A simple truth about this complicated demographic

A couple of months ago at a graduation ceremony, I listened as one of the high-ranking students addressed the crowd with a remarkably complete view of her future.

Her view was remarkable because the newly minted graduate still has quite a bit to learn about how the world actually works.

But no matter. She said something interesting that I’m still thinking about weeks later.

Quoting her father, she talked about striving to achieve this particular piece of advice: Go where the happy people are.

Turns out that pearl probably is derived from a song by “The Trammps” during the 1970s; the song’s about a lonely homebody who “put my blues on the shelf” and headed to a disco to be where the “happy people go.”

That’s a simple piece of wisdom, and it’s more difficult to achieve than it sounds, primarily because finding “happy people” is more challenging as we venture further and further from high school.

Identifying “happy people” is something I’ve thought quite a lot about lately. I’ve learned over the years that “smiling” people aren’t necessarily “happy”; some of them are just really good at looking the part, even if they hurt a lot beneath the surface.

And I’ve learned that “scowling” people aren’t necessarily “unhappy,” since hard work and relentless pressure tends to bend even the strongest among us, curling the face muscles permanently downward even if the attitude inside isn’t necessarily that way.

So if hanging with happy people is a goal, yet finding them isn’t easy, what’s the real message?

Something I’ve noticed over the years is that the people who are happiest seem to have discovered a simple fact of life: You’re likely to be happy if you honestly believe you are really good at something.

From what I can tell, you don’t actually have to be good at a specific task to be happy; you just have to believe you are.

As an example, look at our presidents and those who are candidates for the office: Agree with them or not, they always exhibit the confidence that comes with sincerely believing they are the right man or woman for the job. And no matter how well others think they did in office, they seem satisfied with their effort.

Look at athletes, the elite and the beer-drinking alike: They are good because when the game is on the line, they believe they alone should be taking the shot or fielding the ball.

It works the same with teachers, with waitresses, with day-care workers, with truck drivers — those who believe they are best at what they do want to be in the middle of the action and seem most likely to be happy.

It makes sense: If we believe we’re good at something, we have reason to go home at the end of every day satisfied that we’re making a contribution to our neighborhood, to our companies, to our co-workers, to our friends and to ourselves.

And although simply going home each day happy to have made a contribution may not sound that earthshaking, those of us who have been at this awhile know that if it was all that easy, it wouldn’t be so difficult to “go where the happy people are.”