Two large loons are swimming at the edge of the dock. Their cry echoes across the lake, bouncing off the distant shore, where the deep green pine trees are softly covered with morning fog, making them a pale bluish-gray color. A hawk flies overhead, and it’s so quiet you can hear the whoosh of her wings and her loud call as well. Not to be diminished, a tiny dock spider spins its web across the seat of the Adirondack chair next to me.
Though the birds, the streaks of sunlight, the beautiful views may not be there for my pleasure, they bring pleasure just the same. I can choose to ignore them or to embrace their beauty.
For decades I’ve been a hard-charging, “Type A” personality, working endlessly to help others find what I have to offer, and often chasing shiny objects, often in pursuit of the things the media tells us will create happiness.
Five Hot Cars
Looking back, I can recall gurus standing in front of their five-car garages, each door open with an expensive car in every slot. They would stand beside their jets and tell us that this can happen to us, too. And I bought into much of it, often buying a course to refine my skills.
Looking at the Mirror
I too wanted the trappings of success. I even created cutouts of the things I wanted and plastered them on my mirror, looking at them daily. And remarkably, most of those dreams came true. One expert told us to go to the car dealer, pick out the car we wanted and get a picture sitting in the driver’s seat, then paste the picture up on the bathroom mirror. Instead, I took an ad from a magazine and glued my photo onto the car in the ad. Every day, I told myself, if I sell this radio station one day, and if I make at least a million dollars, the first thing I’ll do is to go out and buy that Porsche 911.
A Dream Realized
When that day came, I went to the local Porsche dealer and could not believe how expensive the car was. Not wanting to blow through all my money, I began the search for a used one, eventually finding the exact car of my dreams at a fraction of the price. To this day I can remember the feeling of hitting a goal, the feeling of accomplishment for working so hard, yet being proud that I was practical by not buying a new car and losing 20 percent in depreciation.
After a few weeks, my Porsche was just transportation, and I soon found I had my eye on the next cool car, the new BMW 7 series sedan. Soon, I had that car too. And before long, it too was just transportation.
I used to drive through Palm Beach and see the mega mansions and tell myself, “Someday I’ll own one of those.” I’d see the excessive display of wealth, the spending, the cars, yachts, jets, jewels, and clothes, and I found myself wanting more and more. But I could not keep up. As my dad used to say, “Son, someone’s always got a bigger boat.”
A New Focus
Then one day Laurie announced that she was pregnant with triplets. I was suddenly the happiest I can remember being. My focus changed from being a hotshot to being a practical dad with looming college bills (for triplets). So we sold the nice cars and bought two simple Hondas. That was 20 years ago, and I still have one of them.
My self-image had been tied to what the media said was success, but I realized that it was an empty vessel.
You Are What You Think
I’m a big believer in positive thinking and manifesting things (along with a plan and the associated work), and though I feel fortunate to have experienced hot cars, and even life on private jets, I’ve thankfully discovered that’s not where my happiness lies. King Solomon even talked about it — as the richest man in the world, he was never satisfied.
Back to the Birds
That brings me back to the birds on the dock and the importance of knowing what truly makes you happy. For me, it’s about the beauty of nature, about deeply enjoying the people I love, and deepening relationships with others.
Things happen for a purpose. Had I not experienced the chase and not experienced the things I thought would make me happy, I might still be chasing them. I’m thankful that I eventually arrived where I am.
Service to Others
I’m no longer a hard-driving Type A. Though I work hard, it’s because I love what I do, and my goal is to be of service to others, to help them live their dreams, to be their servant. Since I started with that attitude, my happiness level has soared. It has taken me decades to discover that happiness is found in service to others.
Where does your happiness lie? I’d love to know what you’ve discovered.
PS: Recently when cleaning my garage, I threw out things that I had craved to own. Mostly cool electronic gadgets, cameras, computers, speakers, etc. I can remember wanting these things, saving the money to get them, only to discard them for the next big thing. There is no better exercise than throwing out the things you once thought were important. Now, before I buy anything, I question my purchase. Do I need it? Will I be throwing it out in three years?
My joy isn’t dependent on anyone else, but I gain great joy from other people, which is why tears were shed when we said goodbye at my Adirondack artist retreat with about 100 friends and new friends that ended a week ago yesterday. Every time I tell myself I’m only going to do it one last time, but I get such joy from the people that I can’t wait to do it again.
My next artist retreat, Fall Color Week, is coming up in October. I can hardly wait. It’s already sold out (there is a waiting list), so others must also see the joy.
I do have some space on my lifetime bucket list painters’ trip to New Zealand, though not much. That’s happening in September, so it’s already time to book flights. If you are on the fence, it’s best to decide now.
In case you missed it, we have a brand new newsletter called Pastel Today. The editor, Gail Sibley, has been at the International Association of Pastel Societies (IAPS) conference this week in Albuquerque (it’s a great organization and event). If you want the free newsletter, join us at PastelToday.com. And if you really want to grow as a pastel artist or learn about it, we have Pastel Live online, coming up in August. It’s a three-day event with the top pastel artists on earth, plus an optional Beginner’s Day.