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.
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
Such a point-blank statement we would do well to keep in mind! Nobody wants to be considered weak. Lacking courage is not a desired virtue. What can we do if we find ourselves in this boat?
We can build our courage up. We can practice doing hard things that takes us out of our comfort zones. And what is one of the best ways to train our courage?
Train our bodies.
A strong, fit body leads to higher self-esteem. And a person who believes in himself, he will be more likely to step up when he is needed.
Discipline is needed to work your body. The mind must tell the body to get going and to keep going. The mind tells the body which foods are going to provide the greatest benefit and which foods are not worth eating.
And if the mind is the catalyst to kickstart the body’s motion, the heart is the coach that tells the body to keep going. The heart is where courage resides and where it is trained. Conditioning of the heart makes it stronger.
If I don’t want to faint in the day of adversity, then I must strengthen my courage. I can start by doing a little “something uncomfortable” each day. I can build up gradually through training and preparation. In time, I can be strong. I can be courageous.
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:
There was once a time when one would hurry ahead only to open the door for the one coming behind. Now a person would hardly look back to see if any was coming.
Once a lady could board a crowded train or bus and others would get up and offer her their seat. Now, she stands.
Once, driving down the road, motorists would use their turn signals and allow others to merge into their lanes. Not anymore.
But that was in the past.
A genuine “how do you do,” a hearty handshake, a smile, and a heartfelt response. Have these become relics of a previous age?
Courtesy is as much a mark of man as is courage.
Courage is no doubt a virtue many would attain. Do we look at courtesy in the same light? Consider the cost it requires to show a little kindness. For you, it may only be a few seconds to go out of your way. For the recipient, the effects may leave a lasting impression paying dividends for years to come.
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.
Fairy tales and legends are filled with trolls. They are described as ugly and cruel beasts living under bridges and in the marshes. And though the stories are rife with their existence, I wonder how many people have seen one.
Today, the word troll has taken on a different meaning. These are the individuals who scan your posts and your videos looking for ways to attack you. Often, their comments are both ugly and cruel. And like the trolls from the legends, I wonder how many have been seen. Chances are the answer is never. They might not live under bridges and in marshes, but they do their best to hide. Their power is in their anonymity, and therefore refuse to show their faces or reveal their real names.
The purpose of a mask
Traditionally, masks were used for two different purposes, and both had to do with identity protection. Villains wore masks so they could not be identified when committing their illegal acts. On the other hand, heroes wore masks to protect their identities so the villains couldn’t retaliate against them or their loved ones. In both cases, it was best for individual safety to remain anonymous.
It is easier to be bold when you are anonymous. Who doesn’t want to be able to hit without fear of the repercussions? You can commit the crime without the worry of being caught. As it is with water looking for the path of least resistance, so too is man’s heart. It takes courage to do the brave thing, courage to do the right thing. To be courageous means to go beyond yourself and do the thing you don’t necessarily feel like doing. It means to forego the easy way and choose a path that offers more resistance.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde
If you want to know what is really in the heart of man, then give him a mask. It will give him an inflated sense of bravado and allow him to freely operate in the shadows. You might not be able to see the face, but you most certainly will be able to see the person’s heart. And the heart as Solomon said is deep like water, and only the one with understanding can draw it out (Proverbs 20:5).
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.