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The Happiness Lesson I Learned From A Barry Manilow Concert

08/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now.

I've been thinking a lot lately about enthusiasm. Enthusiasim--the aptitude for enjoyment--is a key to happiness. But the thing is, it's cooler not to be too enthusiastic. There's a goofiness to enthusiasm, an innocence, a readiness to be pleased. It take energy, humility, and engagement.

On the other hand, taking refuge in irony, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui, is less taxing. Making cutting remarks shows your discernment and your sophistication.

It's also less risky. I think back to one evening, when, as part of a surprise birthday party for one of my best friends, we went to a Barry Manilow concert, because my friend loves Barry Manilow. Afterward, I reflected that it showed considerable strength of character for my friend to be such an avowed Barry Manilow fan. After all, Barry Manilow is...well, Barry Manilow. It would be so much safer to mock his music, or to enjoy it in an ironic, campy way, than to admire it whole-heartedly as she did. Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.

Plus, her enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone who was with her. "Emotional contagion" is the psychological phenomenon by which we "infect" each other with our moods. The fact that my friend was so happy to be at the concert lifted all of us up. (Remember the Second Splendid Truth: One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.)

I've been trying to embrace this kind of zest.

Also, I've noticed that irony and world-weariness allow people a level of detachment from their choices: fast food, American Idol, a country-club membership. Enthusiasm implies an acceptance of that activity or possession; a discontented or detached air allows a person both to embrace and to disavow something.

I know someone who is constantly making fun of people who follow celebrity gossip. At the same time, it's obvious from the disdainful remarks she makes that she herself follows celebrity gossip very closely. I know this because I don't follow celebrity gossip, and I usually have no idea what she's talking about. I have to bit my tongue not to quote Samuel Johnson's observation of Alexander Pope, "Pope's scorn of the Great is too often repeated to be real; no man thinks much of that which he despises."

It seems to me that the happier course would be to allow herself to be enthusiastic, and enjoy celebrity gossip--or to stop spending any time on it, or wearying others with her objections.

For my own part, I know that once I enthusiastically embraced my passion for children's literature, I dramatically boosted the happiness I got from it. Expressing my enthusiasm increased my feelings of enthusiasm - which fed directly into feelings of happiness.

So let yourself be enthuasistic! Admit that some goofy song is your favorite. Or whatever it might be.

If you'd like to read more about happiness, check out Gretchen's daily blog, The Happiness Project, or sign up for her monthly newsletter.