What Makes People Happy? 3 Ideas Hatched in Peru

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I recently had the great pleasure of traveling to Peru on a self-guided spiritual journey. Among other places, I visited the ancient city of Machu Picchu that sits high in the Andes mountains. And later I flew to Lake Titicaca, the highest inhabited lake in the world.

I thought a lot about what makes people happy during this trip. Here are a few suggestions about ways to trigger happiness that came to mind while I sailed Lake Titicaca in a boat named, Cusi or “Happiness,” in the Quechua language…


Take yourself on a selective walk down memory lane. Seriously. Lie down somewhere quiet and comfy. Go back to a time in your life when you were very happy. It might be a singular event – or a day – or a season – or even a year. Relive the feelings that you had during that time. No need to struggle with this act of remembering. Allow thoughts to surface. Follow them where they go. Re-experience the pleasure of happy times in your body.

In doing this, you may notice that your breathing changes. Perhaps you are breathing more deeply and slower. Or maybe you are excited and filled with exuberant energy.

Feel it. Savor it.

This simple exercise is one way to remind yourself of what it feels like to be in a happy state. Not only do you remember the good feelings, but your body is experiencing them once again – right now.


Some people walk to relieve stress. Others run. I dance. I find that it is near impossible to think about anything stressful or unhappy when I am dancing. Colleagues of mine who dance – both men and women – have told me the same thing. They notice that the body is so wrapped up in action, that the brain gets very quiet. And what remains is a feeling of joy. Thus dancing & other kinds of action are a useful rest from fearful or debilitating thoughts.

Try to find a type of activity that does this for you. It may simply be walking in an attractive part of your town or city. It may be running on a treadmill while you listen to good music. Or perhaps you too are the dancing type. For me, it’s salsa and other latin dances. You may light up to line dancing or the romance of ballroom turns.

It is a well-documented fact that pleasing, well-chosen physical activity changes the chemistry of the body for the better. Get active in order let go of fear. Another way back to happiness.


As a final suggestion about what makes people happy – now and then it is wonderful to get a beauty fix. No, I don’t mean a trip to the spa, although that can certainly be fun too.

I am talking about art and nature. Go to an art museum. Visit a couple of places that sell fine art work. Or make a trip to see your local botanical garden, if there is one near you. Take your time. Absorb this kind of beauty with an open heart. No need to be reasonable about what you see. No need to judge it. Simply absorb.

In the presence of beauty, we are taken out of our usual ways of managing the world. Sometimes we are transported back into the deeper flow of life – with more spontaneity, less control – back to a state where the mind is calm yet energized.

After taking a break from the daily chaos of life – letting the mind rest – I find that I often return to work with a very different perspective. New ideas emerge about ways to handle events that may have seemed insurmountable just hours before. Look for and create these opportunities to approach your life with a greater sense of ease. You will find your own answers to “what makes people happy?”