Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Key to Being Happy

Life is full of irony and the key to happiness is one of those things. I will give it to you straight. To be happy you must not try to be happy all the time. Happiness, success and beauty cannot be your goal. If those things are your number one priority you will not find happiness for very long.  The pursuit of happiness in that way leads to emptiness.

As a counselor you get the privilege of hearing people's stories. Over the years my case load has including people making six figure salaries and homeless people with literally no income at all. Their success or the number in their bank account did not always reflect their happiness. One man quoted King Louie from the Jungle Book.

 "I made it to the top and had to stop and that's what's bothering me."  


He said "I thought once I was successful enough I would be happy. Now I made it to the top and I feel just as empty as when I started."

On the flip side one of my homeless clients came to every session with joy and enthusiasm for life. He would tell stories of how he had helped people and how great he felt about the people in his life. One session he shared how blessed he felt because he got two meals instead of one on that particular day.

So why did my six figure client feel empty and my homeless client carry joy with him?  It had to do with their goals. My six figure client thought the key to happiness in life was in status and things. He sacrificed relationships to get to the top as fast as he could. My homeless client pursued relationships and meaning.

My homeless client said one session, "As long as I have people I love and love me back in my life, and I feel like I have a positive impact on the world there is no circumstance that can get me down."


Johnny Cash did a cover of Nine Inch Nail's song "Hurt" with that same basic message near the end of his life.
One of the lines in the song is:
"You could have it all. My empire of dirt."

He would give all his wealth away. It meant so little to him because of the emptiness he felt. The song talks of regret for not doing relationships well and how the wealth means nothing. It's a pile of dirt to him. There is a void because success without relationships and impact means nothing in the end.

When people age and are near their death bed it is natural to look back on your life and evaluate if you lived a good life. People tend to ask themselves questions like:
1. Did I make the world a better place?
2. Was I good to my family?
3. Did I love well?
I imagine this is exactly why Johnny Cash covered that song. He asked himself those questions and didn't like his answers. People who can answer these questions with a strong yes feel satisfied and fulfilled. People who answers those questions with a no feel a deep void and emptiness.

So you want to be happy? Follow these directions:
1. Find a way to make the world a better place every day. Even if that is something small like making some one smile or cleaning up some trash in the park.
2. Be a good friend. Respect people. Be trustworthy. Make relationships a priority and NEVER betray them. In the end relationships matter more than anything else. Never take them for granted.

Remember some times to be happy we have to do hard things. We have to not be selfish at times and put others first. This is the simplistic yet powerful answer to happiness.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What to Tell Your Children About Tragedy

On May 3rd a man who must have been harboring a great deal of pain himself shot and killed four people (including himself) and wounded one. Included in the people he shot was a father, an 11 year old daughter, a single man, and a mother. These people were innocent just enjoying a walk as on a beautiful bridge that goes over the water. How do you possibly explain this to your children? Do you hide it from them so they don't develop anxiety from it?



Fortunately there was a lot we can focus on in this situation that can be inspiring. There is a lot our kids can learn from this situation.

1. There is a lot of pain in the world. That is why it is soooo important to be kind to all people. You never know what you are preventing in an act of kindness. Hurt people, hurt people. Teach your kids to look for little ways to spread kindness.

2. Kids can be super heroes too. The 5 and 7 year old kids who's parents and sister were shot did not crumble and refuse to function. They bravely got off the bridge and helped others too. Teach your child what to do in a crisis, where to go for help, and what to avoid. If you explain it in the context of being a super hero it will be less scary for younger children. Most kids get the idea of good guys and bad guys so teaching how to respond if a bad guy is around can reduce their anxiety.

3. Even though there are bad guys in the world there a lot of good guys. In response to this horrific event thousands of people have donated money, gone to prayer vigils, and offered help to the families. Horrific events often times brings communities together.

4. Life is fragile and we need to remember to appreciate every moment. Life is not about stuff. It's about relationships. Make sure the people in your life are a priority. Make sure they know how much you care about them.

5. Forgive no matter how horrible it was. The dad who died asked his family to forgive the shooter as his last words because he knew not forgiving could only hurt his family. Forgiveness doesn't mean you think what happened was ok. It just means you are not going to hold that anger in your heart and wish bad things on someone.


Monday, February 2, 2015

What We Can Learn From a Homeless Man


Many people are quick to judge when they see homelessness.

"He's just lazy."

"She must be a drug addict."

"They are just mooching off of the government and everyone else."

The church I attend puts a lot of effort into homeless outreach. The goal of the ministry is simply to earn the privilege of hearing people's stories. We are discouraged from preaching, judging or anything else that would push people away. Through this ministry I got to know a guy named Greg. Greg came with a recognizable smell, dirty clothes, and shaggy hair. If I am honest, I would have would have been intimidated by his appearance and avoided him in previous years.

Lucky for me I didn't avoid him this time. I got to know Greg. I got to know his story. Greg had experienced more than his fair share of pain, rejection, and plain bad luck. Greg wasn't perfect but the thing about him was he seemed to understand something most of the world cannot seem to grasp.

Greg had contagious joy.

Greg had every excuse in the book to not have joy. Greg suffered from serious health conditions. He had seizures that would spontaneously come on and cause serious injuries. He couldn't be employed because of the frequency of this but it took him a long time to get on disability. While he waited he was homeless. He didn't have family in the area so he lived on the streets or in shelters.

Greg needed to walk with a walker and experienced debilitating pain. Yet he got connected at the Mission Church. He said that people there respected him and made him feel like he mattered. Because of this Greg would walk in pain with his walker across town to attend our church.

We were lucky he did.

When Greg finally got on disability he was able to get an apartment. It was run down. There were stains and it had a smell almost as strong as Greg's but he was ELATED!!!! He had nothing. His belongings fit into a back pack but now he had an apartment. When it rained he was going to stay dry. When it was freezing he could stay inside. Did he have a couch or a bed or a TV? No. Greg felt like the luckiest man alive.

Years went by and Greg accumulated a few more things. He felt very fancy with his stained, run down chair. He invited people over all the time because he felt like he had soo much to share. He felt like he had so much wealth.

Greg passed away this weekend due to his health conditions. I will truly miss this man. I couldn't help but smile or laugh when I was with him. He loved authentically. He knew how to appreciate life and not compare himself to others. He considered himself blessed.

His way of looking at life often convicted me. He got it. It wasn't about stuff. When will we get this!!! Stuff doesn't make us happy. If you struggle with depression stuff cannot fix that! Greg had joy and to US standards he had nothing and the nothing that he had most people would consider smelly junk.

I hope that in his death people can learn from him. I hope I can learn from him. This is a lesson I too quickly forget. It's all about perspective. He didn't have health. He didn't have money but he had relationships. Therefore in his mind, he had everything.

Joy cannot be found in stuff.

R.I.P. Greg.