The Secret to Happiness Is…. (cue drumroll)

Surprise + delight = the secret to moments of happiness.

Intentionality = the secret to a lifetime of happiness.

To borrow the phrase overused by rappers everywhere, “Let’s break it down now.”

Surprise + Delight

When I was growing up, my parents never told me that my life couldn’t turn out just like the movies. They never said I was incapable of accomplishing anything, never scoffed at my dreams or told me to “be more realistic.”

In fact, my childhood was a dream. My parents were the BEST at surprises. They taught my brother and I early on that “just because” gifts, spontaneous train trips to Chicago, or a new puppy were wonderful things and that surprises were a part of life – not just something meant for the movies. I’d come home to find a favorite type of ice cream in the freezer, or jump in the car after school with my mom and she would say, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands. I got something for you today!” I learned to bask in the joy of receiving surprises, and loved these unexpected acts of fun and kindness.


I remember one Christmas, when my dad gave me one of the most amazing surprises I’ve ever received. He handed my mom and I beautifully embroidered clutch bags, and stayed quiet as we looked them over assuming that was our (only) gift from him that year. Only when we opened the bags did we find the Broadway tickets inside – I had two tickets to Wicked, and my mom had two to The Phantom of the Opera. We noticed that the dates on the tickets were only one day apart…at which point my dad brought out this fabulous book that he had created that outlined an entire, week-long trip to NYC. Our plane tickets were in the front, followed by hotel reservations, MORE Broadway tickets (to five shows!), restaurant reviews, subway maps – everything! My 16 year-old heart was bursting!

Sometime around that point, I decided I wanted to be like my dad. I’d been the recipient of joy, but I wanted to give the joy, too! So I started to buy my mom earrings or flowers just because, or look into sending our family to a hotel in Warsaw for the night (because at the time, that was all I could afford and Warsaw, IN sounded exotic and exciting. lolz.).

Fast-forward for a few years, and I started dating. (I’m sure you’re knowingly nodding now if you’ve dated more than one person in your lifetime. You’re like, “Here it is. Here’s the reality.”) I’ve dated a couple people that approached things very intentionally, and things just didn’t work out because they weren’t meant to. But, I’ve also had the dating horror stories where he would “ghost” (e.g., not respond) for week(s), then show up on my doorstep with a box of chocolates. Those one-off moments may have made me happy momentarily but wouldn’t indicate to me that he really valued or appreciated me. I’d still be left in the following days or weeks, questioning what he really felt about me – and, questioning is the FASTEST way to suck the happiness out of anything.

And, to be honest, I’d rather have cupcakes than chocolate. Clearly guys like that didn’t understand my heart. 😉



Happiness comes with intentionality. One of the most certain ways to tell how someone feels about you is to pay attention to how intentional their actions are towards you.


That’s why I’ve never questioned how my parents, or even my closest friends, feel about me. We’re intentional in how we give gifts to and surprise each other. We all also ensure that the sentiment behind the gifts we give to each other lives on / continues to be proven through our daily actions – affirming the other person and showing he / she that they are cherished, loved, and valued. That their heart is understood. That they are unquestionably worth the time and sacrifice it took to make something happen. That’s a wonderful feeling.


My best friends might stop by my house announced spontaneously just to say “hi!” (the gift of presence), or drive 30 minutes to bring me Starbucks first thing before a big event. I might drop off a $5 gift card with a note at their house to surprise them when they get home, or ship my mom roses hand-picked from volcanoes in South America just to say, “I love you.” (Check out This is a real & amazing thing. Your mom / friend / girlfriend will love you forever.)


Intentionality doesn’t have to mean big, expensive, extravagant surprises. It isn’t measured by how much money you spend – just by how consistently you take time to say / do something that shows, “Hey, I value you.”

Maybe it’s doing the dishes, writing a quick note, or stopping by someone’s office on your lunch hour. Maybe it IS buying flowers or driving an hour to say “Hi!” or giving a year-long sock subscription. (Cai, my brother, you’re welcome.)

Whatever it is, happiness – in life, in relationships, in anything – comes from being intentional.

Let me know your thoughts below 🙂


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