I would like to share with you the story of an unexpected and unforgettable encounter
with a young woman named Sarah. Waiting with crowds of people for train connections
in Penn Station during a recent working vacation on the east coast, Sarah caught my
eye. Despite a lingering heat wave of near 100 degrees, she had a winter parka,
complete with fur edging on the hood, draped over her suitcase. Intrigued and curious, I
sat down next to her on the bench and wondered where in the world was she traveling
that would require a parka in July. Glancing at her coat, I couldn’t help from asking
where she was headed. With a huge smile and laughter, she responded in a British
accent, “Oh, we don’t have such heat in England as you do here so I mindlessly brought
the coat I was wearing at the time with me. I’ve been lugging this winter coat with me
my whole trip!”. Without even a smidgen of self-reproach about her packing blunder,
Sarah seemed refreshingly upbeat despite the weather that most people miserably
complained about all week.
Traveling alone by subway and train, this 18-year-old was finishing a 2-week
sightseeing trip of New York City and was headed to Toronto. Bubbling with
enthusiasm, Sarah told me of the sites she visited and of all the friendly people she met.
I was struck by how her conversation was only about the happy moments of her travels;
not of the frustrating or disappointing times that I’m sure she experienced (including the
extreme inconvenience of carrying a winter coat around in sweltering heat!).
This is a woman who obviously chose to focus on happy moments and good decisions.
Consequently she was enjoying feeling “high” on serotonin, our brain’s natural
antidepressant. She seemed addicted to happiness!
Sarah is actively growing a happy brain and a strong immune system. She is also
simultaneously causing a surge in brain serotonin in all, like me, who are fortunate to
meet her. Waving good-bye as she rushed off to catch her train, I was left feeling
invigorated and inspired. Sarah is now part of my ever-growing memory bank of people
I carry in my mind whose memory gives me an instant boost of happiness – my personal
and portable built-in antidepressant system.
Another young person who is actively nurturing a happy brain is my son, Bern. A recent
example occurred during this same trip. To join me and other relatives for dinner, Bern
ended a long work day in Connecticut and spent three hours driving slowly in traffic
jams to Long Island … without air conditioning in the heat wave. He arrived drenched in
sweat, but with a smile and his characteristic friendliness. Assuming lighter traffic would
get him home in less than 90-minutes, he set off later that night and got stuck in road
construction. He drove a total of six hours that day in the heat and never complained. I
just talked with him this morning and thanked him again for his thoughtfulness and
without missing a beat he said “Oh, it was fun! I enjoyed it!”.
Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amens gives us this delightfully succinct prescription for
- Notice what you love about your life, a lot more than what you don’t.
- Notice what you love about other people, a lot more than what you don’t.
It takes practice, but is so worth the effort!