Psychologist sees common threads in happy people

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Tom Glaser believes virtually everyone can be happy.

“I think it’s simpler than people, at least in Western culture, believe,” he said.

A licensed psychologist since 1991, Glaser said American society is bombarded with misleading messages about finding happiness in materialism, romantic love and pleasure-seeking. He’s found that the top things that make people happy have little to do with any of those things.

Glaser will teach a class called “Choosing Happiness” through District 728 Community Education. It will run from 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the Handke Center in Elk River.

He believes there are three top things that contribute to a person’s happiness. They are:

Relationships: Happy people are deeply connected to others. They surround themselves with people they love and who love them. They cultivate that by being loving and accepting of themselves and others, he said.

Passion: “Happy people do things they adore,” Glaser said. If it’s somewhat challenging as well, that’s good. Overcoming challenges or obstacles on the way to achieving something of value to the person leads to deep happiness, he said. Happy people also take more risks, he noted.

Mindfulness: Happy people are fully present in the moment. There’s a push to multi-task in American culture, but Glaser said that’s a myth because the human brain can’t truly focus on more than one thing at once. Happy people are also fully present for whatever emotions come along, including sorrows, which are part of the human experience. “I never promote avoidance,” he said. “When tears come up, you be with the tears.” Unhappy people avoid pain like the plague, but that doesn’t work, he said.

Glaser embarked on his own study of happiness after his dream job changed and he grew very unhappy.

One of the things he concluded was that he needed to do something just for fun. That rekindled an interest in performing that began in childhood. Glaser appeared in a community theater production that, while challenging, brought him great joy.

He eventually left his job and went into private practice. About that time he also stumbled onto the book, “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, which struck a chord.

Glaser believes that happiness is influenced by a number of factors including nutrition, wellness, exercise, attitude and relationships.

Glaser has three videos on his website featuring the happiest people he knows. See them at

His “Choosing Happiness” class in Elk River costs $15. To register, go to or call 763-241-3520