1. A Map to Guide You Why were you born? The purpose of life is not to live forever. You can eat health food until it is coming out of your ears, exercise to the point of looking like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, and in 100 years, you will be dead! Rather, the purpose of life is to choose WHO you will be by HOW you relate to others.
But, if the purpose of life is a process of growth determined by the choices that we make, then how do we make the right choices?
My answer is that we need principles to empower us, which are so enlightening that they reveal a clear course of action when others get confused. In the course of my lifetime, I have discovered 3 principles that provide a map to happiness, helping you see the forest for the trees amidst the confusion of everyday life. They are:
1.) INSECURITY: Do not worry about feeling insecure. We all do. The most secure admit it; the least secure deny it, hiding behind masks of superiority. So, be forgiving of yourself and patient in your growth process.
2.) POWER: If everyone is insecure, why do you give them power to determine your worth? Take back your power! See your internal worth instead of being troubled by external criticism.
3.) SUCCESS: Who you become (big goal) is more important than what you attain (little goal). Both are important, but one lasts beyond this life; the other does not.
Enlightened by these principles, you can now pursue happiness. But, what is it? Happiness is not a product to be purchased on a sunny day at Macy’s, but a lifetime process of choosing. You can be good or evil, kind or cruel, helpful or manipulative, and cooperative or controlling. Your answer is not defined by what you say, but by what you do, your answer written indelibly on your soul. The judgment of God, given His gift to you of free choice, is to simply accept your choice, making you live with the consequences of your lifetime of choices for eternity.
2. Common Paths to Happiness
OK, so happiness and the choices leading to it are defined by how you relate to others. But, how about yourself? Is self-care selfish? No. However, many people, especially those who are very religious, have a hard time being good to themselves. I often ask how a person prioritizes the care they give to those in their family. The answer is invariably, “Well, my kids come first, then my spouse, and then me.” I surprise them by then telling them that they have their priorities upside down, for if they do not love themselves well enough, then they are unable to fully love their spouse. And, if their marriage is in trouble, then their parenting will also suffer. But, once you care for yourself, would you not like some guidance as to how to choose a healthy spouse and have a happy marriage? What does it mean to be “in love”, and what are some communication skills that will decrease defensiveness and increase understanding?
And if you are already married, would you like a list of warning signs that your marriage might be heading in the wrong direction? For instance, jealousy is based on doubt of self instead of flirting by the other, as well as the need to see love as a quality instead of a quantity, the love of a mother for her children not resulting in a smaller piece of the pie for the father. While volumes are written on parenting, the effort here is to focus upon not only healthy patterns, but also to give concrete advice about dysfunctional forms of parenting that are overprotective, overcritical, and over permissive. Lastly, parents need to see themselves as having a role in creation through their parenting, one comment of mine being that if I added up all the hours of counseling that I have done over my 45 years of ministry, the sum of my influence would less than that of one parent with one child.
3. Challenges Along the Way
While the above might make a person feel overconfident, I note that, much like Dorothy traveling down the Yellow Brick Road to see the Wizard of Oz, we all encounter challenges along the way during our lifetime. Most common of these challenges is stress, and so a goodly amount of time is spent giving you easy-to-understand suggestions that can bring your daily stress down quickly.
But then the effort is to go beyond a band-aid approach that relieves symptoms to explore what causes us stress, such as the combination of our poor self-esteem and a critical boss. Or, if you have never dealt with the meaning of life, you might be threatened when you look into the mirror and see your aged parent looking back at you, humility being gained by not only looking up at the stars but also down at your sagging skin and arthritic knees.
And then there is the plethora of problems that bubble over when you or someone you love develops a life-threatening illness, or has to face death. Therefore, help in coping is provided. Amidst such heavy issues are more common stresses that can taunt and haunt you, such as worrying about throwing the perfect party or buying the perfect present during the holidays. Amazingly, while we tend to come together when tragedy strikes, we more often tend to lose our footing over day-to-day stresses.
4. Getting Lost
As all of us have clay feet, some of the above challenges that we meet while on our journey to happiness can entice us to take a wrong turn, trying to combat our insecurity and the pressures of life with solutions that prove to be ineffective. Would it not be nice to take a sneak peek down these paths before walking into danger? For instance, many people hide behind masks. The Snob puts you down so as to feel up, shoving their cavalcade of privileges in your face with a pseudo-sophisticated sneer on their own. The Workaholic points out what they do, how many hours they work, or how many people are “under” them to draw your attention to their importance.
But masks, no matter how bejeweled, pale in comparison to the work of art underneath them – YOU. The key is knowing who has the power to define your worth: you or someone else. For most people, they allow someone else to determine whether they are good or bad, a success or a failure. That can be your parents, teachers, employers, or spouse. Anxiety is hoping you can live up to their expectations, whereas depression is knowing that you have not. Freedom from the trap is taking back the power to define your own worth, and knowing that, while you may have a few weaknesses, in general you are a very nice person. Without that message getting through, you might lie to hide your flaws and mistakes, get frustrated trying to please all the people all the time, or jealous of others whom you perceive as having achieved what you have fallen short of doing.
5. Getting Back on Track
Having looked at ways in which you can get lost, you would certainly like some help getting back on track. Communication skills are described as they will help you achieve empathy, understanding and agreement, while simultaneously avoiding enmity, defensiveness and a bitter rift. You will think that communication skills are a natural to mention, but raise your eyebrows when I talk about the importance of anger and divorce.
Anger gets a bad reputation, the problem not being that you get angry, but how. Unless you only befriend or marry your clone, you will encounter differences, some healthy and some not. If you are to work through those differences, effective arguing is important instead of seething and fuming now only to explode later. And, if your spouse refuses to work with you in creating a healthy marriage, then I doubt that your happiness will be served by being stuck in an unhealthy one. While much has to happen before you decide on a divorce, getting one will be simply putting a name on the reality of a dead relationship, having asserted your right to be happy, and to have a spouse who either grows or goes.
In writing this book, my intent has been neither to cover every issue, nor to cover any issue from every conceivable angle, but rather to give you a map to guide you through whatever issues life throws your way. What I offer is just the opinion of one man, who, while having the expertise and experience of both a priest and a therapist, is still himself continuing on the same journey as you are. My only desire is to pass along the insights that I have gained over my lifetime.
The Reverend Peter K. Stimpson