Happiness Can Surprise You


Meet Bert.

He saved my day.

Last week, while returning from a client trip, I was having a pretty bad day. Then I met Bert. 

It started with an unfortunate early bus-ride to the airport from the hotel... before I'd had my first cup of coffee. This combination of circumstances has been known to evoke the demon within me, and for this reason, I usually attempt to avoid their intersection. 

The airport experience, even before 6:00 AM, was not precisely optimum for the peaceful coexistence of travel and happiness. It was already crowded. There were long lines at TSA security checkpoints. TSA staff were not amused by my usual array of electronic devices and the coils of wires used to interconnect them.

Furthering my displeasure, once inside the terminal the only coffee shop (you know the one) was backed up with a line snaking around the walls of the gate area. The staff at the breakfast restaurant across the way seemed less awake than me, and much less interested in my state of mind. Needless to say, if I was to make this day worthy of a trip home, I was already at a distinct disadvantage.

I cobbled together the courage to board the plane sans-caffeine (eek!) and managed to doze off for most of the two-hour flight for my layover in Detroit.

The moment I stepped out of the jetway, into Detroit's A concourse, everything changed.

At Delta Airlines' enormous McNamara terminal birds fly free. There, just as I stepped through the door, was a little sparrow flitting its way from span to span. Seriously, it was flitting! How can anyone be angry or wallow in self-pity when there's a little bird living inside an airport terminal flitting?

Then, a few gates down, it's finally time for that long overdue cup of coffee. The Illy Coffee shop stands at the crossroads of A concourse and the famous neon tunnel connecting to the B and C concourses. The first indication that things were going my way was the lack of a line as I approached the counter. When I ordered my coffee, the guy behind the counter took one look at me and said,

"I tell you what. I'm going to buy your cup of coffee but I'd like to ask you to do one little thing for me. I'm the manager here and my employee is having a really bad day. That's Jessica over there. She's worked her butt off this morning and could use a little support. Would you just say something nice to her?"

Then he offered me a scrapped receipt where I could use her employee code to leave a positive comment via the company's website. There is simply no better way to lift your own spirits than to share some joy with another person who needs it! In the world of positive psychology, this is how we show people that what they do matters. (See Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage for research on this.)


1081 Jessica

"That's Jessica over there. She's worked her butt off this morning and could use a little support."

Of course, I sent the email as suggested. I also took the moment to write a quick card and slipped in a few bucks as a tip. As I got up to leave, I found Jessica, handed her the envelope and told her "thanks for changing my day from bad to amazing!" 


What's it worth?

Bert and Jessica helped change my outlook on an otherwise bad day. That's invaluable to me.

This is also an example of Dan and Chip Heath's "peak moments" concept. Their book, The Power of Peak Moments helps us understand that to serve our customers and create loyalty it's best to build peaks rather than just to fill potholes. Illy, this otherwise nondescript corporate coffee shop, just won a customer in me by creating a lasting positive memory-a peak moment. So much so, that it got me to write this blog post, and will likely have me repeating the story to clients in future Happiness Advantage - Orange Frog Workshops. 

Thanks to Bert and to Jessica and that little flitting bird, my day took a demonstrable shift towards the positive. I am grateful for this reminder that happiness is a choice, but sometimes every once in a while, there's one little thing that can help make that choice easier.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump, "happiness is what happiness does."

Stay Awesome!