Thoughts for a Happier Life

Mark Sagor



Ethel WeissEthel Weiss is the primary (and sole) investigator for the longest running research project in the country on the subject of happiness and job satisfaction. When I tell you that the study is being conducted in Massachusetts you might reasonably suspect that the Harvard Business School or M.I.T. have something to do with it, but they don’t.

Ethel’s extraordinary research is a one-woman operation focused on answering the question: “How is it possible for a person show up for work with a good attitude for 74 consecutive years?”

The project has been conducted at Irving’s Toy and Card Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts. The store sells candy, puzzles and classic toys like Silly Putty, jump ropes, yo-yos, Slinkys and miniature dinosaurs.

It started out as a Mom and Pop operation but during those 74 years Ethel has been widowed twice. Both her husbands, Irving Kravitz and Abe Weiss were partners in the business while they were married.

Ms. Weiss, the dedicated entrepreneur and researcher, is now 98 years old, and still opening the store every morning.

She has published her conclusions: “Thoughts for a Happier Life” (1994) and “How to be Old and Still Happy” (2009) and made them available in poster format at the store. If you buy one, Ms. Weiss will autograph it with a personalized message.

The unique brilliance of this meticulous research is that the findings are not buried in dense academic language and convoluted statistical analysis. The accumulated wisdom of the endeavor has been distilled by Ms. Weiss into portable aphorisms.

My favorite is: “Think pleasantly about your work and do the best job you can.”

Honestly, has the Harvard Business School come up with a better personal mission statement?

Only the most valuable and hefty ideas can survive 98 years of winnowing.

Two other gems from Ms. Weiss’s research, validated every day in my EAP counseling experience are: “Don’t buy what you can’t afford” and “You can’t guarantee things will be the way you planned.”

Her compressed diamonds of advice are easy to understand and yet sometimes hard to follow. They reveal that happiness and success are the accumulation of small moments and thousands of daily choices shaped by the discerning eye of unwavering values.

A new generation of retail entrepreneurs like Tony Hseih of Zappos are distinguishing themselves in the cyber economy by their creative tactics (like sending cookies and flowers) for improving and personalizing customer service.

When it comes to creating a credible brand with loyal customers raving about impeccable personal service, however, Ms. Weiss has established the highest standard.

She still opens Irving’s Toy and Card Shop every morning wearing a hand made button on her sweater that says: I Love My Customers.

And every day she provides her customers with the precious gifts of wisdom acquired from a life well lived.