by Tal Ben-Shahar

On this Election Day, we offer a reminder of where the true source of happiness lies—no matter what happens around us.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I am optimistic about the possibility of change toward a more emotionally prosperous society. I believe that people can find work that will provide them present and future benefit, that people can find education a rich source of the ultimate currency (happiness), that people can find meaningful and pleasurable relationships. I believe that the happiness revolution will come about. I do not, however, believe that these changes will happen overnight.

In my books, I present a neat and structured theory of happiness, but life is neither neat nor structured. A theory, at best, can establish a safe Archimedean point amid the flux of life, a platform from which we can ask the right questions. Of course, making the transition from theory to practice is difficult: changing deeply rooted habits of thinking, transforming ourselves and our world, requires a great deal of effort.

People often abandon theories when they discover how hard it is to put them into practice. It seems odd that most of us are prepared to work extremely hard for quantifiable ends yet give up quickly when it comes to pursuing the ultimate currency. If we want to find happiness, we must commit ourselves to working hard at it, for while there is one easy step to unhappiness—doing nothing—there are no easy steps to happiness.

One of the common barriers to happiness is the false expectation that one thing—a book or a teacher, a princess or a knight, an accomplishment, a prize, or a revelation—will bring us eternal bliss. While all these things can contribute to our well-being, at best they form a small part of the mosaic of a happy life. The fairytale notion of happiness—the belief that something would carry us to the happily ever after—inevitably leads to disappointment. A happy—or happier—life is rarely shaped by some extraordinary life-changing event; rather, it is shaped incrementally, experience by experience, moment by moment.

To realize, to make real, life’s potential for the ultimate currency, we must first accept that “this is it”—that all there is to life is the day-to-day, the ordinary, the details of the mosaic. We are living a happy life when we derive pleasure and meaning while spending time with our loved ones, or leaning something new, or engaging in a project at work. The more our days are filled with those experiences, the happier we become. This is all there is to it.

This post is excerpted from “Happier: Learn the Secrets to to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD. Copyright ©2007, The McGraw-Hill Companies. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Co-founder of WholeBeing Institute, is an author and lecturer who taught the largest course at Harvard on “Positive Psychology” and the third largest on “The Psychology of Leadership”—with a total of over 1,400 students. Author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, he consults and lectures around the world to corporate executives, the general public, and at-risk populations on topics that include happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, mindfulness, and leadership. He holds a doctorate in organizational behavior and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and psychology from Harvard.