Happiness Is Success

happiness-whistle-while-you-workI’ve said it for years; it’s as true now as it was then, as it has been since the Creation. Humans were made to work. We were designed to sweat and labor and do. There is an indescribable satisfaction in hard work. I believe that nothing else can make us feel as truly alive as getting outside and putting our backs into it. Whatever it is. Yard work, building a shed, painting the fence, building a house, digging a ditch, cutting down a tree, whatever. Far too many people treat work as a dirty word, but it’s not. It’s a beautiful thing to do what we were made for. It brings a happiness that few things can match.

Last week, I worked the hardest I have ever worked in my life. We had a huge dying tree in front of our house that needed to come down. About 200 years old, 70+ feet tall, 5 feet in diameter. Three days of running a chainsaw and hauling branches and logs. I was sore and tired and sunburned, but I was happy. I had almost forgotten that level of happiness existed. I just feel so alive, it’s unreal. It has satisfied the primal need to work that we all possess.

I work a blue-collar job, so hard work is the norm for me. I love it; I couldn’t work an office job if you offered me all the money in the world. It would drive me insane. Literally. For years, we have been sold the lie that, to succeed, you have to get a college degree and pursue a white-collar career. And yes, for some people, that is true. But the sheer number of people who hate their jobs and are dissatisfied with their lives would indicate that maybe it’s not true for everyone. Success is not measured in diplomas or income or material possessions – or at least it shouldn’t be. Success is living a life you love. Whether you are a mechanic making $40,000 a year or a surgeon bringing in $500,000, what difference does it make? Success is not money, success is happiness.

As a kid, I was incredibly blessed to have parents who understood that. My Daddy worked in construction and Mama was a full-time mother. Six kids to feed and clothe, and construction doesn’t pay the big bucks. But you know what? I cannot remember ever being worried about where our next meal was coming from or where we were gonna live. I never thought of us as poor, even though, looking back, I can see that we were. We had a beautiful childhood, one that any kid could envy. We never bought brand-new clothes, we never had the coolest toys, but one thing we did have. Love. We were happy. Mama and Daddy loved us, we loved each other; we are still an incredibly close family. No, we’re not perfect, but it is a beautiful feeling to know that there are people you can always count on to have your back. Success is not working long hours to make more money, success is building a strong happy family and living a life that you love.

Smile List, Smile Life

Everyone has something that never fails to make them smile. Usually a few things; some simple, some specific. A few years ago, I was going through a rough time. Confused, slightly depressed, lonely – my life was a mess and so was I. I didn’t know what to do. And then, quite by accident, I stumbled across something that brightened my whole world. Something that made me completely forget all the things that had me down. At least temporarily. But you know what? Each time I came back to reality, the world didn’t seem quite as gray as it had before. And I realized something: it takes no more effort to be happy than it does to be sad. It’s as simple as making a decision and we only have two choices. One option is to let life get us down, the other is to be happy in spite of the problems and quirks of life. Once the right decision is made, it becomes easy to find things to smile about.

I keep a running list of happy things – my “smile list.” Some items on this list are images, like dogs, the vintage car I dream of owning, the beach, a smiling baby, daffodils, a beautiful gun. Just a look is enough to make me smile when I’ve had a rough day. Then there are the sounds: a revving engine, my dad singing, bacon sizzling, my sister’s laugh, the thunder of the waves, a favorite song. Some are activities, things to do when the stress starts piling up. Cooking, playing on a swing set, driving fast with the windows down and the music loud, swimming. Reading a good book – real, not digital. E-books have no therapeutic benefit. A trip to the shooting range. Wearing a plaid shirt. Eating high-quality chocolate. Wearing cowboy boots. Cuddling in a blanket with a nice cup of tea. Some things on the list are experiences: the wind, lightning, and dark clouds just before a storm; the magic of dawn; the stillness of a forest; the warmth of a hug.

But there are two things that have a bigger influence on my happiness than the whole rest of the list combined. The first is smiling at everyone I meet. It’s not hard, it’s just easier to forget. After a while, though, it becomes habit and I don’t even think about it anymore. I think it was Dolly Parton who said, “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” That is a beautiful way to live. The second is doing good for others, helping someone whenever I see an opportunity. That brings a joy that nothing can match. So if you’re feeling down, look for little ways to brighten your day and for ways to make others happy too. For when you give happiness away, it always comes back to you. And don’t forget: it’s the little things that matter most.smile