Catalyst for Happiness

Last month, I visited Washington DC. DC always intrigues me—with its incredible rich history, architectural and natural beauty, tall gorgeous trees and great hiking trails. I visited the United States Naval Academy, ate a box lunch on the Severn River, walked through exquisite buildings and Spring gardens, ate breakfast and dinner at National Harbor, and took a day sailing trip along Mill Creek and the Magothy River.

Travel is the perfect catalyst for happiness, as it allows me to explore and experience the natural, cultural and man-made wonders of the world.

There are some things that stick with you and will always leave a smile on your face when you reminisce about your travels. For me, it’s the people moments.

Dinner conversations around the table about topics like paying attention to the universe and its messages, raising kids, and—one of my personal favorites—TED talks, really got me jazzed. Someone recommended one in particular by geoscientist Andres Ruzo on The Boiling River of the Amazon, which captured my attention. I watched it as soon as I returned home.


Talk about loving life, curiosity, and contagious happiness. Andres has that tenfold. The subject matter— the existence of this boiling river, its history and the science behind it—is fascinating. Because he loves his work, Andres is exhilarating. He found his life’s joy in his work through studying this natural phenomenon and how it came to be.

What’s the significance? It’s sacred.

I think about this boiling river compared to life and, though some might exploit this land, it’s important to keep that from happening and to keep it from becoming trivial; to protect its purity and natural state. I wish for each and every person to have that same honor and integrity that Andres feels for the Amazon.

I’m all about using good judgment. It’s something my mom and dad instilled in me throughout my childhood.

Critical thinking, proper assessment and good judgment skills are all lessons I also learned in nursing school. Good judgment isn’t about being smart. It’s about reflection, learning from past mistakes, and applying feedback to the next opportunity. It’s about remaining open and understanding that unexpected outcomes are a real and likely occurrence.

Using good judgment is to be reasonably prudent. A reasonably prudent person is defined as “someone who uses good judgment or common sense in handling practical matters. The actions of a person exercising common sense in a similar situation are the guide in determining whether an individual’s actions were reasonable.”

This definition has stuck with me throughout my life.

I believe being reasonable leads to peace and happiness. You simplify, and therefore make life as reasonable as you can. I don’t know one single person who likes stress. I personally, as a mother, daughter and responsible adult, like to stick to the wild flowers—not the wild goose chase. The long hike, not the ice pick climb. The Rocky Mountains instead of Everest. It’s my preference and it makes me happy!

Once we reasonably tend to our responsibilities, we free ourselves up for the goodies of life.

During the trip to DC with all obligations out of the way, I found myself on the water with the sails up and engine off. I then turned off my phone. Now I’m watching a river and quietly contemplating the meaning of a TED talk. Which brings me to psychology professor Dan Gilbert’s talk on The Surprising Science of Happiness and the informative study that he did.


Dan brings to the forefront of my mind what happens when a person can take life too far and be reckless or unbound—to go on the hike without water or necessary gear, for example—and what that does to someone’s mind and sense of happiness. He explains it so well.

I’ve written a lot about happiness and wellness. It’s a subject I self-study often. Why do people do the things they do? Why are some folks more conservative, while others are doing their life on the daily singing Born to be Wild with the top down? How is it that some people live and breathe happiness, while others seem to constantly be in elusive pursuit of it?

The end of the TED talk is what really captured me. I watched the ending 5 times! He brings up the historic Theory of Moral Sentiments and a quote by the great Adam Smith. Yes, some things are better than others. We should have freedom of choice that lead us into one future over another. But, as Dan says, when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast, because we have overrated the differences between these futures, we are at risk.

When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to sacrifice things of real value.

Most people want to be unencumbered by the heavy weights this life can sometimes bring. Dan teaches us that synthetic happiness is just as real and enduring as real happiness. He also teaches us that our longings and worries are overblown because we have the capacity to create a catalyst for happiness within ourselves, rather than depend on experiences to make us happy.

The best part? He tells us the very condition under which synthetic happiness grows.

Nobody wants to disrupt the “future tranquility of their mind.” They want to be able to fully handle the true, gritty part of life. Something that should be taught from a very young age and as a reminder throughout their lives. Peacefulness, hence happiness, is not trivial. It’s sacred.

I can attest that pure wellness and a healthy diet lead to inner strength and a sense of peace, which gives you the ability to spend time outdoors and building an exercise routine, which leads to feeling good, and—you guessed it—happy. Then inspiration follows, and the ability to follow through with your creative projects falls right in line.

It’s a domino effect.

Tranquility and integrity should always be right with you in your back pocket.

I believe that teaching your children to have tranquility and integrity with them like an invisible badge of honor will be incredibly valuable to them as they continue into adulthood. I loved that about the Boy Scouts’ motto when my oldest son was a Scout; to always be in a state of readiness in mind and body.

We can’t control the world, but we can do our darndest to share goodness every day. To do what exhilarates us. To love deeply. To check on our friends and family, tell them we love them, and say thank you. To share a TED talk, a beautiful dinner or a sailboat ride. Those are the things that make people happy. Real life. Go out and touch it! (But steer clear of the boiling water…)

marcel proust grateful to people quote catalyst for happiness

I feel that both of these two very different TED talks come from the same place: common sense, which also ties in to overall wellness. Loving life and rectitude create happiness. Kindness opens our minds and brings us joy through tough times. Each one of us has within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.

The trip to DC made me happy and made me think about the things that are a catalyst for happiness. Pure happiness always piques my curiously to learn more from things people teach me that make me so very happy. Whoosh, that was hard to get out, but I know you get it. ✨