What’s Happiness, Anyway?

I’m writing this post at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom,  “the happiest place on Earth.” Specifically, I’m in the indoor playground attached to the Dumbo ride, getting some blogging done while the kiddo expends a bunch of pent-up energy.  

 Here I am, listening to a podcast IN THE DUMBO PLAYGROUND while writing this very post!  

Here I am, listening to a podcast IN THE DUMBO PLAYGROUND while writing this very post!  

So why is Walt Disney World so darn happy?

I think I’ve figured it out.

Forget riding the rides and meeting the characters. You can get that at pretty much any amusement park. 

Nope, I think the secret sauce of happiness here is that Disney employees (“cast members”) are exceptionally nice to the masses (“guests”). They go out of their way to make the Disney experience magical (their word) for everyone.

Disney cast members (OK, I’ll use their terminology) are constantly putting themselves in their guests’ shoes: wondering what it would feel like to be in a particular situation, anticipating potential problems or roadblocks guests may experience, and ensuring any concerns are addressed immediately to the guests’ satisfaction.

Example: Somehow, my husband's online Disney Experience account got jacked up and his FastPasses (reservations to get on rides at a designated time) weren't working. Within a few minutes on getting on one of the rides (a very kind employee let him get on it with the rest of us), someone at Disney texted me asking if he was having a problem with his FastPasses, and if so, would we like them to resolve the issue? Um, yes.

BOOM. Done.

We didn't have to reach out to anyone to fix this annoying glitch––they took the initiative and fixed it for us. Where else do you get this kind of attention? 

They also pay special attention to kids. We bought Alex a coloring book, and the cashier reached under the counter and gave him a little pack of Disney crayons. And I can’t tell you how many times he’s been given cool Disney stickers by random cast members for no reason at all. Little things like this make a big difference to a kid—and to that kid’s parents.

Now, I'm not a shill for Disney, believe it or not.

(My in-laws are the hardcore Disney fanatics––they bring us here every single year. Not complaining!)

No, I'm just sitting here, contemplating the concept of happiness while surrounded by overstimulated, highly sugared, deliriously joyful elementary school aged kids swarming a junior-sized ropes course. 

So let me get to my point . . . .

Here's how I think the unbelievable Disney customer service experience is the basis of WDW's famed happiness:

It's all about empathy––the ability to place yourself in someone else's position and feel what they feel.  

It's pretty obvious how other people empathizing with you would make you happy. Wouldn't we all love that? But how does empathizing with other people make you happy? 

Let me explain.

In the normal course of life, you encounter all kinds of conflicts with others: stupid things like idiot drivers and rude restaurant servers, bigger things like fights with friends, enormous things like the end of relationships. What would happen if we all practiced a little more empathy in these situations?

Imagine taking a step back and trying to see the situation from someone else's perspective: 

  • Why would they be acting this way?
  • Why would they be upset?
  • What could they be thinking/feeling?

That's right, I'm asking you to (temporarily) ignore what you're thinking and feeling to concentrate on the other person. Difficult, I know, but hear me out.

Taking a moment to practice seeing things from the other person's side––minus the anger and hostility you probably feel––builds understanding and allows you to see that person as another human being, with complex thoughts and feelings beyond being a "bad guy" or a "bitch."

And that, in turn, helps YOU. (Yes, there is a selfish element to all of this.) 

Freed from the rage and hurt and everything else that would otherwise blind you, you will see that person for who they truly are: someone reacting out of insecurity or deep pain or simple obliviousness. 

And this will make you happy.

It will make you happy because you'll no longer be weighed down by destructive emotions that do nothing but burden you. You will exercise compassion––not necessarily excusing the other person's behavior, but understanding where they're coming from and why they may have reacted the way they did. And you'll develop the ability to extract yourself from the situation, to see that it's not all about you; rather, their actions and behavior had much more to do with their own baggage than anything related to you. You'll be free to see the bigger picture. 

That freedom will make you happy.

Now imagine everyone in the world doing this. Wouldn't that be amazing? 

It starts with you.