Are There Any Universal Secrets to Happiness?

“Are There Any Universal Secrets to Happiness?”

 I ask store clerks this question. Lately I’ve gotten two certain “no”s and two qualified “maybe”s.

 A retail clerk, a female, said, “I’m not sure.”

I followed up with, “Are there things that make all people happy?”

She said tentatively, “Maybe love.”

I came back with, “Love given or love received?”

She said, “Love received.” 

I said, “What makes it possible to receive love?”

Our conversation had to end there.

(I wanted to ask, “Isn’t it more reliable to give love than to wait to get it? Aren’t our kindnesses just as satisfying to us as they are to those we love?”)

 At the next store, a young woman with the radioactive symbol tattooed into her forearm, neon hair tints, and a silver ring puncturing her nostril bridge waited on me.

“Are there any universal secrets of happiness?”

“No,” without hesitation.


At a sporting good store a young female clerk answered my question saying “no.” She seemed pretty confident about it.

I followed up with, “Happiness is different for every person?”

She affirmed that.

 At a medical office, I asked a receptionist, “Are there any universal secrets of happiness?”

She wasn’t sure. She knows what makes her happy; trying to be good to people, treating them like she’d like to be treated, writing an extensive loving note to her father in the Father’s Day card she gave him.

She wasn’t sure her methods were universally applicable but she tended in that direction.

We discussed the possibility that negative responses to the question may indicate the dominance of relativism in modern thinking, that the absolute belief that no moral absolutes exist could be at work.

I wondered if the writers of the Declaration of Independence were 1) asserting that universals exist in the “pursuit of happiness, or 2) that no universals exist and that the liberty they prized and demanded only allows every person to define what happiness is to them and what methods they might employ to attain it. The latter posits the moral relativism seemingly accepted by the two young ladies that flatly denied that there are universal secrets to happiness.(The Closing of the American Mind: Allan Bloom, 1987.)

 I may ask the next quick “no” this question: do all methods of seeking happiness return the happiness result? Can people be happy no matter what they do? Is there any way at all to be happy? Is happiness possible? Is anyone happy? Are there any universal secrets to being unhappy?


Photo: Catherine Scott: