Maybe it’s that I just finished listening to Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods or maybe it’s because I just had to leave my family yet again and it’s weighing heavy on my mind and heart, but I think I have discovered True Happiness.

When I was young, I had big dreams.  Big dreams of wealth, power and individual freedom over my life and what it would stand for.  Like most, I went to school, got idealistic, then struck out to work hard and climb the latter of success so I could have nice things and someday retire with a plush 401k and live the easy life while writing my own book.  I worked long and hard hours chasing money, status and fame.   I’ll never forget the first year I made six figures; I thought I had made it and joined the big leagues.

Then life happened and God let me know who was really in charge.

With a series of unfortunate events, my life and the whitewashed walls I tried to build around me came crashing down.  Shortly after the worst year of my life, 9/11 happened and like most people I paused to examine my life.  What I saw was greed, buying in to the loser’s game and chasing a false ideal of success and happiness. 

When I was a Financial Planner, we used to utilize a sales strategy called “What’s Important About Money to You.”  It was taken from Bill Bachrach’s Values Based Selling.  The exercise would ask people about their life goals and how much money they wanted for retirement.   

People would tend to list their goals materially.  A Big House, a Range Rover, a Boat, a Condo on the French Riviera, etc.  When you took someone’s goal and broke it down asking them what’s really important about this goal to you it always came down to an emotion the person wished to feel.  We really don’t want these things; we want the feelings that we think these things we bring us.  “If I drive a nice car, people will think I am successful. It will impress the neighbors and my in-laws.”  Really?

In 2003, I used this technique on myself examining my own life goals.  Do I really need a bigger house, a nicer car or more money in the bank or do I want these things? Furthermore, do I want these things or the imagined emotions that I believe these things will bring me?  If it is only the emotions I am after, where else could I receive these emotions?

Society will try to sell you that happiness lies in chasing success, fame and material possessions.

Is a bigger house, a nicer car and the status of buying the latest 4G phone every 6 months really all there is to life?

I recently pulled out an old photo album and looked at pictures of my wife and I from our teens to our early marriage years. I paused when I saw three pictures of our first apartment, car and bedroom.  We looked like poverty stricken couple with bad jobs and an old Buick that was barely running.  I then looked around my current house.  We have a big house full of Italian furniture in a private gated community with stocked lakes and dozens of hiking trails plus 2 semi-new cars in the parking lot.    

We have come a long way since those old photos; do we really need anything more? Are we really any happier or just more secure?  Some of our greatest memories as a couple and family come from the times we were the most destitute and in some of the most harrowing situations, we don’t need more money, possessions or security.  We need more purpose in life, more giving to others and more gratitude for all we have.

This is what I have found to be true on the subject:

True Happiness lies in canoeing for seven days into Northern Minnesota and Canadian backcountry.  Seeing God’s creation as he intended, with no outside noise or distractions.  Watching a Mother Eagle and her babies catch a fish out of the water at dusk less than 30 yards from your canoe.  Chasing a bear off the island you are camping on with only a Swiss army knife and some Chutzpah.  Running out of food at day 6 then canoeing and rushing to a Pizza Hut on day 7 starving and grateful you made it.

Building a school in a third world country where the children have never seen a text book or had any formal education.  Giving a ragged child that has never had a toy in his life a soccer ball and watching him play like it was the best day in his life.  Then humbling yourself when his mother and father thank you repeatedly with tears in their eyes and toothless smiles knowing that their child will receive the education they never had.

Taking your daughter on a date and going ice skating.  Falling on your face while she saves you then retreating to the coffee shop afterwards for hot chocolate and fresh Blue Mountain java.  Then she lets you into her world and tells you of her dreams, struggles and what she really wants to do when she grows up.  Standing in her doorway that night and watching her sleep peacefully with a slight smile on her face and wondering what she is dreaming of now.

True Happiness does not come from material possessions, titles or symbols of status and large 401k’s. 

My friend Peter once told me that I reminded him of the Switchfoot song, The Loser. Having never heard the song I thought he must think the worst of me?  Then I finally heard the song:

Only the losers win
They've got nothing to prove
They'll leave the world with nothing to lose
You can laugh at the weirdoes now
Wait till wrongs are right
They'll be the ones with nothing to hide

'Cause I've been thinking, thinking
I've got a plan to lose it all
I've got a contract pending on eternity
If I haven't already given it away
I've got a plan to lose it all

I've been the burnout kid
I've been the idiot
I'll turn the other cheek to be hit
You can take what you want from me
Empty me till I'm depleted
I'll be around if I'm ever needed

True Happiness comes from human interaction.  Being the best person you can be for others. Living Godly values and setting the example for your family and friends.  Cherishing the moments with strangers and trying to touch their lives in some small way.  Reveling in the most simplistic of activities like eating a good meal or taking a hot shower while knowing that at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 per day and doesn’t have a clean water source.  

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him; and you are torn by the thought of the unhappiness and night you cast, by the mere fact of living, in the hearts you encounter. Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy -- because we will always want to have something else or something more. The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers. Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.”