If you travel as much as I do, you know that airports can be pretty boring places—especially when you have a long lay-over. After all, how many frozen yogurts can you consume? (Okay, in my case, quite a few!) So there I was in Orlando International airport last week, killing time between flights, and my path led me into a book store. Now I want to say as an aside, “God bless bookstores!” Like video shops (only old timers like me use the word “video” any more), bookstores are rapidly going the way of the dodo, what with Kindles and the Nooks and the vast variety of electronic media vying for our attention. Only in airports, it seems, do book stores continue to thrive. In the hustle and bustle of getting from here to there, book stores remain a great place to slow down, browse, and idle away an hour or so, off line and in real time.
Bookstores make me happy in an old-fashioned sort of way, and coincidentally, they’re also cram-packed with books about happiness. In the near future, I expect all shop owners to devote an entire section to “Happiness Books”, so consumed are people with this pursuit of personal bliss. Life and liberty – those values promised by our political forefathers – meh! What we all want is happiness, and we want it now.
The question is, where does happiness really come from, and how do we get more of it in our lives? Certainly big houses and fancy cars don’t seem to be doing the trick. There’s a reason, after all, that psychiatrists make such a good living in the West, especially those who work with the most affluent. If the accumulation of “stuff”, then, doesn’t necessarily lead to proven happiness, what does?
According to interfaith scholar and Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, happiness starts with just three simple verbs: “Stop, Look, Go”. If these words sound familiar, that’s because they’re what many of us hear from our parents when we are first learning how to cross the street. “Stop at the corner, look right and left, and only then, go.” As Steindl-Rast explains in his fascinating TED talk about happiness, we too – as adults – need to slow down and stop rushing through the intersections of our life. When you stop, you open your senses to the richness of life. When you look around, you become aware that life is made up of a series of moments, one after another, each filled with potential. And in each moment, you receive an opportunity to do something. Whatever the moment offers, take that opportunity and go with it.
Steindl-Rast has been described as the Guru of Gratefulness. Throughout his talk, he suggests that it’s not necessarily happy people who are grateful but conversely, it’s grateful people who become happy. Significantly, some of the people with the most misfortune in their lives are also the happiest. Think Steven Hawking, the celebrated physicist who has stated on numerous occasions that his disease (ALS) led him to use his brain in mind-bending ways that he wouldn’t have before his illness. Or Pete Best, the former Beatles drummer (later replaced by Ringo Starr) who appears happier now, in his 70s, than he ever was as a young musician in Liverpool. Says Best: “That’s yesterday. Forty years ago. What’s important is what’s happening today and tomorrow. When you realize that, you get on with it.”
Steindl-Rast’s recipe for happiness is simple: Build more stop signs into your life. Slow down. Appreciate the moment. This is not to suggest that we should be grateful for everything. We don’t have to be thankful for war, violence, oppression and exploitation. But we can be grateful for the opportunity that arises in the face of negative events – the opportunity be patient, the opportunity to learn something, the opportunity to stand up for our convictions. And the great thing is, if this moment isn’t to your liking, there’s always another moment coming right along. And another. And another.
Gratefulness can change the world.
• If we’re grateful, we’re not fearful. If we’re not
fearful, we’re not violent.
• If we’re grateful, we act from a feeling of
enough. If we have enough, we don’t feel
• If we’re grateful, we appreciate others and respect
So consider this a challenge. Today, build at least 3 “stop signs” into your work schedule… 3 times when you stop what you’re doing and just look around and appreciate. Perhaps you appreciate your work space. Or the fascinating problems you get to solve every day. Or the amazing people that you work with. Or the opportunities you have, moment to moment, to learn something – both about yourself and the world.
Your workplace is an airport bookstore. Take a moment to browse the “happiness section”. You’ll be grateful for the change it makes in your life.