LifestyleLiving a Better Life


What is the key to happiness? Here's how you can 'practice'

Posted at 5:58 AM, Aug 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-06 17:36:21-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — August is Happiness Happens Month. So, what better time to check in with yourself and see how you’re doing, right? Are you happy? Could you be happier? An Ann Arbor psychologist and author recommends you practice.

In the words of the Dalai Lama: “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “If you want to be”
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Happiness is not a goal; it’s a by-product.”


The key to happiness – as you can imagine -- depends on who you ask.

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a nice day like today than go out and photograph,” said Tim Tonachella – a retiree who comes to downtown Detroit to snap pictures several times a week. He said that’s what makes him happy.

Jennifer King of Plymouth said it’s simple, “Love. I think love is the answer to happiness.”

Dane Thorwaldson of Detroit explained happiness should come with some serious introspection.

“I would say the key to happiness would be willing to take the time to know what makes you tick,” said Thorwaldson.

Do people choose to be happy? Or are some people just happier than others naturally?

“I think happiness is a choice. So, I choose to be happy,” said Leigh Weir of Southfield with a smile.

“I feel like the key to happiness is finding what really matters to you.” – Sonia Quinones of Detroit who loves working with children and being with her family in her spare time.


I decided to talk with an expert -- Dr. Harry Cohen – an Ann Arbor psychologist, executive coach, and author of Be the Sun – Not the Salt.

He also happens to be one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.

“Can you train yourself to be happier?” I asked Dr. Cohen.

“Absolutely!” he answered, beaming.

I followed up with the next logical question, “How do we do this?”

“You practice,” he said with emphasis.

Specifically, Dr. Cohen said if we want to be happier, we need to practice deliberate acts of kindness.

“That’s the key to happiness. But you do [those acts of kindness] with intent. You say, ‘Did I do any good today? No, I didn’t.’ Well, then do some! Go help somebody. When you help someone in any way, shape, or form, you feel better. They feel better. And someone watching feels better.”

And Dr. Cohen said don’t complicate this. Nice things don’t have to be big. Little gestures of kindness go a long way.

“Just call a friend. Text a friend. Tell someone something sweet. Offer someone a kind blessing. Hold the door. Smile at a stranger. Pay for somebody’s coffee in the Starbucks line. Any of these deliberate acts of kindness will make you happier,” said Dr. Cohen.

And if you practice this every day, doing deliberate acts of kindness should hopefully become happiness-forming.

Bottom line – Dr. Cohen contends doing nice things for others is the key to happiness.

As a psychologist, he also recommends two other simple suggestions.

One, do more of the things that make you happy. It may seem obvious, but if you like the activity, do more of it! Two, take care of yourself. For real! Practice self care – whether it’s a good night’s sleep, going for a walk in nature, spending time with loved ones. Self-care is vital, too.


I recently asked on my Facebook page.. What makes you happy? And dozens of you shared your thoughts and ideas.

There were so many inspiring responses and personal stories that I didn’t want to pick just one or two to share. You can check out the messages on the Facebook page. If you haven’t weighed in… feel free to join the conversation.

Thanks! And be happy!