Christopher McCandless, a young American, abandons the life of comfort to pursue the freedom of life on the road. He burned his credit cards and set out for the Alaskan wilderness; the challenge of surviving without modern-day conveniences before him. About two years later, his body was found in an old abandoned bus in Alaska alongside his diary. A movie, “Into The Wild”, was made from his adventure. These words were highlighted towards the end of his comments, “Happiness is only real when shared.”
McCandless thought he could find true happiness going it alone with no strings attached. But it didn’t happen for him. It’s rare for anyone to thrive in isolation. “It’s not good to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). It seems to me that the truly happy person is not self-centered, and follows the path of servanthood. The most miserable people I’ve met are those who are all wrapped up in themselves, asking, “Who will please me, or serve me, or meet my needs?”, rather than asking, “How can I serve and help someone else?” Happiness is coming toward the end of life knowing that you’ve added something good or constructive to life.
Clayton Rand was a columnist for the Times Picayune several years ago. I saved one of his articles in which is wrote, “It takes 3 things to make me happy: A dip, a nip and a nap.” I quoted him in a sermon one time, but it came out wrong. I said, “I agree with him, especially the dip and nip…Oh!…I mean nap!” They didn’t let me forget it!
Joseph Addison said happiness is something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. I cannot reduce “true happiness” to a few words, but if I could, it would have to include enjoying good relationships. Life does need to be shared. It’s a wonderful thing when you can find someone who can help you feel like a “whole” person. Perhaps this is what marriage is all about.
I believe that there are certain building blocks that make for “healthy relationships”:
1. Respect the rights of the other person.
2. Listen for what the other person feels.
3. Accept personal responsibility for your behavior. We have a right as humans to make mistakes, as long as we recognize them, and learn from them, seeking to change.
4. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong. Finding a compromise is important. Saying, “I’m sorry” can do wonders for any relationship.
5. Allow others to bear the consequences for their own behavior. Caring without enabling a person to continue negative behavior is important.
6. Stop the habit of obsessing. You may be obsessing about someone to change their behavior, and you may want to rescue them. Reality may not be the way you want it, and you may feel that you are responsible for bringing about change in someone or something. Lighten up on yourself. You can only change yourself.
7. See the other person as a child of God. Pray for that person. It can work miracles.
Many times, relationships have great beginnings, but turn “toxic” over time. Turning a toxic relationship into a healthy one takes hard work and the setting of new goals. You may love someone who is in trouble or out of control. It may be emotional, an eating disorder, gambling, alcoholism, or any number of other “-isms”. Or, you may be dealing with someone who is simply difficult. You are embarrassed and humiliated because they are demanding and unreasonable. It takes a lot of courage to get out of a relationship that turns toxic. It also takes prayer, and lots of patience. I do not believe that God expects us to stay in an abusive, dysfunctional relationship.
One of the greatest enemies to a good relationship is lack of self-awareness. We can be so narcissistic that we can’t see beyond our own pattern of behavior. In counseling sessions, a person will often say to me, “There’s nothing wrong with me,” or, “This is the way I’ve always been.” Soul searching honesty is the only way I know to remedy this. Getting the selfish ego out of the way can be painful, but it can help you make progress in being the person others enjoy having around.
I will leave you with a few “Happiness is…” one liners:
Happiness is knowing that you don’t have to please others all the time.
Happiness is when the Democrats and Republicans work together.
Happiness is when vegetarians eat animal crackers.
Happiness is loving God with all your heart and soul and strength.
Happiness is going to bed at night with a clear conscience.
Happiness is at least three things to look forward to, and nothing to dread.
I believe Lord Byron had it right when he said, “All who find joy must share it; for happiness was born a twin.” Amen.