“Remember, happiness doesn’t depend on who you are or what you have; it depends solely on what you think.” (Dale Carnegie)
As I have matured through life, I have come to realize that happiness is much more about attitude than circumstance. I have met many people who were blessed beyond dreams, who were unhappy; and I have met people who were desperately poor who had an everlasting smile. The difference between them wasn’t their wealth, their health or their family, it was their perspective.
When I worked at the Church, one of the activities for those preparing for Confirmation was a trip to a soup kitchen in downtown Detroit. This particular place served a full meal every Sunday after Mass, and the meals were prepared by volunteer groups. We would take a crew of about 20 youth and adults. We would arrive early to prepare the food, set up the serving line and so on. After Mass the people would come to be fed by us.
These people were desperately poor. Some may even have been homeless. But all walked in with their heads held high, and a smile on their face. They were truly grateful for the effort we put forth, and they thanked us often. None of them seemed downtrodden. Their circumstances were not great. We suburbanites coming to feed them had everything working for us. There was every reason and possibility to show resentment, or only grudging acceptance. But that was never the case. These people were truly inspiring in that they had reached a peace with their situation, and had found happiness.
Many times these trips would occur just before the Christmas Holiday season. It was not uncommon to have some of the teens in downright foul moods when we started the day. They had to be up, dressed and at our Church at 6:30am on a weekend. If you have lived with teens, you know what a hardship that is for them. Though they rose from warm beds, surrounded by loving families and abundant riches, yet they seemed unhappy. They had everything that the people we were feeding wanted, but lacked the one thing these people had – happiness.
It was interesting to see the transformation occur with many of the teens over the course of the day. Frequently, by the time we brought them back to their parents they were smiling, not because they had a yardstick to measure how good they had it, but because they had an understanding that happiness isn’t about stuff.
I am not saying that the people that frequented that kitchen were happy all the time. I am certain that they had their up and down days just like anyone. And, the teens I worked with weren’t always surly, nor were they magically transformed by the event. But, bringing those two groups together, even for a day, made a difference for both.
In the song “Soak up the Sun”, Cheryl Crowe reminds us that “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.” In my life I have learned that my own attitude drives my mood, and my emotions as much as what is happening around me. This week I started a new chapter in my life in terms of my overall health. In these first four days I have been asked, and wondered myself, why will it work this time? More than any other reason I think it will work is that I have the mindset to make it work, and to be happy in the journey.