Several years ago, when I was undertaking specific research for my book Enjoy The Ride, I came across an article entitled something like “Ways to Be Happier.” It struck me as being a good article to support my thought process as I prepared to write my book.
The author of the piece included tips such as: “Think Happy Thoughts,” “Appreciate Moments,” “Set a Goal Such as Running a Marathon,” “Change Your Diet to Healthier Choices,” “Manage Time Effectively” and “Change Your Morning Routine.”
Now, I can’t find any major faults with any of those suggestions, but there just seemed to be a missing piece.
Every tip was about doing something for yourself, which, when followed, I am sure would improve your ride, but I didn’t think it was the key to happiness. I felt like the key to happiness was giving.
Blinded by Your Own View
As part of my research, I remember reading a story that dates back centuries. It concerns a man who was very devout in his religious practice. He always walked from his little wooden home and showed up a half hour early at services to prepare himself for prayer. He was a kind man and a happy man, but when he prayed he was quite serious.
It was bitterly cold and one of the most sacred religious holidays of the year. The many congregants gathered for the start of services, and much to their dismay the man was nowhere to be found. They waited five minutes, ten and, instead of the services starting on time, there was much chatter, worry and hand wringing. After a while, the congregants had completely forgotten about “religion” and were solely focused on why the man was missing: “Maybe it was wolves,” said one. Another conjectured it was illness, and still others made snide remarks that the man might have been engaging in inappropriate behavior. One even said, “I knew there was something behind that so-called kind smile!”
Finally, twenty minutes late, the man came through the door. He was covered with snow, dirty and disheveled, but he was broadly smiling. Everyone demanded to know why he was late!
“It is simple,” he said. “I was coming to services as usual, and I passed ‘Mrs. A’s’ house, the old widow. I noticed there was no smoke coming from her chimney. I knocked on her door, and she said her son was sick and couldn’t cut her wood for the stove. So, I chopped wood for her.”
“She’s not even one of us!” said a congregant.
“I did not keep you from your prayers,” said the man. “You are warm here. She was cold. I could not have lived with myself had I abandoned her.”
“Now we’re late in getting started with our prayers,” said another parishioner.
“But I am not,” said the man. “As I was chopping her wood, I thanked God for the honor of service.”
The Missing Piece
Of the numerous things the author proposed to make us happier, there was not one mention of helping the stranger in need nor of giving one’s time to a cause or even of community service.
Go ahead and run that marathon if you’d like, but don’t run past the person in need. Feel free to follow a vegan or Paleo diet or go on a juice fast, but don’t ignore the fact that somewhere tonight a person will have no food. When we forget to love the stranger in our midst, we will also forget about the core values that help make all of us happier. Surely, we have all been strangers.
I recall a time in my life when I had lost everything. My credit was ruined; I was jobless, down-and-out and basically had nothing. However, it turned out to be the greatest blessing of my life. It taught me a valuable lesson. I learned to give, not because I have much, but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing. You hold the key to happiness. It’s your choice to open the door for yourself, but, more importantly, to hold it open for others.