UNITED STATES—We all wish each other a Happy New Year and the post modern among us cringe at the conformity of the cliche. But what do we do about increasing happiness? What can we do about it?

Here are a few ideas to chew on:

1. Learn to take a step back and let things ride.

People are really wound tight these days. Let them say what they want to say and let it go without engaging that mouth.

I saw an heard an example of what not to on New Year’s Day. In a West Hollywood hamburger joint, there is a regular who likes to talk, and she was talking to a cute little girl and then to her mom at the next table. Then the talk turned to a helium balloon and to the plastic Minnie Mouse, at the end of the string on the balloon. It could be swallowed and the mother should take it off; the older woman was saying something like that and very insistent about it.

In a heartbeat the mom was saying:

“I am her mother. Don’t tell me how to raise my daughter.”

From the tone of the mother’s voice I knew she was peeved, and the old woman was really miffed, mumbling asides to herself.

Things like this just multiply.

So from this encounter you have two going away angry, sent off to have a bad day. Furthermore, the old woman would be telling other folks how incredibly rude that young mother was all the live long day. And spreading annoyance to all the people who would be faking sympathy for the old woman’s venting.

If the mother of the girl with the balloon had been a tad more lenient she could have let it ride. Hey, it’s an old woman trying to be helpful in her way. The younger woman could have said simply, “Thanks for the comment.”

2. Silence is power

This goes for the young mother as well as the talky older woman. She surely would not have triggered the mom’s ire if she had held her peace and shut her trap.

People prodigal in tips in conversation are often oblivious to the fact that they are treading on much more basic emotional ground. These righteous tips tend to interfere with people’s comfort level and their right to choose freely. It may seem illogical, but it’s true: people are often happier making their own less informed choices. In cases when they are left to their own devices, people are also able to more directly face the negatives of their choices and thus self-correct.

3. When in doubt sing.

Singing makes life better. So go forth and learn a new song this month, and welcome to the movement toward happiness. It is a grand movement in our time where our feel good is so often threatened. Happiness is not “out there.” It is in us, and these are a few ways to maintain it: singing, selective silence, and know when to let troublesome remarks go.
Practice these and multiply the happiness briefly denied oneself by letting others be. A measure of brief suffering may be the price so two souls can go on their merry way.

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.