This time of year, there are lots of ads on TV promising stuff to make us happy….and it made me wonder— how does one experience real happiness? Is it based upon stuff, or something else? How might I change my actions and dial in a new course bound for happiness? Is there a different approach to happiness that’s more meaningful than what I’ve attempted to do with my life, so far?
On television, we learn of all the quick fixes. There are ads enticing us with offers for the fastest, slickest, newest, and most efficient car ever made– which can be yours without hassle, at a special holiday price— but you’re going to have to hurry on in. Happiness is waiting for you to drive it off the lot, complete with no down payment, super rebates, and low monthly obligations from now until forever. Just sign here please, and your worries are over, baby.
Other ads promise to improve our sex lives with a special pill that on the spur of the moment, place us into separate porcelain bath tubs with a beautiful partner –magically positioned in a forest or on a beach –somehow prepared for that “special event”. We even get to hold hands. Yeehaw!
There’s that cheap little sheep that gives us valuable gifts when we purchase the greatest mattress of all time, those burger joints where something mixed together in a cup with cheese, Fritos or oriental delights will cheer our tummies, and of course medication that helps us see colorful butterflies at night, providing the peaceful sleep we really need– to gear up for the unbelievable stress the ad suggest will come tomorrow. Oh, and there’s that furniture ad where the guy stands on an upside down chair, and says, “hey, this is quality stuff.” There’s no doubt if you can stand on a chair upside down on the ground, that’s got to be the good stuff. We all wish we had a chair like that. The good stuff.
There are even bank card programs that give you back money by (follow this now) charging your card more money than the actual item you just bought, and placing the difference into a “special savings account” just for you. Groovy, huh? Hard to imagine how good that must make someone feel—the savings keep on piling up, as you go more in debt. What could make one happier than being handed their own money?
Over the course of the past fifty years or so, I’ve stumbled through life enough to know that true happiness doesn’t come from new wheels, new clothes, new bathtubs on the beach, new medications, or large and small toys. These things are just part of the stuff in life. I’ve purchased lots of stuff, and I can tell you with all certainty—stuff doesn’t make you happy. Oh sure, stuff can be fun for a short while (like firecrackers). But stuff wears down. Stuff breaks. Stuff becomes obsolete. Stuff gets used up. And we eventually wear through most of our stuff away, where it becomes the world’s refuse somewhere. Charge a bunch of stuff to your credit card, and eventually the only thing left is the obligation to pay on the card. None of the actual stuff you buy has much value anymore. I had a couple walk in my office once with $170,000 in credit card bills seeking my help. I asked them, what did they have to show for it? They said, “Not much—just some stuff.” It was hard to imagine.
Or we just die– and then someone throws our stuff away for us. It’s just a matter of time. We’re all going to get there— that’s a given. I read in the paper this weekend about a guy who had lots of stuff, and hanged himself with a dog leash because the stuff he acquired was at the expense of others, and I’m guessing his own greed and having to deal with the deceit of how he got his stuff, finally got to him. Or it may have been the thought of a lengthy term in prison. One thing’s clear—his stuff won’t be any good to him now.
So how can a person truly be happy? For me, happiness is as simple as a hug from my daughter. Time spent with my son. A day worked constructively. Doing something that significantly helped someone. Being good. Noodling around with music. Here are a few other thoughts. I call them…
TOM’s FIVE CHOICES:
CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY:
Simply making the choice to be a happy person goes a long way in having a fulfilling life. Go through life complaining about everything, and your wish will come true. Choose not to enjoy the moment, the week, the year– and your life will follow a similar path. Choosing to be happy doesn’t mean that you’re giddy with excitement each and every moment of the day, but it means that you are in positive expectation of the moment, instead of seeking out the bad things in life. I get upset and angry as much as the next guy—and sometimes– I lose sight of the targets. But when I re-focus upon the positives of the moment—good things begin to happen again, and I’m happier. Even being vertical beats the alternatives. Experience life to its fullest.
CHOOSE TO BE SATISFIED:
Ever had one of these moments? They kind of crack me up. Someone walks up and says, “Hey look at my new cell phone. It has all these new features. Oh, you have the one that came out six months ago? Too bad for you, pal. This one is so much better.” And for a moment you go, “Dang, I wish I had one of those.” What’s so funny is that we were happy the moment before we saw the new phone—why can’t we stay happy with what we have? Sometime down the line you’ll inevitably get an updated cell phone and then yours will be newer than your friend’s cell phone, and amidst it all—what does it matter? Be satisfied with life. Be satisfied with your stuff. Be satisfied in your relationship with your spouse, and your kids. Explore the good things you have to the fullest—like, having a good job— and build upon it instead of wishing for something different. I want to see you excel in your life to the highest level possible—and I hope that you get everything you want in life. But day after day, if you muck around in being unsatisfied with everything, you can’t maintain an attitude of happiness, and you won’t progress very far. Have you noticed how grumpy people rarely get promotions?
CHOOSE TO BE OF SERVICE:
Serving others places a strategic emphasis on caring about other people instead of trying to internalize and micro-manage your own life. Friends I have who have suffered from addictive actions often focus so much on themselves, they lose the tangible benefits of having meaningful and healthy relationships with others. They look in the mirror so long and so hard that the world becomes secondary to their own fears, concerns and recurring destructive habits. Their lives are spinning around and they don’t see the friends and family standing there like lifelines—waiting to help. Graduate to a position of spending time helping others, and you won’t have time to flounder in your own self-pity. Invest of yourself in others, and the beneficial results will be solid, healthy relationships and a much happier life. You’ll have friends, and people who care about you. And that’s a good thing.
CHOOSE TO EXCHANGE POSITIVE ENERGY:
I’ve read and re-read The Celestine Prophecy, and have purchased many copies to give as gifts to friends. It’s a book that on its surface has a hokey plot line, and yet, it has somewhat entwined itself with my core being. In it, a traveler heads to South America to seek out the insights to life. Dumb, huh? But what hits me about the book is that within it lies this message: Each person we meet during the day, or speak with on the phone, or communicate with by e-mail either has something to share with us—or we have something to share with them. Think of the possibilities—today someone may share with you a message that will change your life forever— or you—with them. If you are closed minded and not open to it—you may miss the most important gift anyone could share with you. You could walk on by. They may hand you your special message tomorrow, and you won’t even hear it among the clutter of your day. Why not be ready? Approach each encounter you have—positively, actively and openly.
CHOOSE TO HAVE FAITH IN SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOU:
Life hands us all twists and turns that are too much to deal for any human being to deal with—and by having a personal relationship with God, you can see these times through. Life can be happier. On many occasions, I have literally closed my eyes and had a conversation with Him, and said, “God, what you‘ve handed me today is a lot to deal with, and I’m not sure I can do it alone. Can you help me out?” And generally, things work out—because I have a relationship there. Not magically, with messengers from heaven who whisk down like flying monkeys to take my problems away . . . but somehow the problems get resolved, and we just move on. We do it together. I have faith and trust in Him, and feel empowered by Him. You should try it. Seriously, what do you have to lose? He sent his only Son who taught us to love, not hate. So model that— go out— and be loving. He taught us that serving others saves us. He demonstrated his love for us by paying the ultimate price, so that each of us would be saved.
So, there they are—five simple things you can do to live a happier life. No pills. No significant expense. Nothing that takes much effort. And they whole deal has zero calories, tastes great, and is actually more filling. Hope you find it of value on your journey today.
There’s a saying, “Your attitude will determine your altitude.”
I’m a believer.
Now get out there and soar.
Tom Wilbur is a regular contributor to newspapers, magazines and periodicals. He is President/CEO of Salina’s BANK VI, has lived most of his life in Salina, and is a graduate of Salina Central and the University of Kansas. He plays in two area bands– The Last National Band, and The NINE:50 Worship Band, at Trinity United Methodist Church. He wishes that he had written every Beatles song ever penned, but it did not happen. And still, he’s generally happy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.