The Secret of Happiness

May 26, 2023

by Erika Bill Peter


It was one of those days. One of those days when things just don’t go how you expect them to.

We came to the public garage to get our car to drive to another town. What a mess, everywhere cars, waiting to get out, waiting to get in. It was a public Holiday, so everyone was eager to get a space for their car. As we looked more closely, we recognized that one of the key problems was a car that was stuck. The driver of this car had driven into the garage without taking a ticket. Once inside, they realized it was full, so they tried to drive back out. But of course, without a ticket, the barrier would not open. They seemed to have been there a while, and as we walked closer to them, we saw the frustration and anxiety on their faces. They couldn't speak the local language, so they didn't know what to do. People started to get angry at them for blocking everything. 


It was clear to us. There was only one thing to do: help them. We called the emergency line and used our language skills to explain to the person on the other end what the problem was. While one of us was talking, the other provided guidance on parking the car on the side. They needed reassurance that all would be good; they needed emotional support. After a long 15 minutes, finally, the barrier opened. I could see the relief in their eyes. With gratitude, they gave us a big hug. We made their day. And we were happy too.


Only a few hours later, we were stuck behind a car that seemed to have a struggle to pay the toll on the highway. We waited patiently. Behind us, we saw how to line of big trucks growing longer and longer, seeing the drivers getting more impatient minute by minute. I could see them getting more and more agitated in the car ahead. Finally, the woman got out and came to us in desperation. She asked if we had five Euros, as the machine did not take their credit card. I was happy to give them the money, remembering that I had been in similar situations before and needed help too—another moment of big relief and thankfulness.


It was our day to help others. Seeing the desperation on their faces, I felt so much empathy for these two couples. I have been there too. It was the right thing to do. In a world that seems to become more self-centered and self-absorbed, it is important to remember the positive power of sensing what is happening around us, leaving our needs behind for a moment, and putting others first. 


We will appreciate when others do the same for us when we need it. But even more importantly, we realized that making these people happy gave us great joy and satisfaction. A series of studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology state that the secret of happiness lies in doing things that make others happy rather than ourselves.