You really can buy happiness


We’ve all heard the old adage that you can’t buy happiness.  Well, it turns out that’s not exactly true.  You actually can buy happiness – when you spend your money or your time on others.

Does that come as a surprise to anyone?  It’s true for individuals and companies alike.  Corporations and organizations often choose a pet charity or cause to support.  It’s more than just a public relations move.  Companies that care make huge impacts on their communities.

thanksgivingSimilarly, individuals feel the same effect.  A great way to feel happy is to help other people by getting involved in volunteer work that supports your community.  The experience of helping others can give you the perspective you need to appreciate what you have.

You don’t have to look far to find an inspirational opportunity, especially around the holidays.  During this traditional time for giving, organizations are clamoring for all kinds of help.  Sharing precious time may seem burdensome, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I’ve written about one of my favorite days every winter, when my elf-assistant Greg Bailey and I take a shift ringing bells for the Salvation Army.  Our kettle is proof that even when people can’t spare time, they are generous with their money.  The Salvation Army is always looking for bell-ringers, and they love having full red kettles.  Those donations help buy a lot of happiness for people in need.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University found that people who buy gifts for others or make charitable donations are happier than people who spend their money primarily on themselves.  These findings, reported in “Bits & Pieces,” described how scientists asked 630 Americans to rate their general happiness, their annual incomes and their gifts to others, including charitable contributions.  Researchers found that happiness was not related to how much money participants earned, but rather how they spent their money.  The people who donated more money to charity or used it for gifts for others rated themselves much happier than the others.

Researchers also measured the rates of happiness for people who received profit-sharing bonuses of $3,000–$8,000 from their employers.  Again, the researchers found that it was not how much money the participants received that predicted happiness levels, but rather how the recipients spent the money.

As part of the study, researchers gave participants a $20 bill and asked them to spend it that day.  Half were instructed to spend the money on themselves, while the other half were to spend it on others.

You guessed it.  The people who spent the money on others reported feeling better and happier than those that didn’t.  Therefore, if you want to improve your feelings of happiness, try spending even a small amount of money or time on someone else during the day.

There are plenty of other ways to be happy and successful without measuring how much money you make.  Here’s what works for the happiest people on Earth, according to research cited by The Week website:

  • Nurture your relationships.  The happiest people have lots of friends and strong family relationships.
  • Work hard (but not too hard).  Focus on the work you enjoy and tasks that you do well.  Stay busy and involved, but not to the point where you feel constantly rushed to finish everything.
  • Don’t stay in the wrong job.  A job you hate adds stress to your life that no amount of money can erase.  If you’re unhappy at work, find a new job that suits your temperament and skills better.
  • Plan happy activities.  Spontaneity is nice, but people who enjoy life actively plan for fun and recreation.  Don’t wait until the last minute:  Decide on a few activities you like and put them on the calendar so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

And I would add:

  • Share willingly.  When you share your gifts, whether time or money, you are giving the best gift of all.  You may never know the impact your giving has on others.  What matters is the impact it has on you.  You’ll soon find it becomes a habit.

Remember, you are responsible for your own happiness.  You can choose to be happy.  You can choose to share your joy.  You can’t force anyone to be happy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!


Mackay’s Moral:  Unhappiness always seeks to get.  Happiness always seeks to give.

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Thoughts for a richer life

I’ve had this little gem tucked away for many years, and I refer to it from time to time to remind myself of what’s really important.  I’ve searched for the source, which I haven’t been able to find, because I’d like to thank the author for these wonderful lessons.

Here are the original thoughts, followed by my impressions.

The most destructive habit:  Worry.
The greatest joy:  Giving.
The greatest loss:  Loss of self-respect.
The most satisfying work:  Helping others.
The ugliest personality trait:  Selfishness.
The most endangered species:  Dedicated leaders.
Our greatest natural resource:  Our youth.
The greatest “shot in the arm”:  Encouragement.
The greatest problem to overcome:  Fear.
The most effective sleeping pill:  Peace of mind.
The most crippling disease:  Excuses.
The most powerful force in life:  Love.
The most incredible computer:  The brain.
The worst thing to be without:  Hope.
The deadliest weapon:  The tongue.
The two most power-filled words:  I can.
The greatest asset:  Faith.
The most worthless emotion:  Self-pity.
The most beautiful attire:  A smile.
The most prized possession:  Integrity.
The most contagious spirit:  Enthusiasm.

First, let’s talk about worry.  Did you know this word is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word that means to strangle or to choke?  People do literally worry themselves to death . . . or heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, nervous disorders and all sorts of other nasty conditions.  Worry can destroy your peace of mind.  The best remedy?  Remember that tomorrow is a new day, full of promise.

Helping othersGiving/Helping others – These two go hand in hand.  You are always in a position to give, just as you can always help someone.  Never pass up an opportunity to share what you have.  Dedicated leaders understand that they have tremendous power to help those they lead by setting a solid example and demonstrating the highest standards.

Selfishness – President Harry Truman summed it up so well:  “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  An offshoot of selfishness is self-pity, which no one should waste time on anyway.  Perhaps the worst effect is loss of self-respect. Self-respect is what motivates you to be the best you can be.  And in turn, you can motivate others to be their best.

Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.  People appreciate recognition, encouragement and praise.  Offering encouragement based on a person’s character or actions inspires them to perform in such a manner that invites additional praise.  Be careful not to let the tongue undo the positive effects of encouragement.  Use it for good.

Fear – Every crisis we face is multiplied when we act out of fear.  When we fear something, we empower it.  If we refuse to concede to our fear, there is nothing to fear.

Excuses – We all make excuses from time to time.  However, the day you stop making them is the day you will move up in the world.

Hope is what gets many of us through our worst days.  Hope is believing that every cloud has a silver lining, and when that cloud rains, it makes things grow.  A perfect partner is faith, for without faith, hope is meaningless.  Love completes this trio.  Real power comes through when you love someone or something, whether it’s a career or a cause.

A smile improves your looks.  I learned years ago that one of the most powerful things you can do to have influence over others is to smile at them.  It should be standard equipment for all people.

Integrity:  either you have it or you don’t.  If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.  Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.

Enthusiasm is the spark that ignites our lives.  It’s one of the most important attributes to success.  It also leads to an attitude of I can, which provides the confidence required for achievement.

Pass as much encouragement as possible to our youth, the people who will inherit this world.  I am constantly encouraged by the dreams and aspirations of the young people I mentor, and I want them to pass their experiences to future generations.

Finally, the brain.  What a gift we have with our brain.  Unlike your computer, it may not perform rapid-fire complex calculations.  But attached to the heart, it can make better decisions and produce infinitely better results.


Mackay’s Moral:  If you want life’s best, see to it that life gets your best.

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Veterans Day – a day to say thanks

My daughter Mimi called me up many years ago and said, “Hey Dad, let’s take a crack at running the New York Marathon.”  I trained for six months for the 1987 race.  They shot the gun off in the air, about 22,000 runners started, 21,244 runners finished and 1.5 million people lined the streets.

First place went to a Kenyan:  2 hours, 11 minutes, 1 second.  The last place finisher was a Vietnam veteran – 4 days, 2 hours, 48 minutes and 17 seconds.  This human being, Bob Wieland, covered 26 miles, 385 yards with no legs.  He ran on his hands.  My daughter and I had passed him in the first few minutes of the race.  It wasn’t too difficult to finish the race after seeing that display of bravery and determination, so typical of our country’s military.

As a student of history, I have always been particularly fascinated with the impact our armed forces have had on our American experience.  In so many ways, they have shaped the country we have become as they defended the freedoms we enjoy.  It’s only fitting that there is a national holiday honoring the remarkable service of these selfless men and women.

This year marks the 97th anniversary of the last day of World War I, which took place at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson decreed that Nov. 11 should be observed as Armistice Day, with companies honoring the occasion by suspending business for two minutes at 11 a.m. and communities holding subsequent parades and events.

In 1938, Congress enacted legislation making Armistice Day a legal federal holiday.  In 1954, veteran organizations successfully lobbied Congress to change the name of the observance to “Veterans Day” in order to include and honor the efforts of those who fought in World War II and in the Korean War.  In 1968, the federal government passed legislation to observe legal holidays on Mondays, arguing that three-day weekends would encourage travel and recreation, thus stimulating the economy.

But the significance of the date was not lost on President Gerald Ford.  During his term, Veterans Day was moved back to November 11 to honor its history.

Today, U.S. military officials point out that many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day.  Memorial Day honors military personnel who died in battle or as a result of their wounds.  Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all those who served in the military, in wartime and in peacetime.  It is intended to thank living veterans for their services, to acknowledge their contributions to national security, and to underscore their sacrifice and duty.

veterans day

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are around 21.8 million living veterans, out of our total population of more than 320 million.  Statistically, that gives each of us plenty of opportunity to personally say thanks for their service.

I offer this brief history lesson for a reason:  No other group in American history deserves recognition more than our veterans.  I am honored to devote my column to those who have served our country and those who continue to protect us today.

There’s a business side to military service too.  Training, discipline, leadership, accountability, loyalty – all traits that are ingrained in the military are just as important to business success.  We ask our service members to do jobs that no one really wants to do.  They aren’t offered a choice to say no.  Great leaders are groomed in service as well.

I once shared the podium with General William Westmoreland, who told this story on himself.

Westmoreland was in Korea in the ’50s, speaking to 10,000 Korean cadets out in the audience.  They obviously didn’t speak English, so there was an interpreter.  Most speakers like to open up with a humorous story, and Westmoreland was no different.  He took 45 seconds to tell a humorous story.

An interpreter, standing right next to him, took 7 seconds to relate the information. All of a sudden, 10,000 Korean cadets were hooting with laughter.

Westmoreland was outraged.  “What’s going on here?” he asked. “I take 45 seconds to tell a story, you take 7 seconds, they’re all hollering with laughter, what did you tell them?”

“I tell them American general tell funny story, everybody laugh.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Veterans, we salute you.

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Customize your customer service

If you’ve ever had anything custom-made, you can relate to how satisfying the experience can be.  Whether it’s a new house, a tailor-made shirt, or even a special sandwich, getting exactly what you ordered is gratifying.

That’s why I think we should rename customer service to “custom service.”  Every customer contact should involve custom care and accommodations.  Each interaction needs to be “custom built” to meet the customer’s specs.


I have long preached the concept of humanizing your selling strategy.  In addition to building a strictly business relationship, you need to get to know your customer as a person.  Find out what their interests are, learn about the family, discover what you might have in common.  I have shared my formula for learning about customers in the Mackay 66, a customer profile that we use at MackayMitchell Envelope Company religiously.  It’s available free on my website,

But as I so often say, knowledge is not power until it is used.  This information is a starting point to help you customize every meeting, phone call or email.  You need to be creative to make your encounters memorable.  Let me give you some examples, shared by readers of this column.

One woman wrote about a practice she used in her years as a customer service rep.  Whenever a customer, particularly a new customer, left her a voicemail, she would save the message and listen to it until she could recognize the voice.  That would let the customers know that their business mattered to the company.

Establishing that kind of relationship is critical to customizing the sale:  It eliminates the formalities and lets the players get down to business.  The customer feels more comfortable with the salesperson so the conversation can begin on a high note.

Another reader told about two different encounters she had with people she had hired to work in her home.  She was extremely impressed with the person who came to service her air conditioning system, a 30-something who was trying to build his business.  He told her about his commitment to providing exemplary service, educating his employees and developing a business structure that utilizes technology to improve efficiency and quality control.  He made sure she was completely satisfied with the job and guaranteed his work, which of course, he did correctly the first time.  His attention to detail and consideration for her home was not lost on her.  She has recommended his company repeatedly.

But the carpenter she hired to customize her closet was a major disappointment.  He let her know in no uncertain terms that this job was too small to be worth his time and that he only accepted it because he had an opening in his schedule.

He ignored her ideas and proceeded to install shelving that was uneven.  When she asked him to fix the problem, he instead said he would just give her payment back and quit.  She was left with a mess but was relieved that he was out of her house.  Her custom closet was a custom disaster.  I wonder how long he will stay in business.

A friend whose company manufactures industrial parts has worked with one supplier for decades, even though other suppliers call on him regularly, often with more competitive pricing.  But he stays with that company because of two experiences that proved their loyalty to him.

Years ago, the third shift had an equipment breakdown in the middle of the night, the kind of problem that could idle the factory for days and delay deliveries.  His supplier’s rep showed up at the factory within hours to offer help tracking down replacement parts or even finding alternate locations for production.  Talk about custom service!

Then, when their long-time rep was preparing to retire, the supplier sent the rep and her replacement to spend time at the factory until the new rep was thoroughly familiar with their needs.  Instead of relying on files and old orders, they took a very personal interest.  That sealed the deal.

Too often, customer service is anything but.  One size does not fit all.  Your customers deserve your very best.  Great customer service is only a starting point.  Custom service takes your business to a whole new level.


Mackay’s Moral:  If you want to keep your customers, offer custom service.

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Age is only a number

October is one of my favorite months, perhaps because that’s when I get to blow out my birthday candles and celebrate another successful year.  Who doesn’t love birthdays?

My age is irrelevant; in fact, I subscribe to the iconic comedian Jack Benny’s philosophy.  He turned 39 in 1933, and remained that age until his death in 1974.  I’ve been 39 for a few years now, and it just keeps getting better.

As a constant advocate for lifelong learning, I am directing the advice in this column not only to those who have years of job experience, but also those who are just getting started in the work world and everyone in between.

Here’s what I want everyone to repeat after me:  your age does not dictate your ability to accomplish.  Reaching that magical retirement age does not mean you are finished contributing to society.  Let me give you a few examples of people who refused to “act their age”:

Admiral Rickover, the designer of the first nuclear submarine, was still a consultant to the Navy at the age of 82.

Both Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keefe, American artists, continued to paint well past the age of 90 and on into their hundredth year.  Russian artist Marc Chagall was designing stained glass windows for churches in many parts of the world at age 90.

Frank Lloyd Wright, considered one of the greatest modern American architects, created an entirely original concept of architecture when he was well past the age of 90.  Wright was fond of saying:  “Youth is a quality, and if you have it, you never lose it.”

George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist, was still working on a play at the age of 93 when his prolific life ended prematurely due to complications from a broken leg.

Verdi continued to compose operas as well as the well-known Requiem when he was in his 80s.  He created a retirement home for musicians.

Arthur Rubinstein gave a concert at Carnegie Hall at age 90.  He was almost blind and unable to read the notes.  Nevertheless, he played with his usual perfection.  Afterward, he was heard to remark, “The music is in my mind.”

Albert Schweitzer was an outstanding German organist and philosopher who created a new life in Africa for the underprivileged.  He was a physician, a clergyman and an expert in
music.  He was active until age 90.

PABLOPablo Picasso, having painted over 20,000 pictures, is considered by many to be the greatest artist of the 20th century.  At the age of 90, he remarked, “I often feel young … like 20, and I am only concerned when I feel that I am aging.”

Robert Frost, nearly 87, read his poem, “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Perhaps you detected a theme here – many of these highly accomplished people were creative types who were not bound by the traditional expectations of retirement.  I wonder if there is a correlation.

Regardless of your vocation, I strongly encourage you to never stop using your talents and abilities.  Even if you are looking forward to leaving the workforce at some point, you have marvelous opportunities to leave your mark on the world.

Most of us are familiar with the myth of the Phoenix, an Egyptian bird of great beauty that was found in the Arabian Desert.  There was only one, and it lived for hundreds of years.  When it sensed that it was about to die, it built its own funeral pyre, lighted it by fanning its wings, then flew into the fire and arose young again from the ashes.

The Phoenix came to be associated with the sun god who disappeared as an old man each night and appeared as a child the following morning.  For centuries the Phoenix has become a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

Historian Arnold Toynbee, shared this reflection on life at the age of 81:  “As one grows older, the temptation to dwell on the past and to avert one’s eyes from the future grows.  If one were to fall into this backward-looking stance, one would be as good as dead before physical death had overtaken us.  Our minds, so long as they keep their cutting edge, are not bound by our physical limits; they can range over time and space into infinity.  To be human is to be capable of transcending oneself.”


Mackay’s Moral:  No matter how many birthdays I’ve had, I haven’t hit my peak yet.

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