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A Simple Exercise to Increase Your Happiness

Drumline WarmupSam Berns was an American who suffered from progeria, a rare genetic disorder in which symptoms resembling aspects of aging are manifested at a very early age. He was born in 1996 and died in January of this year, at the age of 17.

In a Ted Talk he gave in October of 2013, Sam shared his philosophy for happiness. He indicated that there were many obstacles in his life, most of them created by progeria. However, he made the choice not to focus on the things he couldn’t do because of his disease. This is how he put it:

“Be OK with what you ultimately can’t do, because there’s so much you can do.”

Instead of thinking of the fact that he couldn’t run a long distance race, or ride an intense roller coaster, Sam chose to focus on the activities that he could do, and that he was passionate about. This included things such as the following:

  • Playing music
  • Reading comic books
  • Watching sports

At the same time, he would take a look at the list of things that he really wished that he could do, but couldn’t, and he would look for ways to make adjustments, so that he could participate in those activities. Here’s how Sam put it:

“Put things in the can do category by making adjustments.”

As an example, Sam wanted to play the snare drum in his high school’s marching band. But there was a problem: in order to play the snare drum as you march, you have to wear a harness. The harness and the drum weigh about 40 pounds, and Sam weighed a mere 50 pounds. Therefore, he couldn’t carry the snare drum, which meant that he couldn’t march with the band.

Because marching with the band was an important goal for Sam, he started looking for ways to make adjustments so that he could march with them during game half-times. Sam and his family worked with an engineer to design a snare drum harness that would be lighter and easier for Sam to carry.

They were able to come up with a snare drum apparatus—which included the drum and the drum carrier—which weighed only about six pounds. With this adjustment, Sam was able to achieve his dream of marching with the band.

The simple happiness exercise that can be derived from Sam’s philosophy is the following:

  • First, focus on the things you can do, instead of thinking of the things that you can’t do. Every time you find yourself thinking of something that you wish you could do, but can’t, make a list of at least five things that you’re passionate about and can do. Then, get up and go do one of those things.
  • Second, take a look at the list of things you can’t do–and wish you could–, and choose one of them. Then, start looking for creative ways to make adjustments, find an alternative way of doing things, or modify the goal slightly so that you can do it.


When Sam was asked what was the most important thing that he wanted people to know about him, his answer was the following: “I want people to know that I’m happy”. Sam had a simple happiness philosophy: focus on the good, and find creative ways to move things from the “I can’t” to the “I can” category. Live your best life by following this same philosophy.

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