The Pursuit of Happiness
Peggy is a 44-year-old married mother of two teenage boys who works as the bookkeeper of the family business. Last year, both her father and her sister died, and her mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Noreen is a 52-year-old divorced mother of two college kids. She's an avid swimmer and works in the operations department of a major airline.
Lachelle is 27 years old, married and has no children. She works two jobs and has two dogs. Last year, four of her friends and two of her family members died within six months of each other.
David is 53 years old, and he's been a funeral director for 30 years. He is married and has two sons.
Lorrie has been married for 15 years and has six children. She works in retail and also serves as the vice president of her PTA.
Satisfaction for Peggy is achieved by surrounding herself with happiness. The most important thing? Her husband. "He is there for me. He doesn't only love me, he appreciates me and makes me feel good," Peggy says. Happiness doesn't depend on money, she says. It's about enjoying the simple things. "Every morning I have a ritual. After the boys have left, [my husband and I] get in the hot tub, and it's our time. We talk about what is going on for the rest of the day. It is just our quality time just to stay connected."
David, the funeral director, says he's developed phrases that help him keep a positive outlook. "I will say, 'It's a marvelous Monday. It's a terrific Tuesday,'" he says. Although he deals with death daily, David says his job is anything but depressing. "Most people look upon funeral service as a sad profession. I look upon it as a profession where I'm helping people at a very difficult time in their lives," he says. "Being successful in life is not what really matters. Being significant in life is really the core root of what matters."
Lachelle says she lives by the philosophy, "Negative out, positive in." She says she believes happiness is a conscious effort. "It's about claiming what's yours. If you want a positive life, you need to think positively and act positively," she says. "I do my best not to compare myself with others. I've always felt that what one person has may not be destined for me."
Dr. Holden says those looking for happiness often don't realize they already have it. It's a lesson that he says he was lucky to learn at age 18 from a spiritual teacher. "He said, 'Look, actually, Robert, you're already happy.' And I said, 'Well, that's great, but I don't feel it. So tell me, what do I have to do?'" Dr. Holden recalls. "And he said, 'You have to understand that the pursuit of happiness is a mistake. It's like, you don't chase happiness out there. You learn that you're happy inside you and then you go running. Then you go into the world.'"
When looking at the guests who scored the highest on the happiness scale, Dr. Holden says he instantly recognizes the keys to their satisfaction. For David, it's his job. "Your job just helps you to have a great perspective on life, which is, 'We're just here for a short spell, and it's really important to make the most of it,'" Dr. Holden says.
Lachelle uses the law of attraction to stay happy, Dr. Holden says. "Lachelle, basically what I see is that you've chosen to be an optimist. You have had some difficult times in your life and you've had bad circumstances, but you've made great choices. And this is how the law of attraction works," he says. "What I found is that basically we have beliefs about life, and our perception gathers evidence to prove that our beliefs are right. So an optimist believes that good things can come from bad situations."
The law of attraction could make a big difference for Noreen, Dr. Holden says. "The way the law of attraction works is that as we increase our self-acceptance, we attract more happiness," he says.
Dr. Holden says that Noreen needs to realize that she is, indeed, a great person. One way she can do that is to surround herself with people who already know that. "I think it's also great to have some friends around you who can remind you, because we do forget," Dr. Holden says.
Noreen says she feels like she's taking her first step on the road to happiness. "I feel like I'm starting. I can feel it," she says.
Dr. Holden gets to the root of her dissatisfaction. "You're so good at helping everybody else, I think you're in danger of leaving yourself out of your own life," Dr. Holden says. "What we have here is a classic what I call a martyr ethic, which is where we're putting everybody else first instead of ourselves."
In fact, Dr. Holden says Lorrie can help herself and give an important gift to her family—her own happiness. "I know you ... want your children to be happy, and I tell you this: You can't just tell them to be happy. You show them with your example. And that's the big key," Dr. Holden says.
Lorrie can start today by simply asking for help. "I think the big mistake here, and it's a common one, is that we try to do our lives by ourselves," Dr. Holden says. "It's time to stop being a super mom and start being a real mom."
How's he doing? Oprah says Reggie "complained so much that he was getting whiplash from changing [wrists]." For some extra help in looking on the bright side, Oprah sends him to a class in "laughing yoga."
First developed in India, Laughter Yoga is now practiced in 53 countries around the world. Reggie's instructor, Jeffrey Briar—one of 48 certified Laughter Yoga instructors in the United States—says Laughter Yoga's positive effects are no joke. "Laughter relieves all the negative effects of stress," he says. "It strengthens the abdominal organs and help you get those six-pack abs we're all looking for. It oxygenates the bloodstream. It releases endorphins, the body's natural painkiller."
The class starts cold and Reggie remains cynical. "We're going to start with nothing and laugh for no reason, and you'll feel better," Jeffrey says. But as they move on to more advanced moves—like lion laughter, naughty naughty, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—Reggie really starts to catch the laughing bug.
Dr. Holden says that chronic complainers like Reggie actually live in fear of happiness. Their condition—which he dubs "happy-chondria"—is based on a belief that any happiness carries an eventual fall and price.
"Rather than have everything be perfect and full, I'll have it be quite good and complain," he says. "Reggie's got to dare to let life be great, and trust that happiness can happen and that it can last."
Liz knew that making a big change meant taking an even bigger risk. "I was about to turn 30 and I realized it was time for me to live the life I wanted for myself, not the life that other people wanted for me," she says. "It's not making me happy to sit here at this desk anymore. I cannot blame anyone else for my unhappiness. I completely believe life is short. You do not get a second chance. I was standing at an edge, and for me it was time to jump."
Following her dream is "like laughter in my heart," she says. "It's hard to quantify that fulfillment that comes with it, but it greatly exceeds the compensation that I sacrificed."
"It's always about tomorrow, so you're chasing 'more,' 'next' and 'there,'" he says. "You promise yourself that when you get there, you'll be happy. And I promise you, you won't, because you'll always set another destination to go for."
Instead, Dr. Holden says if you are unhappy with your life or looking to improve your score on the satisfaction test, there are two things you can do. "We have to learn to let go of our past, we have to give up all hopes for a perfect past. Let the past go, it's gone." After that, he says, "Take a vow of kindness. Be kinder to yourself and to others.
"It's never too late to be happy," he says.