chance?

How do you deal with people who offend you?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who sends my kid to martial arts classes for more than just the exercise.

We are blessed to have a number of great dojos in my town, including the one where my son goes. In yesterday's "mat chat" at the end of class, the sensei talked about a good way to disarm someone who criticizes you: simply disagree.

For example, if someone tells you your hair looks stupid, you can say, "I don't think so. I actually really like my hair!" And it takes all the fun out of picking on you.

Notice that you're not telling the other person they are wrong. You are not criticizing them for being mean. In fact, you're not turning the focus toward them at all. You're just sharing what's true for you, because your perspective is valid.

The trick, of course, is to know what is true for you -- what you believe, what you care about, how you want to see yourself, and how you want to be in the world. Otherwise, it's all too easy for other people to knock you off balance and distract you with their agenda.

All of this is part of the skill of setting boundaries, and it is something we adults need to practice, too.

By now, most of us have learned not to directly criticize people to their faces, but that hardly keeps us from saying things that can be taken as offensive or threatening. And we can easily find ourselves in conversations where we feel offended -- by someone's political views, religious beliefs, parenting style, or anything else that just feels different and wrong to us.

How, in those situations, do you disarm potential conflict without hiding what's true for you?

How do you maintain your boundaries?

How do you simply disagree?

I would love to hear what you've learned about this in your own life. What kinds of approaches have worked for you? How have you become more skillful over time? Where are you still challenged? What else might help?

Thanks, as always, for sharing.

On "daughtering"

Last fall, my (then) 11-year-old and I went to a great mother/daughter weekend retreat with Sil & Eliza Reynolds in which they taught us about "daughtering." This is a word they made up as a counterpart to "mothering" to describe the role that a girl plays when she actively participates in creating the kind of relationship she wants with her mom. 

I think it is brilliant.

It has been helpful in my relationship with my child, who has started "daughtering" me in ways I really appreciate, like asking for help, letting me know her needs, and suggesting new ways of doing things that would work better for her. It is such a huge improvement over sarcasm, eye-rolling, and disengagement!

More broadly, the concept of daughtering is a reminder to me that I can have agency in all of my relationships, even when I don't have formal authority. If I don't like how things are working, I can do something about it! I can show up and participate. I don't have to be a victim, silently stewing while I wait for the other person to read my mind.

What about you? Have you ever tried to help someone (boss, parent, friend, spouse, doctor, etc.) support you more effectively?

If so, what was it like? What did you learn?

What is alive for you?

Earlier I thought I was going to write about the name calling and vitriol being traded back and forth related to confederate monuments in the U.S. The lack of listening and dialogue makes me sad, and there are so many things I would like to see instead.

But here I am, sitting down to write, realizing that my earlier topic is not really "alive" for me at the moment.

What is alive for me right now? What am I aware of? What do I have to say?

In the moment, I'm feeling grateful for things. Grateful that I can hear an outdoor movie playing on the town common near my house -- and also grateful that I can go to YouTube to flip on some white noise to block it out so I can concentrate. Grateful for some conflict I've been having in my family, which I think is going to lead to positive changes. Grateful for the cantaloupe I'm eating, that I thought was past its prime but turned out to be perfectly ripe and delicious. Grateful to have an inkling of where this blog post may be going, and feeling good about it.

For several months now, I've been hosting community conversations that give people an opportunity to reflect on that question of what's alive for them, and share about those things with each other. We don't try to solve anyone's problems or come to any consensus; just provide space to hear ourselves think, and see what shows up.

It's a form of mindfulness practice, really.  It's an opportunity to notice how many thoughts and feelings we have in each moment, and how easily they can shift and change. It's also an opportunity to notice how other people affect us, and what it takes to stay present to ourselves even in the face of discomfort.

Each time the conversation is different, depending on who shows up and what's happening for them, but I always come away with something valuable.

I just scheduled four more of these conversations for the fall through my Alive & Connected Meetup group, and would love for you to come if you're in the area. I can also facilitate private sessions, either 1:1 or with a group of your choice.

In the meantime, why not take a deep breath and notice what's alive for you right now?

I'd love to hear.

What to do with the rage?

What do you do when you feel rage? I'm not talking about annoyance or frustration or anger, but full-blown primal rage.

I felt that rage this week. It was powerful and intense, and wasn't interested in being placated with re-assuring words.

At first my rage was directed toward a specific person. (It doesn't matter who.) I hate him, I hate him, I HATE HIM! I found myself screaming one day, driving alone in my car.

But what's interesting is that when I started taking those thoughts to the next level, wishing the person dead, or even just out of my life, I couldn't do it. I realized it wasn't actually what I wanted. All the things that enrage me -- cruelty, dishonesty, hypocrisy, short-sightedness, ignorance, cowardice, selfishness -- they don't die, even when people die.

What I wanted was not to feel powerless.

And what I was raging against was not a person or even a group of people, but the human condition itself.

Poor humans. Here we are, trapped in vulnerable bodies, with unreliable brains, up against situations that are soooo much bigger than us and often make no sense. How could we not feel powerless? How could we not feel rage? 

I sat with that rage for quite a while, and watched it turn into grief.

Being human is hard enough. Why do we insist on making it harder by going to war with each other? By making up stories about "good" guys and "bad" guys? By getting all self-righteous and judgmental and pretending we know things about people that we simply don't know? By getting so caught up in proving we're right about other people's flaws that we lose sight of what we actually want?

It's so easy to be fooled into thinking that cruelty, dishonesty, and the like are problems out there that we can just find and eliminate, but they're not. Those things are built into all of us. They are built into me. And I've got to find a way to live with that.

Sometimes, that way involves screaming. And crying. And then taking a deep breath and moving on.

Whatever may be happening in your own life, I hope you will hold some compassion for yourself. Being human is not easy, and I think we could all use a little more tenderness right about now.

Happiness cards in action

I was in Ithaca, NY this past weekend for a seminar, and had two fun opportunities to use my connection cards.

I left a "You are Appreciated" card for the woman whose beautiful garden and little free library outside of her home made me smile.

And I left a "You are Awesome" card for the hotel housekeeper, who had made this cute little duck out of washcloths:

In this case, I left the card for the hotel... but can you imagine if a hotel or B&B left cards like that for their customers? I bet it would totally make people's days.

If you had cards of your own, what would you do with them?

If you want to give it a try, you can order here.

My dream for the country

Each day I receive an email from Brian Johnson at Optimize, with a new suggestion for how to "+1" my life by getting just a little better in some way. One of the recent ones was about creating a dream for the future that is so powerful and exciting that that it practically pulls you toward it. It was a really good one for me to reflect on.

There are a lot of things I want, but the truth is that most of them don't compel me into action. I want to be rich and famous, for instance. I want people worldwide to love and admire me. I want to live in a beautiful, clean, comfortable home. I want to eat nutritious, delicious, locally-sourced meals in just the right quantities. I want to be healthy and fit and strong and beautiful. I want to be a good parent, spouse, friend, and neighbor. 

But when I take those desires and apply the "pull" test, none of them feel right. My chest gets all tight, I start feeling anxious, and my mind starts trying to talk me into why I should get excited about them, perhaps to compensate for not actually feeling that way at all. 

Underneath, I'm thinking, Who cares? Sure, it'd be nice to be rich, or any of those other things, and I really admire people who know that's what they need to do in life and just go for it. But for me, the oomph isn't there. Those desires feel at once both challenging to attain and not big enough.

A dream that inspires me has to be about more than just me. It has to be something I know I can't accomplish alone. And it has to be specific enough that I'll know for sure when I see it. Black babies playing with white babies is really specific, as is women having the right to vote. Both were way bigger than any one person, and couldn't have been done alone. 

What I'm dreaming about today is national political leaders who treat each other with love and respect.

In this dream, both the public and the media demand this integrity from them, and are eager to both reward it and emulate it themselves.

Specifically, I can imagine a Presidential debate that would leave me inspired and hopeful for the future of the country. I can imagine a moderator actively bringing out the best in each candidate, and inviting them to speak to their common goals. I can imagine a public eager to help their next President be a good leader, no matter who wins. I can imagine a Presidential election actually bringing people together.

Like all good big dreams, I don't really know how this might come about, but I can think of lots of things that would help, and the idea of doing those things excites me... even pulls me!

If you know of others dreaming a similar dream, please put me in touch with them. I would love to connect.

And of course I'm also wondering how you relate to your own dreams. Is there something that's pulling you? Something you've thought should be pulling you, but maybe isn't? I would love to hear.

Family Camp Update

A few weeks ago, I shared my plan for showing up at family camp this year, and I promised I'd let you all know how it went. So here is my report.

First of all: I did it! I offered what I said I would offer, which was a daily early-morning gathering for people who wanted to get centered and connected to each other before launching into the day. I advertised it each night at dinner, and got up early to facilitate each morning.

I also showed up in other ways that were new for me. I participated in the annual ping pong challenge (which previously I'd avoided out of fear of embarrassment). I slid down the natural waterslide in the nearby river (which previously I'd avoided for the same reason). I made up this game for people to play with my connection cards. And I invited everyone to contribute memories of the week to a gratitude jar. It felt great!

It was interesting to me that the more I contributed to the group, the easier it was for me to see and appreciate the ways that *other* people were contributing. The people who led sing-a-longs on the porch, created entertaining posters to hang in the bathroom stalls, initiated really engaging conversations, and so so much more, each made the week richer and more enjoyable because they showed up.

All of those same people were there last year too, offering similar gifts and opportunities, but I was too busy feeling lonely and isolated to appreciate them. This year, I was one of them, and it made me feel connected and grateful.

Have you experienced this correlation in your own life, between your own willingness to "show up" with other people, and your appreciation of them? Or your enjoyment of an activity as a whole? Where, or with whom, do you show up most fully and consistently?

Conversely, what happens when you hide? When and where do you do it? What does it feel like? If it's unpleasant, what helps you remember that there could be other options?

Feel free to comment below, or send me a private message. I always love hearing from you.

Free Listening is Weird!

Three times now, I've gone to Boston Common with a small group of people to hold Free Listening signs and talk to people who want to talk. Inspired by the Urban Confessional Free Listening Project, I see this as a fun, easy way to offer loving attention to people, be reminded of our shared humanity, and appreciate our differences.

At one of these listening sessions, a reporter from NBC Boston asked to interview us, and created this this short article and video about what we were doing. It got posted twice on the NBC Boston Facebook page (on July 11 and July 14), and generated a ton of comments.

A lot of people were inspired by the idea, but I was struck by how many people thought it was weird, laughable, and even contemptible. 

I would actually love to talk to those people. I wonder if they could help me find better ways to have the kind of impact I want to have.

I would tell them something like this:

What I want is to live in a world where people are good to each other, and listen to each other, and are not so afraid and suspicious of each other.

I know I'm not alone in wanting that. When I ask people what kind of changes they would like to see in the world, those kind of things nearly always top the list: more compassion, more empathy, more community. You probably want those things in your own life, too. But how do we get there?

I understand that free listening is weird. It's also time-consuming and, on its own, probably limited in impact. But our human relationships matter to me, and I want to do something. If you can think of a better way to use my time and skills to inspire people care for one another, I would love to hear it.

What about you? Do you have ideas for me? If so, please pass them on.

Finding the Courage to Show Up

Next week I will be up at a family camp in New Hampshire with no computer and no cell service.

Up until now, I've had an uneasy relationship with this particular camp, which we're attending for the third year in a row. While I love the opportunity for lots of hiking and outdoor time with my family, and hot meals cooked for us every day, this is the same camp at which, two years ago, I let a kid get washed over a dam. And last year, I was just really lonely there, pretending to want alone time, but mostly just feeling disconnected and afraid to reach out to people. Yuck.

This year I am committed to having a different experience. I want to actually show up and be me! I want to offer something of value to my fellow campers. 

My current plan is to offer a daily morning gathering for anyone who wants to attend, similar to the Alive & Connected meetups I've been facilitating. This will be a time for people to check in with themselves, shares what's on their minds, and set some positive intentions for the day. Maybe I'll offer a time for sharing and reflection at the end of the day as well.

Will anyone besides me even show up to these gatherings? Who knows. But I do know it's important that I show up, if for no other person than for myself. My hope is that the impact will go well beyond that.

I will let you know how it goes when I'm back in Internet land. In the meantime, I'm curious to hear how you relate to large-ish social gatherings. When have they felt best to you? What gifts do (or could) you bring to those groups, and how/why does it make a difference? How have you noticed other people contributing to social gatherings that you can be grateful for? Maybe you could take a couple of minutes right now to let them know you appreciate it!

I definitely appreciate you. Thank you for being part of my world, and for everything you bring to it.

What I want for my birthday

I turn 40 in a couple of weeks! July 18th, to be exact. I am so excited.

I thought I was going to throw myself a party to celebrate, or set up a special getaway with friends, but it turns out that's not what I actually want. What I've realized I really want, more than anything, is to see the Gift of Happiness grow.

I want to see more people taking charge of their own happiness, and sharing that happiness with others. And I want to find and connect with as many of those people as possible. 

To that end, here is a birthday wishlist that I hope you will read and share. And if anything on it would feel good to do, please do it!

If you want to give me a gift, here is a partial list of things I'd love -- many of which won't cost you a thing, but would really make a difference to me.

  1. Tell people about The Gift of Happiness. Seriously, this is one of the most wonderful things you could do for me. Share this blog post, my website, or one of my YouTube videos or Facebook posts. Let people know what I'm up to, why you think it's great, and why they might be interested, too. 
  2. If you don't know enough about Gift of Happiness to be able to share it, look through my website and let me know what's missing or unclear. How could I make it easier for you to share this with people?
  3. Order a set of cards from me, and use them to make people smile:
  4. Write me a testimonial on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Alignable.
  5. Set up a time to let me brainstorm with you about ways you could enjoy bringing more happiness and connection into your work, family, community or personal life. Use Appointy or just email me.
  6. Introduce me to people you know who are doing similar or complementary things and might be interested in connecting and/or collaborating somehow.
  7. Invite me to facilitate a workshop or discussion for your organization, team, or group of friends.
  8. Join one of my Meetup groups or online communities.
  9. Introduce me to reporters, bloggers, podcasters, or anyone else whose audience might be interested in what I'm doing.
  10. Finally, do something today that will bring you joy and satisfaction, because ultimately, that's what this is all about.

Thank you so much for helping me celebrate. I hope we all have a wonderful year ahead.

With love & gratitude,

Do you have to, or do you want to?

This week, I led my very first Happiness Challenge, with a group of 50 participants.

The assignment was simple: Think of something small that you know tends to make you happy, and commit to doing it every day, Monday-Friday.

In some ways, it's an easy exercise: Take a walk outside? Listen to music? Notice what I'm grateful for? No problem! I love doing those things.

But it was interesting for me to notice how quickly my desires could start feeling like burdens once a commitment was involved -- as if they were not things I wanted to do, but things I had to do. As if I had no choice in the matter.

I kept catching myself in "have to" mode, and reminding myself of what I actually wanted: not to prove anything, or please anyone, but simply to experience joy!

I also realized how often I do this in the rest of my life, seeing myself as a victim of my obligations and "to do" lists rather than the creator of them.

Is it something you can identify with, too? If so, I invite you to join me in playing with shifting those have to's into want to's.

Do you have to go to work, or do you want to go to work? Do you have to get groceries, or do you want to get groceries? Do you have to study for that test, or do you want to study for that test? You get the idea.

Sometimes just shifting the language around is enough to create happiness.

How to REALLY inspire community


I saw this poster on the commuter rail to Boston the other week, and started wondering what would make it a more effective advertisement for someone like me.

If a company wanted to be powerfully associated with things like joy, love and community, what might their Gift of Happiness-inspired advertising campaign look like?

Here's what I came up with:

What do you think? Would an advertising campaign like that catch your eye? Do you know companies that already advertise that way? What other creative ideas do you have for companies that want to make a significant positive difference in society?

Hygge for homebuyers

I love thinking about small, meaningful ways that business owners and service professionals can surprise and delight their customers.

One idea came to me recently after I received this article about hygge and happiness from a real estate professional who must have come across my own blog post on the subject.

It's fun to tell people about hygge, I thought, but why not help new homeowners actually experience it for themselves?

I elaborate on the idea in this video.

What do you think? Does the idea appeal to you? What other ways do you -- or could you -- delight new home owners?

The Gift of Happiness... and Pancakes

There are some businesses that just "get" the Gift of Happiness philosophy. They want to delight their employees, customers and communities -- and they DO it! -- in ways that are simple, creative, and fun.

Snooze is one of those businesses that just gets it. 

In the video below, I share some of the reasons I love this restaurant that I visited only once, and why it so perfectly embodies, and helps me explain, the Gift of Happiness approach.

What other companies do you know of that have created a culture of joy, gratitude and giving? How did they do it? How would you bring this kind of energy into your own organization?

Having problems is not a problem

The problem is that you think there's a problem...  and even that is not actually a problem.

That phrase came to me earlier today, as I was pondering what has started to become a common interaction with people when I share that I am a happiness consultant.

I tell them about the work I do, and they start telling me about things that are wrong with them and their life.  It feels as if they're saying, "Help, I have all these problems. Please, tell me how to fix them so I can be happy."

I can unwittingly find myself placed into the role of "expert," with other person hoping that I will tell them something they haven't heard before, something they can do to make those problems go away so they can be happier.

It is easy for me to experience anxiety and self-doubt in these situations, as if my value and legitimacy rest on being able to come up with a good answer for them -- when the truth is, I don't have one. Because there isn't one.

There isn't a good answer because the question is based on a flawed premise: that our unhappiness is due to objective "problems," and that getting rid of them is a prerequisite for happiness.

It is just not true.

In fact, that whole anxious problem-fixing mentality is what sets us up for unhappiness in the first place. It's a lot easier to experience happiness when we remember that the whole concept of a "problem" is subjective and made up.

Certainly there are some experiences that we like more than others. We don't have to like feeling angry or anxious or depressed, or that We've lost something or someone important to us, or the myriad ways that human beings mistreat each other.  But just because we don't like something doesn't make it a problem. It's just the way life is right now.

Happiness comes from seeing that we have a choice about how to think about the unpleasant experiences of life, and how to act in response to them. It comes from giving ourselves permission to experience what it's actually like to be us, and to act according to what we want for ourselves and others, without having to judge any of it as good or bad.

Reflecting on all of this, I am suddenly eager for the next time I start feeling compelled to help fix things about other people's lives, as an opportunity to practice shifting out of my own worry and self-doubt. It's not a problem that there's this problem, I will tell myself. It's not even a problem that I'm seeing it as a problem. All of it is just life.

It's from that peace of "there is no problem" that all the good answers come.