Build Your Leaders

Five Secrets to Happiness

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon when my work line rang. "You know I wouldn't call on Saturday unless it was an emergency," a business acquaintance began. "But a dear friend of mine is in crisis. He needs your help." A well-known physician with a thriving practice in a beautiful small Southern town, his friend appeared to have it all: money, prestige, and power. A beautiful wife and children. And a home, I am told, that seems to have leaped off the pages of Southern Accents magazine. Yet he was miserable. His work seemed devoid of all meaning, and life felt stripped of all joy.

Could I really help him? I wondered. Of course I could. I had felt the same way not too long ago. I will listen, and then I will tell him what I know. What is it that you know? I asked myself, and within minutes, I had composed a list: the five secrets of happiness. Here they are.

One: Live in gratitude. A banner hangs in my church that quotes spiritual leader Meister Eckhart: "If the only prayer you say in your whole life is 'thank you' that would suffice." Several years ago, I began the practice of beginning each day listing three people, things, or situations for which (or whom) I am grateful. When I remember to do it, I seem to have a brighter day.

When I dwell on what I don't have in my life, I attract unsettling feelings of need. The tapes in my head start to whine, "You are not enough. There is not enough." But when I shift my focus from what I don't have to what I do, I come from a place of abundance. The tapes stop, and beautiful music fills my ears.

I am learning to seek gratitude in every situation, even those that I once considered "bad." Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his book The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-create Your World Your Way, writes, "To connectors, everything that shows up in their life is there because the power of intention intended it there. So they're always in a state of gratitude. They feel thankful for everything, even things that seem to be obstacles… Through their thanks, they honor all possibilities..."

One of my favorite quotes on gratitude comes from Kevin Spacey's wonderful character Lester Burnham in the movie American Beauty.

But it's hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I am seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

Two: See life as a classroom. When I look at life as a classroom, life becomes an adventure. Rather than judging situations as "good" or "bad," I begin to see that "it's all good."

In fact, as much as I don't want to admit this, it's during the worst of circumstances that I learn the most. My divorce and subsequent midlife crisis rocked my world. I wasn't sure I would ever be happy again, but as awful as that period of my life seemed at the time, it offered an opportunity to realign my life with my core values, purpose, and true wants and needs. Now I can honestly say I have never been happier.

Three: Practice generosity. There's an old fable about the creation of the world. It said there's an angel who whispers a message to each soul who comes to earth, a message of instruction about what each soul is supposed to do with his or her life. While Five Secrets to Happiness - Add Two most thought the angel's message was complicated, it was actually very simple. It consisted of one word-give.

Practicing generosity means sharing our resources: money, time, and talent. In my work, I meet many men and women who are unhappy with their lives because they feel their lives lack meaning. I tell them the solution is relatively simple-serve.

Four: Believe in the magic. My dear friend Beth told me a wonderful story about her soon-to-be-nine-year-old-son. His best friend had found all the presents from Santa in his mom's closet, and he wanted to know if Beth and his father were Santa. Beth took a deep breath and answered yes. When Beth asked if he was disappointed his eyes filled up with tears. "So the tooth fairy is you, too?" he asked. Beth nodded. More tears.

They were quiet for a moment.

"I feel like all the magic has just gone out," he said deflated.

"There will still be magic," Beth replied. "But it will be different."

"But it's not the same," he said.

"No, it's not, but don't give up on the magic," Beth whispered. "There's still magic, whether it's through spirit, angels, possibly fairies, or just the way things happen."

Yes, there is magic all around us. And how much richer our lives are when we pause from our overscheduled lives to recognize it.

Magic comes to us in symbols. Yesterday, I glanced out my bedroom window and saw a large black snake slither across the wet, green grass of my backyard into a thicket of hemlocks. I am deathly afraid of snakes, but I couldn't take my eyes off his graceful movement; it was as if he were floating above the grass. My snake had appeared for a reason. Snakes symbolize major transition, transmutation, and even resurrection, and I am in transition. My snake wanted me to stop and appreciate the beauty of this special time. I took in a deep breath and breathed out a prayer of gratitude for the changes taking place in my life.

Magic comes to us in our dreams. When I bought my last house in Atlanta, it was a beautiful yellow stucco bungalow in an in-town neighborhood where I had always wanted to live. It was also my first house as a newly-minted single man. My first night in it, I had a dream where I was sliding down the spiral staircase and out the front door. As much as I loved that house, I knew my time in it would be brief. In less than two years, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina.

Magic comes to us when we allow the beauty of nature to saturate us. Today on the way to the gym, I looked out the car window and saw the mountains as if for the first time. Chills went up my spine and once again I was overwhelmed with their beauty.

And magic comes to us when we believe in something bigger than ourselves. Whether you call it God, the Universe, Higher Power, or the Great Mystery matters not. Life is richer when you believe in something greater than yourself.

Magic comes to us in a myriad of ways. All we have to do is open our eyes, minds, and hearts to it.

Five: Love. A while ago a new friend and I were talking about the movies we wanted to see. "Queen with Helen Mirren and James Cromwell tops my list," I said.

"I hear it's great," my friend replied, "but I don't want to see them being mean to Diana." I looked at my friend closely. She was serious. I wondered why many of us still feel such a strong connection to Princess Diana even now, years after her death.

Diana was a fairy tale character who that came to life. We delighted when the shy girl became the prince's bride and grew into a champion for the suffering. Later we saw our own humanity as she struggled with affairs, bulimia, and a failed marriage.

She was "the people's princess" because through her life we saw the brokenness of our own lives, and through her death we saw that nothing else matters but love.

Diana's death opened many of us to what author Daphne Rose Kingma calls "spiritual consciousness," where we strive to understand ourselves in order to get back to a pure state of love, or to love without limitation. "We do this either consciously as fully active participants or as emotionally unconscious sleepwalkers," the author explains.

I have found that it is much easier to read these words than to live them. While I may appear open to love, fear and judgment have barred the door to my heart. I am afraid of being abandoned, smothered, or misunderstood. And I constantly judge others, focusing on what separates us instead of what connects us. As frightened and as judgmental as I am, I am clear that nothing is more important than love.

"Yes, I'll talk to your friend," I told my weekend caller. "I look forward to it."

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Copyright 2007, All rights reserved

The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization. Purchase his book PowerHouse Presenting: Become the Communicator You Were Born to Be through, and subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-Newsletter at