Happiness is Quite Contagious

The most frequent question I get asked when I talk about Civility and Happiness is, “How do you get this started? What’s the first step?”

My answer is simple, direct, and prompt:

  1. Be a happy person every day in every way.
  2. Happiness is a habit others will notice. Insist on dealing happily on whatever comes along. When you run into someone who is intentionally negative, because being negative is always intentional, abandon them. Just walk away and do your thing somewhere else. If they follow you, ask them politely, but firmly to step back and walk away.
  3. BE THE ONE ready to suggest a happier, more constructive way to do or say whatever life presents.

Get Your Tissues Out
A Very Special Christmas

One of my favorite stories about happiness came to me from someone in an audience who said she really wanted to thank me for helping her reconnect with her younger sister who had become estranged over the years. She said, “I heard you talk about being positive, it seemed so wonderful, but so impossible. Nevertheless, I took your advice and just did them. It happened last Christmas, which is the one time a year when our families get together. It’s usually pretty tense among the adults. We tell ourselves we get together for the kids. But of course, “it’s a bit of a nightmare for them.”

“This year was going to be different. I decided that I would find ways to discuss and talk about things and tell stories in completely positive fashion avoiding all negative words, criticism, and negative thinking. My sister was her usual self, anticipating that we would have these negative clashes and would walk away wondering why we were doing this for yet another year. But I really wanted to see something change.”

“I talked to my kids about it and they promised to really work hard to do and say positive things the entire time.” When they were confronted with negative things simply absorb it and take a positive approach.

“I have to say that I believed that the meeting with my sister’s family was just a bit more positive than in the past. But still it was really hard because the old habits kept creeping back and my sister was her usual kind of negative self.”

“We had occasion to talk on Valentine’s Day. She called me. This surprised me.

I was always the one who called her. And her first comment was, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about what happened over the holiday.” With some trepidation, I asked her what happened over the holiday? She said, “Well I’m not sure, except that I really had a good time and many of the old squabbles and things we talk about routinely just never happened.” I’m trying to figure out why was that. So we talked and I told her about you and about your ideas about taking responsibility for everybody’s happiness beginning with yourself. “She actually started to cry.” Then told a story. Then I told one and we were both in tears, tears of reconciliation, apology, even joy.”

She touched my arm and walked away.

Our Mother Died Badly

The second story involves a woman I saw after a powerful presentation. She said, “I had the most amazing experience because of you and because of the surprising generosity of others. And I just wanted to tell you about it.” So she began saying, “My mother became ill later in her life and spent a lot of her time in hospitals. In the last hospital she was in, where she did pass away, there were accidents and things that went wrong continuously during her care. On the day she died, our family decided to hire an attorney and approach the hospital about some kind of apology, correction, something that forcefully brought to their attention the problems that my mother suffered as her life ended.

To make our point even more boldly, we asked to meet with the top hospital officials in my mother’s former sick room. To our surprise, they readily agreed and when we arrived at my mother’s room it became a totally amazing experience.”

“There were six or seven people in the room, including the hospital administrator, their legal counsel, and a number of other personnel in their professional medical uniforms which they didn’t generally wear. The hospital administrator took a breath and said, “These people, all cared for your mother every day. They will all say they are terribly sorry about what happened to her but, all have some things and stories about your mother that you might not know, but would like to hear.” The nurses introduced themselves they were the day, midday, and swing shift main supervisors. There was a young man, a hospital orderly and a couple others. The hospital orderly went first. He said, “I don’t think you know that your mother was a competitive pinochle player.” We were stunned. My daughter said, “I never saw her ever play a card game.” The young man said, “Well, she played for a time every single day. One of my jobs became finding other patients and employees in the hospital who could play. She got really good.”  Each person had a personal story about her and even about the incidents which so concerned us.”

“They all apologized for mom’s suffering then said their goodbyes. The Administrator suggested that when we were ready to talk to him we could meet in his more comfortable conference room.”

“We sent our attorney home.”

Happiness Can Teach A Lot

The principal lesson has always been, if you give happiness a chance it’s pretty powerful. But the most important lesson for you is that happiness starts with you, and gives you the most satisfaction.

Getting started is easier than you think.

Send a simple thank you to someone who has helped you, who you’ve never really seriously acknowledged. Practice unconditional happiness relentlessly, look for the happy things. You’ll be happily surprised how often people you thanked, respond. I’d love to hear your stories about giving happiness a chance in your life and the lives of those you care about. Good luck! 

Mystery Meals for Strangers

There is a hamburger joint called Snuffy’s not far from where we lived in Edina, Minnesota, a real kids and family hangout. We enjoyed eating there because the place was a constant madhouse with happy kids and families.

Shortly after we returned to Minnesota from New York in January 2010, in between blizzards, we went to Snuffy’s, sat at our favorite table to enjoy the happy mayhem. We had our favorite meals and got ready to leave. When I asked for the check, the waitress said, “Your check has been paid.”

I asked what happened. She said, “A couple sitting two tables away paid for your meal.” I asked if there was a tip, and she said, “It was all taken care of.” One of Barbara’s habits when we ate at her favorite New York restaurant, Un Deux Trois (123 East 44th Street, near Grand Central Station), was to sit near the windows where honeymooners and new New York visitors often sat. We would have one of these couples on either side of us. Barbara always asked one couple what they planned on having for dessert. The general response was, “We hadn’t thought about it yet.” So, Barbara suggested they try the profiteroles, one of her favorite desserts. It’s a puff pastry stuffed with whipped cream and usually placed over chocolate ice cream. It is pretty yummy.

Then she would walk over to the maître d’ and ask them to provide the couple next to us with appropriate servings of profiteroles, which we paid for on our way out. Then we would loiter around in the vicinity of the restaurant waiting to see the reaction of our recipients. They were always pleased, a little puzzled (it was New York after all), but ultimately gobbled up the dessert.

At that point, we would head to our train for the trip home.

The point is, this is a really cool, affordable thing you can do, makes you feel great, and even better because nobody knows who did this complete surprise.

We would go to Snuffy’s usually on Saturday afternoons or evenings. Often, we’d pick the largest family we could, then time it so we could pay their bill as we left the restaurant after paying our own.

Can’t think of a more fun pay-it-forward habit than this one. Recipients, like us, talk about it for years. So will those you surprise. Maybe the gesture spreads.  

Thousands of Human Starfish, The Story of an Extreme Decency

The Time Before:

Steve Harrison became a client of mine in 1995. From that first engagement and a number of others over the years, Steve and I became close friends, as did our wives, Barbara and Shirley. It would be fair to say that Steve became more or less a disciple of my kind of crisis management and other management and leadership recovery techniques. He was already known as Mr. Decency throughout his industry. Something that further deepened our relationship. In 2014, Steve and I decided to write a book on civility and decency. Something that has long since largely disappeared from American culture. There are still too few signs of these important cultural qualities returning anytime soon.  

The Diagnosis:

In 2014, my wife of 50 years was diagnosed with bilateral ovarian cancer. That evening we had dinner with Steve and Shirley and among the topics of conversation was this new frightening development in Barbara’s life.

The First Call:

The next day, Steve and Shirley called together and talked to us briefly about what they learned the night before and offered to be helpful in any way that they could. For Barbara and I, this was the beginning of a long journey cumulating in her death from Alzheimer’s in August of 2019.

The Next 2,999 Calls:

Following that first phone call from Steve and Shirley, they called us nearly every single day from the time of Barbara’s diagnosis with cancer and the follow-up diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The number of phone calls from these two dear friends from that first conversation to a kind of final conversation in late 2019, the Harrisons had talked to us almost 3000 times. Stop a moment, take a breath, and realize what a totally amazing gift for a couple of human beings to do for another couple of human beings. Steve and I finished the book, “The Decency Code, The Leader’s Path to Building Integrity and Trust,” and it was published by McGraw Hill in 2021. We discussed another book project going forward, but nature intervened, and Steve passed away in July of 2021.

Steve’s Legacy Lives On:

I’ll never have the opportunity to repay this extraordinary decency. Shirley and I do keep in touch. And I write, quote, and talk about Steve whenever I can.  He was such an extraordinary friend and his 2005 book, “The Manager’s Book of Decencies, How Small Gestures (he called them small decencies) Build Great Companies,” from McGraw Hill is a classic business book in the field of decency and civility.

Steve’s Life Metaphor:

Steve’s favorite story and the metaphor for his life was about a person searching for seashells on the seashore and coming across a starfish unlikely to survive being caught aground. Almost absent-mindedly the man picked up the starfish and tossed it back into the sea.

Human Starfish:

In the course of that starfish’s life, it will reproduce thousands of times and produce an extraordinary number of offsprings and generations. Steve’s company Lee Hect Harrison, which he and two colleagues founded in the late 1990’s, and later acquired by Adecco Inc., the world’s largest part-time work placement company, made Steve’s company now the LHH division of  Adecco, the world’s largest outplacement firm. The purpose of the LHH division of Adecco is to help people intentionally unemployed by large businesses to learn new job-finding skills and other techniques to regain employment and return to productive lives. You might say his company has a way of returning human starfish to the working world by the thousands every year.

What an Amazing Legacy:

Decencies come in all sizes and shapes. This is the most extreme, miraculous, and wonderful decency for two people I’ve ever seen. Give it a try.  

“How Can I Get Decency, Happiness, and Trust Started in my Organization, Family, Company, or Community?”

Steve Harrison, my colleague and co-author of The Decency Code, The Leaders Path to Integrity and Trust (McGraw Hill © 2020), always immediately answered, “OBSESSION!!!” “BE THE ONE” or find the one who can eat, sleep, dream, advocate, irritate, motivate, and inspire decency, civility, honesty, truthfulness, trust, and finding happiness.

Second Most Important Questions: Can You Be The One?

Steve also talked about the many pathways to BE THE ONE. “If it’s you, then BE THE ONE…”

Pathways to Be The One:

“Who is accountable.”“Who has integrity.”
“Who is agreeable.”“Who is open.”
“Who is apologetic.”“Who is patient.”
“Who is candid.”“Who is peaceful.”
“Who shows character.”“Who is pleasant.”
“Who is charitable.”“Who is polite.”
“Who is chivalrous.”“Who is positive.”
“Who is civil.”“Who is principled.”
“Who shows compassion.”“Who is respectful.”
“Who is constructive.”“Who is responsible.”
“Who is courteous.”“Who is sensible.”
“Who is decent.”“Who is sensitive.”
“Who is dignified.”“Who is simple.”
“Who is empathetic.”“Who is tactful.”
“Who is engaged.”“Who is thoughtful.”
“Who is forgiving.”“Who is tolerant.”
“Who is helpful.”“Who is transparent.”
“Who is honest.”“Who is trustable.”
“Who is honorable.”“Who is truthful.”
“Who is humble.”

I did say Steve was OBSESSIVE!!

So many paths to civility, decency, integrity, truth, and finding happiness. Take as many as you can, as often as you can every day…encourage others to do the same.

Make progress every day. Work to increase the paths you take daily, every day. Challenge yourself. Keep a log. Encourage others beginning with those around you.

Note: Steve Harrison died on July 10th, 2021. He revitalized an industry, was obsessive about the power of small decencies, those actions, and decisions often unseen, but powerful enough to make good companies great places to work, good families, communities, and lives great.

How about it? Can you BE THE ONE in your life, household, family, neighborhood, work, community, and other places?  

Good luck.

Let me know how you are doing.

Jim Lukaszewski


How To Build The Happiness You Thought Your Success Would Bring You But Hasn’t Yet Arrived – Part One

Success, accomplishment, happiness, thank you’s, accolades, and gratitude only come, for most of us, when you build your own happiness triggers into your daily life, and the lives of others.

I’m talking about personally building a really fun and important personal habit, remembering what you learned every day that helped you help others have a better life. Guess what, every day and time you make someone else more successful, they will in turn remember and acknowledge your role in that success.

Task One:
How to Help Yourself Remember
What You Learn Every Day and From
Whom Your Daily Lessons Learned Log

Consider these six questions every day. (The discipline is that you respond to at least one. The more you harvest daily from your life, just brief reminders, a word, phrase, name, idea, or short sentence, the more you brilliantly and magically remember later will inspire you, and others around you. The six questions are:

  1. What’s the most important thing I learned today? From whom?
  2. What’s the most interesting thing I learned today? From whom?
  3. What’s the most unusual, surprising thing I learned today? From whom?
  4. What questions have arisen today that need answers? From whom?
  5. What will I do differently tomorrow, based on what I learned today, and thank whom?
  6. How can I share these learnings with others?

Make it formal. I still like notebooks, so I have a notebook for lessons learned and I generally require all of my employees to maintain them for themselves and copy me on them daily. The notebook is simply filled with the six questions.

  • Each question has two or three lines on which to jot something down.
  • Keep it in your computer or wherever it is convenient. I like notebooks because standing by my desk they remind me to do this every day.
  • Once you start doing this you really recognize how many people you owe your own success to and they should know about that and they should hear it from you.

A simple and meaningful, personal note is quite powerful.

When I was 26 years old, I was in a management training program at a large retail music company in Minneapolis and the management training program consisted of assigning an up-and-coming individual to supervise store departments. I worked part-time here for several years out of high school in the band instrument department. The first department, they assigned that I managed for a month was Stereo Components and Electronic Devices.

My manager, Dick Loberg, gave me just two assignments every month.

First, I needed to conduct a sales meeting at 7:30 every Tuesday morning for an hour and provide the department’s five award-winning salespeople a fresh idea to use that week in closing sales.

Second, at least twice during the month I needed to send each of the five men a brief note thanking them or recognizing them for something they were doing that I liked.

I learned quickly that successful salespeople can make any suggestion a success.

The notes were a little harder, but I managed in the first month to give everybody two brief notes about something I liked about what they were doing.

In the second month, one of these salesmen, Tom, passed away. It wasn’t my fault but my boss came down and said to please go through Tom’s desk because his family was coming over tomorrow to spend half the day in the space where Tom worked for 35 years. “Be sure you get rid of anything that could embarrass him or the company.” I found nothing.

My last item to tackle was Tom’s desk. There in the lower right-hand drawer was a box, way in the back. I was prepared to pitch it then noticed that all the pages were in chronological order going back almost 30 years, the length of time Tom worked in the company.  Every piece of paper had a note from someone complimenting Tom on something. There were several from the founder of the company who said things as simple as, “Tom, you saved the Anderson’s business, I owe you for that one!” It was signed by Paul A., the founder of Paul A. Schmitt Music. Because they were in chronological order leading up last week, there at the head of the stack, were the two notes from me. I teared up.

I put that box on his desk just in time for his family to arrive the next morning. The whole family dove into this box with great excitement and they pulled out papers and talked about when Tom, their dad, uncle, or grandpa had talked about these various events at the dinner table. Tom had taken them home, showed them off, talked about them, and was very proud of them.

People remember being thanked. And maybe all of us need to be thanked a lot more often. I tear up almost every time I tell this story. This experience is something you want to be responsible for.  

In Happiness File #3, I’ll be talking about “The Platinum Rule” for making a happy life.

The Platinum Rule for making a happy life. “Help others achieve those things they feel are meaningful, helpful, and important for others beyond themselves, but need help completing what they hope to accomplish.” Translated, do good things for others who are doing good things for, yet others and they’ll all come to thank, recognize, and do good things for you in return.

Barbara’s 7 Ingredients of Happiness

August 30, 2023

So, why are we talking about happiness? Three reasons; Number 1, my wife of 56 years Barbara (met in High School) and I had an extraordinary life together. I called her The Sunshine Girl because she was always happy and she taught me how to be happy, too. To our surprise, our unintended example seemed to have a powerful effect on those around us. Barbara died in 2019. This is her legacy.

Number 2, In 2021 A friend and I, after three years of work, in the middle of Covid 19 published a book about Decency and Civility, The Decency Code © 2021, McGraw Hill. It failed. In the process, we discovered that many successful people are happy. Decency is the critical ingredient in achieving happiness. And yet for so many more the accolades, gratitude, and recognition they expected would come with their success never happened. But it can. If you help it happen.

Number 3, Happiness comes to those who help others create it for themselves. It’s The Platinum Rule, “Help others achieve those things they feel are meaningful, helpful, and important to others, but who need help completing what they hope to accomplish.” Do good things for others, doing good things for others, and all will do good things for you.

Throughout much of our life together we deferred talking about how our happiness occurred. Frankly, we figured that if we talked about it, we’d probably mess it up. But toward the end of her life, and people knew about her illness, they pressed us to talk more about this topic. The result of our conversations is the list below. We share them here because they might help you, as they helped us.

  • Intentionally say nice things about and to each other in private and publicly every day, everywhere.
  • Avoid saying the two or three divisive, corrosive, “Get-even” things you might really want to mention every day. Let them go.
  • Always better to be positive or blah than negative or inflammatory.
  • Rid your lives of negative, irritating, and intentionally abrasive people. Walk away. Skip the goodbyes. Immediate happiness happens.
  • Make every day simple, sensible, and satisfying for yourself and for others.
  • Maintain a genuine respect for those you care about 24/7.
  • Place the responsibility for your success on those closest to you or who really care about you.

Do this every day and the payoff is immediate and pleasant. What are your happiness ingredients? Please send them to me and we’ll build a powerful running list of more happiness ingredients. Email me at jel@e911.com.