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The Secret Rules for Happiness

still from Pharrell Williams's "Happy" video
Pharrell Williams
still from Pharrell Williams's "Happy" video

New Year's resolutions cover just about everything these days … from getting more exercise to reading more books for fun. How about ... "being happy?"I was watching the evening news on New Year’s Eve and saw a story where the reporter asked random people, man-on-the-street style, what they hoped 2021 would bring. It was amazing to me to hear so many say a version of the same thing: "I just want to be happy again."

Almost all cited weariness with the coronavirus pandemic and everything that it has brought, with several wishing they could socialize freely again, but person after person mentioned the word "happy."

My parents and grandparents raised us kids with all kinds of sayings for what they saw were "teachable moments." There were words of wisdom on just about every topic under the sun. Some sayings were cautionary tales, some were outright funny, some were only told in Italian, some were quotes from American historical figures and writers, and all were meant to teach and guide.

When I heard the people in the news story say "happy," my mother’s often quoted "Rules for Happiness" immediately came to mind. "It’s simple, really," she’d say: "Someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for." She told me either Immanuel Kant or Alexander Chalmers were credited with saying it.

Never one to leave a saying hanging alone in the air, she would go on to explain every phrase: Someone to Love was anyone you could love beyond yourself – your mate, your child, a sibling, a best friend, but always with the gravity of the word 'love' – not just like or respect or admire, but "this person’s happiness means more to me than my own" level.

Something to Do was about purpose. A career, not just a job, a reason to wake up in the morning that goes beyond paying today’s bills. "Pick something that jazzes you," she’d say, "even if you don’t get paid to do it."

And finally, Something to Hope For was the thing she felt a lot of people got wrong when hearing the saying. It didn’t mean "Hope I win the Megamillions!" She took great pains to explain the word "Hope." She said it’s "akin to a wish, a prayer of faith, that life, or something in your life, changes for the better."

She would close this discussion with a warning - that when any of these three things were missing, we’d "feel the empty spot and remain unhappy."

So … let’s get some music to go along with the Rules for Happiness.

For Someone to Love, give a listen to the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, or the" target="_blank">Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavellaria Rusticana. Emotional, passionate, deep feelings all.

For Something to Do," target="_blank">The Hours, by Philip Glass, will do much to spur you on in a subtle way. If you need something stronger to motivate you then I think" target="_blank">Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and" target="_blank">Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 have equal parts inspiration and forward force behind them.

For Something to Hope For, I’ll share again my "hopeful pick" that we announcers shared for New Year’s Day:" target="_blank">"The Ecstatic Fanfare," by Steven Bryant, or" target="_blank">Vaughan Williams’s "The Lark Ascending." 

Any combination of these pieces, in my mind, would be the perfect soundtrack for your search for happiness in 2021.

Coda:  As the credits rolled at the end of the animated children's movie Despicable Me 2 back in 2013, I sat right down again to see the crazy Minion characters act up to the Pharrell Williams' music "Happy." The Minions were adorable. The music was infectious. I bought it before I left the movie theatre. It remains my favorite pop song of the last decade. Enjoy the original music video:

Laura Carlo is the Morning Program Host for CRB.