THE BLOG

The Secret to Happiness

01/09/2013 02:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 11, 2013
Alamy

When I sold my chiropractic practice in New York City and moved to a small, secluded house by the bay, I thought that would make me happy. But guess what? Although I left behind the stress of being a doctor and focused on my lifelong passion, writing music, happiness continued to elude me. The tiny voice of discontent whispered to me, "Now what?" So when the most enlightened soul that I knew spoke to me about the secret to happiness, I listened. My fingers tap tapped my computer keyboard capturing every word.

Pay Attention to What You Like

"Pay attention to what you like," he said. Usually, that sentence would have made me roll my eyes. Wasn't every self-help guru saying something like that? But when Billy said it, I knew he was giving me a pearl. During the 10 months since Billy had died, he'd proved to me that he understood life on earth well beyond what he knew when he was alive.

When Billy first started talking to me a few weeks after his death, I wondered if I was having some kind of grief-induced delusion. But as Billy's appearances continued, I began to look forward to being enveloped by the serenity of his world. The only problem is that when he's finished talking, I'm still here on earth and it isn't easy. Billy is radiating with bliss. I have a cold. He's wearing holy robes. I'm doing laundry. He's floating around becoming the Universe. I'm stuck in traffic. So I asked Billy for the secret to happiness.

He said, "Pleasure can increase your joy. People spend lots of time on things that make them unhappy. To cultivate joy, pay attention to what you like."

I began trying out Billy's recipe for happiness. The things I liked weren't necessarily big things. I lingered over my morning cup of oolong tea, enjoying its warmth in my hand. I bought a bouquet of Calla lilies when I passed a flower shop, played John Coltrane while making lunch, sang to myself while standing on line in a store and focused on what I liked most about people's faces.

What Gives You Pleasure?

Start with a half hour a day, and for that time, focus on what you like. Don't push away what you don't like, but focus on what you do like. Close your eyes and listen to music that you love, notice the sweet smoothness of your favorite chocolate, luxuriate in the scent of lemons, linger on the colors in your environment that please you, take a walk and let nature regenerate you.

Trying to be happy is like trying to hold onto running water. You can't grasp happiness. However, as you pay attention to what you like, it just may show up.

For me, paying attention to what I like has become a spiritual practice. The salty wind against my skin. The voices of seagulls; the taste of coffee; French perfume; scarlet anemones; the purring of my cats. By following Billy's advice, I became happier pretty quickly. It turns out that my world is filled with things that give me pleasure; I just wasn't paying attention.

For more on happiness, click here.

For more by Dr. Anne Kagan, click here.