Ask any parent or grandparent what they most want for their children or grandchildren, and the most likely response will be, “We just want them to be happy.”

When we ask college students about their future, we are likely to hear, “I want to help others and just be happy.”

Increasingly, employers have found that happiness, contentment and fulfillment attracts and holds the best employees, even more than high pay and other perks. Ironically though, those top companies can afford to pay better and offer more perks. Why? Because their employees are more productive and fulfilled.

Happiness follows as a by-product rather than as a primary “pursuit.” Therein lies the paradox. Too many organizations have learned a hard lesson that concentrating on just making employees happy at any cost doesn’t necessarily make them more productive nor happy. They must be challenged, appreciated and feel they are doing something meaningful.

Obviously, the discussion of happiness has been around a long time as witnessed by Thomas Jefferson’s reference to the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. There is a growing happiness industry. Much of it is good, but there are the usual hucksters and feel-good seminars that lack substance.

On the other hand, during the past 30 years happiness has been a central scientific research topic under the broad umbrella of positive psychology. Two of the best books are by Harvard’s Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage” and former CBS correspondent Michelle Gielan’s “Broadcasting Happiness.”

They are based on the strong research foundation laid out by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania.

People are interested in being happy, but as the best literature and practical experience reminds us, pursuing happiness in and of itself is like chasing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been watching several episodes of CNBC’s American Greed. In story after story, greedy men and women in their pursuit of wealth and the hoped-for happiness are willing to do almost anything.

They think the cars, money, exotic vacations, multiple-homes and so forth will satisfy their need to be happy. In their selfish pursuit, many of them defraud and ruin the lives of a countless number of people. In many cases the perpetrators had grown up poor, neglected and bullied. They believed their pursuit of money would bring them happiness. Quite the opposite, it brings them and hundreds of other people misery.

Coming full circle, happiness is something we all want. It’s how we achieve it that is important. In a recent online article in Business Insider, Justin Maiman reports that Yale University’s course in happiness, officially named the “Science of Well-being” is the most popular course Yale has ever offered. More than 225,000 people have taken it.

Maiman highlights four key points he has learned from the course that I want to share with you.

First focus on your strengths. A free “VIA” survey (Peterson & Segliman) focuses on which of the 24 core character strengths are your best. Although he does not directly say so, these become the basis of service to others.

In serving others with your best, happiness is more of a by-product than a goal. By bundling your four best strengths, you’re likely to see your work as a calling whether at work, home or in the community.

Secondly, focus on experience. As Justin points out, “Turns out your stuff loses ‘happiness value’ almost as soon as you’ve purchased it. Paying for experiences, however, has multiple benefits for happiness. One, the anticipation of the experience leads to more happiness and joy. Two, talking about the experience afterward with friends reignites your own happy memories and, incredibly enough, sharing these tales with friends tends to boost their happiness, too.”

Let me add, the best companies tend to foster meaningful group experiences such as retreats, frequent lunches and celebrations. Every year when Fortune releases it Best 100 Companies to Work For list, it is clear the very top companies utilized and practice great team experiences.

On the other hand, when I go into an organization where people are disconnected, living their own lives, and rarely do things together, I’ll show you an unhappy place.

Third, learn to savor more. The idea that the past is the past and the only thing we should focus on is the future is narrow-minded. Although our methods change, people change, and times change. It is essential to not only reflect on present accomplishments but savor past deeds.

This summer I’m going to my 50th high school reunion to celebrate with my classmates. I have attended nine out of nine of my 5-year class reunions. We spend a lot of time reflecting and savoring, and that brings joy and happiness.

But a warning here. During all those years we NEVER invited our teachers and administrators to join us. What a big mistake. We never had the opportunity to say thanks for their dedication and influence.

After 50 years probably almost none of them are left. So if you are a younger reader, urge your class to learn from our mistake.

Finally, express gratitude and kindness. I have written several articles in the past on this specific topic, so I won’t repeat the information here, other than to say, on the days I have the discipline to do this, via email, texting, phoning or better yet – in person, my HQ (Happiness Quotient) and more important the HQ of those around me soars.

Editor’s note: April 2, 2019, is the 10th anniversary of Dr. Ed Piatt and myself writing the Main Street column … more than 500 total columns. We will use our four articles in May to express our appreciation to our readers and the Daily Journal; explain why we continue to do this; outline the influence we believe the articles have had; review some of our favorite items; and discuss our future directions.

Dr. Don Daake is professor emeritus at Olivet and has an MBA from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. He can be contacted at