A few years ago, while attending a rehab retreat in Iowa, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker Ward Foley, AKA ‘Scarman.’ Foley was born with serious birth defects requiring many years of painful surgeries. While working in a donut shop as a teenager, he burned both arms, up to the elbows, in a vat of hot grease. A few years later, he was almost killed by troubled teens he was trying to help. He’s been in a serious auto accident and his best friend died of cancer.
Despite everything he has been through, the first words of his presentation were, “I am the happiest person I know.”
Those words burnt a hole in my heart. I couldn’t imagine how anyone who had gone through what he went through could ever say that. I always thought happiness was situational. When things were going my way or were better than expected, I was happy. When they didn’t, I complained. And when I thought things were really bad, I got depressed or anxious. This seemed normal to me, being at the mercy of my circumstances.
For a few weeks after I heard Foley speak, I tried to figure out what could make him be so happy after living a life so full of pain, humiliation and heartbreak. And he wasn’t just happy at this stage in his life. Throughout his talk, I realized he had been optimistic his entire life. I thought the secret was that he had a close relationship with his mom who showed him love and support while growing up. I figured since I didn’t have that, I could never be that content with life. I was adopted as an infant and didn’t bond with my adoptive mom. I felt like I missed out on this important love and support and used it as my excuse for not being able to sustain my own happiness.
But something kept me searching for that elusive happiness, anyway. I eventually realized that I didn’t need an excuse to be happy or unhappy. In other words, I didn’t have to have everything going my way to be content. I didn’t need to have been born happy. I didn’t need a loving and supportive parent while growing up to make me happy. In fact, I didn’t need anything in particular, I just had to have the desire to be at peace wherever I was at this point in my life, and I could choose to be happy for no other reason than just because I wanted to be.
That fact that happiness doesn’t have to be sought after is not obvious or popular. For years I thought happy people were either born that way or had a perfect life that made them happy. And that could be the case, but the reason someone else is happy has no bearing on my life. It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy right where I am now. It took time and effort to learn, but I am glad I stuck with it. The secret to happiness is, well, there is no secret.
The erroneous thought that I had to do something to earn my happiness is gone. I no longer feel like I have to wait for a time when I feel worthy, like when I’m thinner or more accomplished, or when things are just right in my life. And since I decided to be happy regardless of my circumstances, I have developed a foundation of joy inside. I no longer feel like I have a hole in my core. (which I used to try to fill up with food) This core of joy is what sustains me when bad things happen around me. I’m not giddy or bubbling over all the time, and things happen around me that are troublesome. But I do smile a lot, and regardless of what happens around me, I have an inner peace and an optimism that things will always work out.
To be happy and at peace, you don’t need to be thin or rich or possess any certain characteristics or personal qualities. You don’t need to have everything just the way you think life should be. I challenge you to figure out a way to say, “I am the happiest person I know.” Take the risk and watch your life change.
More info on Ward Foley- Scarman.
The picture inside this article is a work by artist Rodney White called ‘The Hardest of Easy Choices’ . For information on his art and other works, click here.
Sunset image from pixabay.
“Instead of trying to find the thing that makes you happy, be happy and you will do what you are meant to do.” MD