So many long for happiness, yet so many have yet to find a true and lasting form of it. Some would blame others for their inability to obtain it. Others would look for cheapened versions of it that only lasts a few moments before the rush dwindles and fades away.
Happiness is found within each of us. We cannot trust others to provide it for us. We must determine what it is and then work to discover it.
The secret to happiness is freedom…
The secret is freedom. But what is freedom? Is it the ability to do whatever one pleases? Would this not make one a slave to his desires? Freedom must go beyond base pleasure. It must speak of a higher nature, something more meaningful.
When I think of freedom, I think of the ability to operate without hindrance towards one’s goal. Freedom to pursue happiness.
and the secret of freedom is courage. -Thucydides
Simply stated, one cannot be afraid to take calculated risks. There is a chance of failure. Even the safest bets can go awry. But this should not deter us from trying. After all, our happiness, and our freedom, is on the line. If we fail, we should pause. We should look to see what went wrong and what can be done better. And after this moment, we get back up and try again. It is an endless cycle until we hit the mark, until we find the happiness we seek.
Popeye was one of my favorite cartoons as a child. He was a somewhat normal guy trying to do the right thing. When times got rough, he would crack open a can of performance enhancing spinach and solve the problem.
That is what I wanted to be like—a normal guy able to overcome the obstacles of life. Of course, I didn’t want to be in a position where I was always getting bullied, where I was forced to drink a cup of courage in my direst need, just able to survive to see the next day.
I yam what I yam and dats all what I yam. -Popeye the Sailor Man
I quoted the quote and sang the song, but back then I never considered taking it to heart. I am what I am. I am not Popeye, not like Mike (Jordan), or any other childhood hero. Nope. I am what I am. I can emulate the actions of my heroes and mentors, but in the end, I must remember:
Suffering is inevitable. That may be something we might not want to hear, but it is true.
Our bodies will degenerate as we age. We can do our best to minimize the effects through nutrition, daily physical activity, and stress management. But despite our best efforts, we will succumb to age. And we can try our best to prevent accidents, but they will still happen. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, rest assured, someday you will suffer physically.
We can guard our souls, but they too will suffer. We will mourn others who suffer. We will mourn loved ones as they pass. Our hearts will long for that which it cannot have. Our souls will suffer.
And then there is the mind. Here the suffering may not be as acute. The body can numb some of its ailments. The soul can as well through the passage of time. Bur our minds are always working. Wanting for the body and soul to be at peace, it wants for the things they cannot have. It longs for something higher, for something better in the future. Although self-induced, the mind will also suffer.
You desire to know the art of living, my friend? It is contained in one phrase: make use of suffering.
Henri Frederic Amiel
To make use of the suffering is the art of living. Indeed, to suffer gracefully is truly an art! And some do this better than others. They take their internal battles stoically. Suffering is a test of the will. And where some, at the slightest hindrance, will go about in sack cloth and ashes proclaiming, “Woe is me,” others will hold their pains close and look for ways to overcome it. They go forth to do battle, and through grit and resolve return as conquerors. The suffering is looked upon as an opportunity, and they will find the greatest use for it.
It is those words that draw the line in the sand. They put up the barriers between success and never really getting started in the first place, which is worse than failure. To say, “you can’t,” is not getting beat, it is only admitting defeat.
Can’t is a self-imposed limit. It is a red light on an empty street. A full stop. And sometimes when you get one red light, you find a multitude of them waiting around the corner.
The obstacles in life are only that. They are only obstacles. And when one enters the picture, we are confronted with a choice. We can either attempt to conquer them, or we can stay where we are.
Some said it was impossible to:
Run a four-minute mile
Deadlift a thousand pounds
Travel faster than a horse
Fly like a bird
Go to the moon
They were wrong.
Hit one red light, you might hit them all. Say you can’t in one area of your life, you might find you can’t in the all the other areas. “A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark,” said Dante. One little “can’t” has the potential to burn all your hopes and dreams down.
Are there really any limits to what is possible in life? Are there any obstacles that are too great? Indeed, there are some that seem insurmountable. But they only just seem. We have been blessed with unlimited potential. We have been cursed with unlimited doubts.
The obstacles in our lives are only plateaus. They are sticking points that attempt to mire us in the mud. They are not the peaks we attain to, and therefore, we must go beyond them. They are but puzzles waiting to be solved. We must solve them and then continue the journey. Often, they will require all our faculties of body, soul, and mind. Our virtues will be put to the test, especially the one of courage. This is no light matter. But be not faint of heart for our first step in the journey was an act of courage. And all our subsequent steps, they were additional acts of courage reinforcing us and preparing us for the obstacles to come.
If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.
I watched as my son reluctantly pulled the homework out of his backpack. There were so many other things he wanted to do after a long day of school. Instead of winding down or playing outside before the sun set, he was digging into more math and grammar problems. He didn’t want to do it, but he knew he must.
What must be done
I only partially learned this lesson in school and my grades reflected it. The lesson hit its mark in the Army. You do what you must, or you pay the price. In this case, the price was paid in full through pain. And as John Patrick said, “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.” [Read: Feel the Pain, Make the Change]
Unfortunately, back then, doing what I must only extended to my professional life. I didn’t have the discipline or the courage to extend it to my personal life. As a result, I suffered. The pain I felt was dull, and therefore, I continued to do what I wanted rather than what I should have done.
Education through pain and experience
Professors Pain and Experience may have been my two greatest teachers. Early on, they were instrumental in my education. It was through pain that I learned the consequences of getting burned, to identify what was toxic if I ate it, and what will hit me if I upset it. Pain taught me how to survive. Experience, how to thrive. In time, they tutored me on how to bridge the gap between the personal and professional. Without them, I would be dead. But with them, I learned how to live.
The most valuable of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it has to be done, whether you like it or not.
Is our traditional education system broken? Some would think so. Yet, there is still value in it if we learn from Huxley’s words. Learn to do what you must, whether you like it or not. But consider the things you must do. Weigh them carefully. Is it that which you must do for yourself, or is it that which someone else thinks you must do for your own good? There is a big difference.
You may even call it pass or fail. I grew up in a world where failure was bad. It was embarrassing. It showed a lack of ability. Nobody wants to fail. And the stigma of failure is often so bad, that to never start at all is a valid temptation.
Why ask the girl on a date? She might say no.
Why try out for the team? You might not make it.
Why sign up for that class? It might be too hard.
In the Army, things didn’t get better. Failure often resulted in an unrelated punishment. Failing at the wrong time could result in your death or the death of your teammates. It was a go or no-go, and well, who wants to be a no-go.
Matthew McConaughey’s book Greenlights may have been one the more enjoyable books I have read this year. A greenlight means go. Catching all greenlights on the road makes for smooth travelling. This is a warm spring day where nothing can wrong. When you have all greenlights, life is good. As McConaughey puts it:
Catching greenlights is about skill: intent, context, consideration, endurance, anticipation, resilience, speed, and discipline. We can catch more greenlights by simply identifying where the red lights are in our life, and then change course to hit fewer of them.
Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
Greenlights are good. But taken at face value the above passage would suggest to only look for the easy way. But that is not all that he is saying. He tells us the red and yellow lights are moments to pause, to think, and to reflect. Those lights might be green when looked upon in the rearview mirror of life.
Imagine hitting a red light on the road and thinking the game is over. You have failed to hit all greenlights. Would you stop driving? Would you give up or would wait until the light is green?
It’s a matter of how we see the challenge in front of us and how we engage with it. Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.
Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
The Opportunity to Fail
That’s right. Failure is an opportunity. It is not always pleasant. At times, the failure can result in consequences unrealized and undesirable. Should that stop us? Nope. If we do the research and then the work, the failure is a chance to learn. It is a chance to evolve as an individual. Give it a try. If you fail, learn. Try again.
In starting your first business or your hundredth, there is a risk that it won’t succeed. There is a reward if it does. What many don’t realize is that the failure also contains a reward. It is called experience, which is not available to those who never try in the first place.
Many of us seek it in some way, shape, or form. The greatest glory is getting knocked on your rear end then getting back up. Getting knocked down is okay only if you rise when you fall.
Have you ever walked down the biography aisle at your local bookstore or library? What you see on those shelves is history and how one person played a part to impact it? These are the lives of extraordinary individuals and an account of their actions.
Actions. Rarely is a biography about something other than action. Nobody gets written about based on what they said they were going to accomplish. Instead, it is all about their actions. And those actions were not a one and done event. No, they were actions built over a lifetime.
Imagine a biography in that bookstore with your name on it. What would be in it? What would the writer say about you? What actions made it into the book? Without a purpose in life and daily steps to achieve that purpose these questions are difficult to answer. But if you want to become great and worthy of a biography someday, just look at the advice of those who had volumes written about them:
The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then do it.
You have to assemble your life yourself, action by action.
When you have your purpose, you must break it down into smaller, manageable chunks that you can work on daily. Make your lists, complete them religiously, and start stacking your wins.
Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.
Taking the easy path will never get you closer to your life’s goals. We must sacrifice immediate gratification and keep our eyes on the prize that lay ahead. We must be disciplined.
To make it in the biography section, you must shoot for greatness. You can’t play small in this arena. No, you must go big. The journey is arduous. But for the one that would change the world, that is not a problem. Your actions, your life, will not be in vain.
Think of all the major events over the last couple of years. How many of them were planned for? If you could go through them all over again, how many of them would you choose to endure again?
For many, lives were upended. Thoughts of prosperity went out the window. Even the thoughts of returning to normal are dim. Will things ever go back to the way they were? Probably not. And the new normal, what will that look like? Like the old or a substandard version of it?
Those who know what is good for you will say to not despair. Things will get better. But should you trust external sources of manufactured hope? Do they really know what’s good for you, or is having you believe it only good for them?
With all the misfortune that has taken place there is a real question you should ask. What have you learned? No doubt, we have been through some rough times. Those rough times are only one wave amid a turbulent ocean. When this wave passes, another will take its place only to be followed by more waves. And as the first one battered you, when all became dark and the depths of despair reached out to touch your soul, what did you learn?
It is a crime to despair. We must learn to draw from misfortune the means of future strength.
Maybe in the moment, it was okay to close the shutters and pull the blanket tighter around you. Maybe the extra sugar and the alcohol gave you a temporary escape from the present danger. But those temporary pleasures are fleeting. They will in time lose their luster, and you will be confronted with a choice: either find a harder drug to escape with or wake up and face reality. To wake up is to evolve. It is to adapt to the times and learn how to survive and how to thrive. It is to learn how to swim in an ocean that will gladly swallow you up.
Do you believe in God? Good. That means you have a purpose in this world. And that purpose is not to huddle in despair. Throw off the blankets. Open the blinds and let the light in. Let the misfortune be a lesson. Let it be the catalyst for a stronger you.
Search back through the annals of history, and you will encounter legendary figures who surpassed their fellow men with extraordinary powers of the mind. Today, we would call them geniuses and rightly so. Were they born with this talent, or did they cultivate it through acute observation and a life-time pursuit of learning.?
Let’s face it. Some people are just born with it. Yet, they still must cultivate it. Others were fortunate to get a head start. Lucky them, but only if they kept going. Most of the real geniuses began like everybody else. They all took that first step of the millions they would travel in pursuit of their destination. They kept learning. They kept working. They eventually became the masters in their fields.
The man of genius inspires us with a boundless confidence in our own powers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Those geniuses demonstrate to us that anything is possible. Follow their examples. Let it inspire you to find your own genius.
What I didn’t like about High School Science: When it was time to experiment, you only had one chance to make it work. And the experiment you were conducting wasn’t really yours, you were just replicating someone else’s.
It reminds of all the time I spent reading the Book of Proverbs as a kid. I had the lessons right there in front of me, but I didn’t have the first-hand knowledge. It wasn’t until I conducted by own ill-advised experiments that I could understand the validity of Solomon’s sayings. Of course, most of those experiments went wrong. Some of them set me back several years. There were dark times of doubt and confusion. There were even more times of delusion where I traded long-term fulfillment for the fleeting pleasures of the short-term.
But not all the experiments were bad. Some were useful, providing a solid foundation that I continue to build on to this day (reading). Even the experiments that went horribly bad (finances) proved to be valuable lessons.
A true experiment, unlike those conducted in a High School Laboratory, ventures into the unknown. It will test your boundaries as it delves into the uncomfortable. Often, we choose comfort, but it is the uncomfortable that makes us resilient to fears, anxiety, stress, and weakness. The more we experiment with our bodies, our minds, and our souls, the stronger we become. By experimenting daily, we can test the boundaries of our capabilities and see what is truly possible in this life.
All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Get out of your comfort zone. Get into the lab of life and start experimenting.