Fierce winds are blowing, flags are flapping, palm branches are bending, and the boat is rocking back and forth beyond a gentle pace, yet not too uncomfortably.
A thick layer of gray-blue clouds covers the big sky, and in the distance rows of condos are lined up on the beach like soup cans in the pantry. Boats of all kinds surround me, including mega yachts owned by celebrities, though we’ve had no celebrity sightings. We’re here in North Palm Beach, living through the holiday break in a marina, aboard a boat.
Grateful for the Break
I’m feeling very grateful to be here in warm weather, even on a blustery and windy day, able to sit in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, having time in close quarters with our kids, being able to reconnect with other family, and getting extra time with each of them. As I said last week, I’m doing a lot of listening and a lot of thinking about life and happiness.
No doubt we all want to be happy, but too often we look to others or to things or events to make us happy. Let me give you some examples…
- If I get that promotion and more money, I’ll be happier.
- If I just get a new car, I’ll be happier.
- If I just get a bigger house…
- If I get better vacations…
- If I get all this stress off my back…
- If I meet someone new….
- If I just get another degree…
In my striving for lifelong happiness by chasing things, changing circumstances, working to get better, I’ve realized nothing I do is going to make me happy.
Less Is More
Most people I know who make more money continue to live on the edge, have lots of debt, and are not any further ahead. Instead of putting more away when they get a new job or a raise, they just buy more stuff … better cars, bigger houses. Then they are in the same unhappy boat they were in before.
And most who achieve the things they want realize that those things don’t make them happy at all. (Oh, maybe there is a momentary thrill.)
I think back to a time I wanted a new car. I wanted that fancy blue convertible so badly I could taste it. So I bought it, and it was a thrill for the first couple of weeks, but after that, it was just transportation. It did not make me any happier, and I would argue it made me less happy because I had a bigger lease payment.
Today, I drive a 2002 Honda Element. I bought it because it was my ideal paint car … I didn’t have to worry about getting cadmium yellow paint on the leather seats of my Volvo (which happened). And every time I get the desire for something new and shiny, I think about how little I drive, how much I love my car, and how I have three kids going into college and I don’t need anything else to create financial pressure.
I have an acquaintance who is a billionaire and drives a 12-year-old Buick because he is practical and doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.
So if things, changes, events don’t make me happy, then how do I get happy?
Changes Alone Won’t Work
I’ve realized that if I’m not happy now, then changes won’t make me happy. What I’m focused on is living with joy, knowing that no matter how good or how bad things are, my joy is always present. Even when things are tough, when life throws difficult challenges, that joy remains in my heart.
Joy itself should be the goal — not hoping some new thing will make you happy.
OK, then, how do I get joy?
Joy comes from gratitude. Being thankful for what you have, no matter how good or bad your circumstances are. Being thankful that you still have breath, that you still have life.
Have you ever seen sad stories on Facebook or met people who are in terrible circumstances who make the best of them and are living with joy?
That’s what I strive to be.
Challenge Your Brain
Don’t get me wrong, we should want to be the best version of ourselves. We need to take ourselves to higher levels to challenge our brains, and we owe it to ourselves to strive for excellence, to play the game at the highest level. But if you’re doing it to find happiness, I don’t think you’ll find it there.
Joy also comes from being your own person, being who you truly are. I tell my kids that the minute you cross the line to doing something sleazy or dishonest or inappropriate, you live on the other side of that line. It may be a small thing, but the next time, you’ll rationalize a little wrongdoing again, and it will grow and grow until you’ve lost the trust of others, and you may end up in jail. They always say that once-innocent people end up in prison because they tell themselves, “It won’t matter, it’s just a dollar, no one will notice.”
Being your own person means living on your own terms, no matter what they are. If you’re not meeting your own terms, you’re crossing over the line against yourself.
Resolutions Are for Amateurs
In a couple of days we’ll celebrate the start of the year 2020. Instead of making a bunch of resolutions that will be broken, how about just living with gratitude and joy on your own terms? When you live like that, everything else will fall into place and you’ll be more successful in your life than you ever imagined.
Find joy in each moment of each day. Be grateful for where you are and what you have. Forgive those around you no matter what, because not forgiving means living in chains binding you to your anger. Let go, and live on your terms.
What about you?
Are you chasing happiness?
Do you find joy in today, in the now?
Are you grateful for where you are now?
Are you forgiving to others?
There is no better way to start 2020 than with joy in your heart.
Happy 2020 … see you next year.
PS: Close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself this question: What is something I’ve always wanted to do, but have not done?
What comes to mind?
Now, listen to the judging in your head: “Oh, I could never do that.” There is usually some reason.
It seems to me if you have always wanted to do something, if it’s the first thing that comes to mind, you should find a way to do it in 2020. Roadblocks are only meant to keep the amateurs off the road. People who want things never listen to the voices in their head telling them what’s not possible. They never let the reasons things cannot be done get in the way. I believe in you. It’s your turn. Nothing is impossible.
Almost every time I’m outside painting, someone approaches me and says, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t have any talent. I can’t even draw a stick figure.” To me, that’s a cry for help, and I believe I can teach anyone to draw or paint. Anyone, even you. I put together a simple system for those people. It will teach you things most art teachers don’t teach, and I believe you will have success (unless you don’t try it). People who read my social media posts (follow me at ericrhoads on Facebook — though I have no room for more friends, according to them — and @ericrhoads on Instagram) say they wish they could travel the world painting like I do. The first step is learning to paint. The rest will come. I have a free lesson at www.paintbynote.com, a system I came up with to learn using the principle of musical notes. Try it. Don’t give up when you get frustrated — frustration is the signal that you’re about to have a breakthrough.
My father instilled his philosophy, “Happiness is a way of going, not a destination” in me when I was quite young. A motto I live by now.
Eric, I always appreciate your words of wisdom, and being a like-minded spiritual person such as yourself, I have to pipe up and add my two cents worth. While I wholeheartedly agree that being grateful is a key to joy, I have found, for me, the secret to lasting joy is my relationship with God through Jesus Christ, who gives forgiveness from sin, peace beyond human understanding, joy for the journey, and eternal life with Him, no matter what hardships or rough patches I’m in. It’s a free gift that is offered to everyone. John 3:16. Peace. 🙂
Happiness and joy are an inside job! I don’t know who said that originally but it’s very true.I enjoy reading your column keep up the great work
I am thankful for your posts they give me joy! I believe the power to enjoy is a gift from God. Happiness is derived from thankfulness to our Creator. I also cringe at the phrase believe in yourself as if self worship was the key to joy. Self-forgetfulness paradoxically leads to greater soul satisfaction. I also think thoughtful work will add to well being. You have helped so many to achieve their art goals or even just to define a direction. God bless you in the New year!
I particularly enjoyed today’s post.
As a kid from small town Mississippi, I have achieved, in my professional careers, more than I ever thought possible.
I never said “I can not do that.” My grandmother always told all of us grandchildren that you can do anything, you just have to be willing to work hard enough to make it happen. I appended that, early in life, by adding – You make your breaks, but you must take advantage of them. God opens a lot of doors but many are not willing to take the risk of going through them. My attitude has always been – What will I lose versus what could I possibly gain. I am sure that the gains have far exceeded the losses.
Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, happiness and continued success, in your terms.
My opainting carrer has just been te uicibng on cake.
Another fine column, Eric.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that everything the world promises will make us happy costs money. Our economy is tied to being happy by buying this or that, as you pointed out. The lie is that you have to keep replacing whatever you bought with the newest model. And on and on.
I, and millions of others, find my joy in God. Anything you buy, pour all your time into, or place your hopes in becomes your god. And that’s the heart of idolatry today.
People absolutely hate to hear this, but it’s why nothing satisfies except God. We either seek Him or go after what never works.
Thanks for taking time to open your heart, Eric. Well done.
Today’s post from you is right in line with my own thoughts and desires. I could name several things that are present in my life that could become road blocks to happiness and contentment. Living alone now for the past ten years has given me the opportunity to assess my outlook on my own life. I have to say “amen” to what you have said here. Being miserable and dwelling on all that is wrong with my health and what seems to be destructive in today’s world can make happiness seem to be an un-achievable goal. I am thankful for the faith that has come to me and grown in importance. Keep up the good work and good attitude that makes what you say and do very much worthwhile for those of us who want to be genuinely happy.
Thank you for your timely post.
It’s a great reminder to stop and reflect about what really matters.
As we approach the end of another year and the beginning of a brand new decade, it seems appropriate to pause and be grateful for what we have,for all the challenges that life has presented us with and that we have overcome, and also be grateful for the failures, for they have taught us lessons and helped us grow.
Now, it’s time to look ahead to the new opportunities and possibilities, with the joy of being alive and full of potential yet to be discovered.
Happy New Year and best wishes to you and yours.
Eric, your love for life is inspirational. I look forward every Sunday to your posts. What you give to others is the truth that life is a choice no matter what the circumstance. Our creative dreams are endless, and success is whatever we want it to be.
Thank you Eric for another great article. I have long believed the happiness comes from your own heart and not from outside. I believe you can choose to be happy. I also know that not every minute of every day will be happy, but you control how you react to what life throws at you. I have had an extreme amount of stress in my life over the past 2 years. I have had health issues some of which are still not resolved and no idea what is wrong from the doctors, only the abnormality showing up on the test. On top of that my husband was laid off 1.5 years ago and has faced age discrimination big time trying to find a new job, and we have our adult son still living with us and failing to thrive (he is high-functioning autistic). All those things are real downers but I refuse to give up and have continued to pray and to paint. Well prayers do get answered. My husband starts his new job on January 2nd, and the company is only 5 miles from our home and he got a pay raise over what he was earning. We still need to live frugally, pay down our credit card and to build our savings back up, but that does not take away from the joy I feel.
Thank you for your writing. Your email every Sunday morning is like a quiet conversation with myself. I allow myself to feel what you are expressing and take it into my own life. I am not a big reader anymore because I prefer to not take in so much of the collective thought but I have come to trust your reflections and I wanted to share this with you.
Have a joyful New Year.
You almost got it right, but happiness is not a myth, it is ‘you’. “know thy self”, the peace we want is within our selves. Check out Prem Rawat’s PEAK, peace education and knowledge.
Eric, It always seems your posts are along the lines I have been thinking. I usually talk to friends and find the same thoughts on their minds. I like to think there is this universal energy that just lives around us that good thoughts live in and we just need to tap into it, listen and live it. Thank you for this post because it is something I have been having conversations about over the last few weeks during travel to see a couple of friends I don’t see often (one an artist, and one is not … it did not seem to matter!). And they have shown a face astonished and unbelieving because they were thinking about the same things. A life well lived is at the crux of the conversations. Doing the right thing and just enjoying and being thankful as you have said here. I have gone to bed each night thinking of people here, and family and friends that have passed and talking to them … and feeling blessed to know and have known them. Gratitude!
Thank you for the reminder to make gratitude a part of every day moments and to be mindful of the real joy that can flow out of this. A blessed New Year to you and your family 🙂
Decades ago, I defined for myself the difference between Happiness and Joy. Joy is what I always seek. It is what gets us through the rough times. Joy. Thanks for Sunday Coffee.
PS and painting en plein air…..that is joy!