I recently posted a picture of myself smiling on the Daddy Doin’ Work Facebook page and one of my faithful followers asked, “Has anyone told you that you always look so happy?” Yes, I get that a lot, but I wasn’t always this way. Also, the reason why I’m so happy now will surprise you. Get comfortable, because I have a lot to say.
Rewind to 2001. My twin brother and I were single guys living on the east coast and we planned a trip to Los Angeles. It was going to be our first time on the west coast and we only planned to stay Tuesday through Friday because we had plans back on the east coast the following weekend. I thought that would be plenty of time, but my twin wanted to spend one extra day in LA. We had the following discussion three days prior to our flight departing out of Boston:
Twin: “We should fly into LA on Monday instead of Tuesday.”
Me: “No, it’s too late now. I don’t want to pay to change our flight this late in the game.”
Twin: “C’mon. It’s just a few extra bucks. One more day in LA would be fun. You gotta celebrate life, right?”
Me: “Do whatever you want, but I’m not changing my flight.”
On the following day, my twin ignored my desire to keep our flight the same and moved it to Monday. Since he paid the extra fees, I didn’t really make much of a stink about it – but 11 years later I still remember him saying, “You gotta celebrate life.”
I’m sure many of you are wondering, “OK, so your brother changed your flight from Tuesday to Monday. What’s the big deal?”
We were scheduled to be passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 departing out of Boston on Tuesday September 11, 2001. The same plane that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
We would be dead today if he didn’t change our departure date from Tuesday to Monday.
That’s the big deal.
11 years later, I cringe when I remember that I should’ve been a passenger on that flight.
Let me provide you with some additional background. Prior to this event, I can say that I wasn’t a good guy. I wasn’t a thug or a criminal, I was just an egotistical douchebag. I walked around town thinking that I was better looking than you, smarter than you, more popular than you, and cooler than you. But you know what? I wasn’t happier than you. I was a miserable young man fighting depression and other demons. If you saw me in public, you’d think I had it all – but behind closed doors I was a mess. I spent a lot of time being angry at the world and jealous of people who were more successful than I was – in other words, I was a hater of the highest order. I never used drugs, but there were many days when I would turn to alcohol to ease the pain, and on other days I would spend 18 hours alone in bed. On the darkest days, I even considered taking my own life. Everything about me lacked purpose, and because of that, I also lacked “Happy.”
When I turned on the news in our Los Angeles hotel room on 9/11/01 and made the disturbing connection that we were supposed to be on that hijacked plane, my whole world changed. I thought about how scared the victims must’ve been knowing that they were going to die in a matter of minutes. I thought about the immeasurable pain and suffering their families experienced. I thought about how devastated my parents would’ve been if they lost their twin boys. Then I thought about my legacy. What have I done with my life up until that point? How would I have been remembered if we flew out on 9/11 as originally scheduled? Would it be as a self-important, moody jerk? Who knows? The only thing I knew for sure is that the Universe gave me a not-so-subtle slap in the face to wake the hell up. After the initial shock wore off, I realized that it wasn’t my time to go yet, and that I was destined to do good here on earth – but in order to do so, I needed to make some significant, life-altering changes. The end goal was simple: Achieve Happy.
I titled this post “Achieving Happy” for a reason. From a grammatical standpoint, I know it should read “Achieving Happiness,” but I’m not a fan of the word “happiness.” I know happiness is the state of being happy, but to me it’s so much more powerful when I hear a person say, “I’m happy” than someone who says, “I’m experiencing happiness.” It’s a personal thing, so you’ll just have to roll with me on this one.
It didn’t happen overnight, but during the course of the past 11 years I finally Achieved Happy. Here’s how I did it, and maybe it will work for you and your kids too.
HAPPY POINT #1 – Don’t Be a Punk: Be honest with yourself and answer these questions: Do you blame other people for your problems? Is the reason why you’re unhappy due to someone/something other than you? (your spouse, your neighbors, your boss, your ex-husband/ex-wife, your job, the city/town you live in. etc.) Do you frequently make excuses for why your life isn’t the way you want it? (I’m too busy to lose weight, I’d be happier if my husband wasn’t such a jerk, etc.)
If your answer is “yes” to any of these, then you’re a punk.
If this is the case don’t get offended, because quite frankly – getting offended is something that a punk would do. You have to understand that I’m speaking from experience here. I spent a lot of time as a blame-dispensing, excuse-making punk, but the events of 9/11 made me realize that I couldn’t continue down this path if I ever wanted to be happy. Taking ownership of your life is one of the major keys to Achieving Happy. Once you do, you’ll realize that you are 100% in control of everything, and I mean everything. So in a nutshell, we all have a choice: Be happy or be a punk. I chose to be a punk for many years, and it kinda sucked. Happy is the only way to go.
Don’t be a punk by giving anyone or anything the power to take your Happy away from you.
HAPPY POINT #2 – Six Month Rule: The concept of the Six Month Rule is very simple. Let’s say something or someone upsets you – when it happens, immediately ask yourself this question: In six months will the incident that’s bothering me now STILL bother me? If the answer is no, then you need to do whatever it takes to get over it. Quickly. If the thing that bothers you is something that happens often, you need to address it so it doesn’t happen again.
If the answer is yes, it better be due to death, dismemberment, injury, severe illness, spousal infidelity, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, social injustice, or being the victim of some other heinous/felonious act – otherwise, you’re being a punk (refer to Happy Point #1). I spent much of my time bitching and moaning about crap like a getting cut off on the freeway, or having a restaurant mess up my order, or enduring a bad day at work. You know what? None of those things mattered six months after the fact (or even six hours after the fact). Seriously, give the Six Month Rule a try the next time you get pissed off. I promise you’ll be happier once you do.
HAPPY POINT #3 – Be Yourself: Simple, right? If it’s so simple, then why is it that so few people actually do it? Back in the day, I was so worried about being cool – and in doing so, I became disturbingly fake because I tried to fit in with everybody. It’s impossible to Achieve Happy when you’re fake. Trust me, I know. Since 9/11, I realized that I’m cool just as I am – and anyone who didn’t like the real me isn’t worth my time or energy. To illustrate this point further, here are five facts about myself:
- I’m deathly afraid of frogs.
- I’m a terrible dancer.
- I’ve watched Finding Nemo so many times that I’ve lost count, and I cry at the end every time.
- I love the Power Puff Girls.
- I fart when I sneeze. Yes, every time.
Are any of these things cool? It depends on when you asked me. 11 years ago, I’d sooner give you my Social Security Number than give up that intel. Now, I wear these facts around my neck as individual gold chains of coolness. Why? Because I realized that being cool is whatever the hell I want it to be. And you know what? I’m pretty damn cool. And not “cool” in a douchebag way, either. I’m cool in an I-would-scream-like-a-little-girl-if-I-was-in-the-same-room-as-a-frog kind of way. Hell, if I sneezed while a frog was in the same room with me, you could bet your mortgage that I’d completely poop myself. Regardless, I’d still be cool in my eyes, because I’m being my genuine, real self. In order to Achieve Happy, you must always be yourself, because as the great Dr. Seuss once said (paraphrasing, of course), “Those who matter won’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”
HAPPY POINT #4 – Live in the Moment: Many unhappy people dwell on the past and live in fear of the future. Guess what? The past and future do not exist. Seriously, they don’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn from your past mistakes or plan for the future, I’m just saying don’t obsess over it. Enjoy yourself RIGHT NOW. I remember before my daughter was born, an endless line of parents would say, “Sleep now, because you won’t once she arrives.” Now that she’s a toddler I keep hearing, “Just wait until she becomes a teenager. Then you’re in for it.” Enough already. All of this Bitter Betty/Bradley nonsense is not for me, so I ignore it. I’m enjoying life with my daughter RIGHT NOW. I’m not worried about pre-school, I’m not worried about puberty, I’m not worried about her dating anyone, I’m not worried about her wedding day, I’m not worried about the kids she doesn’t have yet. I enjoy my 18-month old daughter in this moment. Once this moment passes, I’ll enjoy her in the next moment. Why? Because this moment is the only one that exists. So often we spend our time freaking out about crap that probably will never happen and forget to stop and smell the roses in this specific moment.
Achieving Happy means focusing on being the best you can be RIGHT NOW. All of the other stuff is just noise.
HAPPY POINT #5 - Be Fearless: Do you know who’s fearless? Katy, a talented blogger and friend from I Want A Dumpster Baby. This woman has the courage to share her stories of addiction, heartache, and pregnancy issues with thousands of complete strangers. Why does she do this? Because she knows that she can inspire others to get off the mat and defeat the demons that torment them as well. She isn’t afraid of people judging her or hating on her, because the greater good of helping others is more important. Fast-forward to today and she’s been sober for over a decade, she’s pregnant with twins (that gets bonus points from me), and most importantly she’s Achieved Happy. Make no mistake about it, it’s not easy to be fearless. Oftentimes it comes once you hit rock bottom like Katy and I did. When you feel like you have nothing to lose, what the hell is there to be afraid of?
The good news is that you don’t have to hit rock bottom in order be fearless. Another blogger and friend You Know It Happens At Your House Too showed her courage when she made the leap from having an email friendship with a fellow mommy blogger to finally meeting her for the first time in person. We all know that the Internet has some freaks, and many people are not who they say they are – so I wouldn’t blame her if she was a little nervous prior to the face-to-face. However, she went into the meeting with no fear – and because of that she’s learned some new things about herself and she formed a bond with someone that will last a lifetime. Yes, you guessed it, that makes her happy.
What about you? Have you always wanted to write a book? Do it. Do you hate your job? Leave and find a new one. Do you want to start a business? Get on it. Are you unhappy with your marriage? Get counseling or get a divorce. I know what some of you are thinking, “It’s not that easy.” Did you read what I typed earlier? I never said it was going to be easy; but what’s the alternative? Sleepwalk through life while fear controls your every action? That’s no way to live. I learned that fear is no different than your run-of-the-mill playground bully. Once you punch him in the mouth he’ll leave you alone. Remember that you’ll never know how strong you can be until you make “being strong” your only option. Your Happy depends on it.
Disclaimer: When I say, “be fearless,” I don’t mean you should be reckless. In other words, you probably shouldn’t try to be fearless by spending an afternoon in Compton rocking an “I Hate Black People” T-shirt. That will get you shot.
HAPPY POINT #6 – Give Props to Successful People: Do you know a sure-fire way not to receive what you want in life? Hating on people who have what you want. I was guilty of this for years. Whenever someone offered praise to successful individuals, I’d follow it up with, “He/she isn't special.” It didn’t matter if it was the guy who received a promotion at work or if it was Oprah Winfrey, they all weren’t special in my eyes. Note: In hindsight, who says Oprah Winfrey isn't special? Really? I’m embarrassed by this.
It’s funny how the Universe works. When you hate on the success of successful people, you’re basically saying “I want no part of this” and you get a whole lotta stuff thrown at you that is the complete opposite of success. Instead, I learned to celebrate success, and guess what? More success came to me. I’m a newcomer to the blogging game, but I realize that it’s no different than anything else. There are A LOT of daddy bloggers in cyberspace, and many of them are excellent – but I never went into this thinking, “Oh, I need to be better than this guy” or “That guy has more Facebook likes than me…but he isn't special.” When you come from a scarcity mindset, you’ll think that there aren’t enough readers, props, recognition, or love to go around – when in fact there is an INFINITE amount of those things. I celebrate the success of my peers because in my eyes we’re on the same team, and their success is my success. I always want my fellow writers (daddy bloggers and mommy bloggers alike) to feel comfortable reaching out to me to guest post on my site, ask for help, or just say hello. I’ve only been at this for a couple of months and I’ve already made some new friends that I know I’ll keep forever, and that makes me happy.
HAPPY POINT #7 – Grow a Thicker Skin: People can be mean at times. Really mean. They’ll talk trash about your looks, your weight, your religion, your race, your opinions, even your mama. Back in the day, I’d turtle up whenever someone dissed me because frankly I wasn’t man enough to handle it. Nowadays whenever someone criticizes me, I analyze two things: the source and the accuracy. If both aren’t on-point, I ignore it (which is the case over 90% of the time). For example, on Friday I received an email from a stranger that said my blog sucks and I should stick to something I’m good at like playing basketball.
The source was some dude I haven’t met.
Verdict: The source was not on-point.
He said my blog sucks, which is true – if you live in a parallel universe. You know…the same universe where skinny jeans on dudes are cool.
Verdict: The accuracy was not on-point.
He said I should stick to something I’m good at like basketball. Really? Has he seen me play basketball lately? I absolutely suck. I’m sure if he read this, he never would’ve emailed me in the first place.
Verdict: The accuracy was not on-point.
Dissecting the source and accuracy of your criticism will not only help you to grow a thicker skin, but it will make you much happier in the process.
Note: Keep in mind, there will be times when the source and accuracy are on-point. For example, a few nights ago I made calzones for dinner and I burned them pretty bad. Seriously, they were like hockey pucks covered in cheese and tomato sauce. When my wife tried them, she told me that she’d rather be reincarnated as toilet paper in a Mississippi truck stop than eat another bite. When that happens, you just need to nod your head, take notes to never do that again, and move on.
HAPPY POINT #8 – Love Hard: No, that’s not the title of some low-budget smut film. It means that you should do everything hard. For example, I love to write, so I write hard. I don’t care if I have two readers or two million readers, I will write passionately for my followers every damn week. Why? Because if you support me, you deserve my absolute best. Always.
The previous version of me was lazy and the only thing I did “hard” was sleep. Now I work hard, play hard, and love hard – and you should too.
Kiss your spouse passionately at least once a day, give people hugs instead of handshakes, when a customer service representative takes exceptional care of you – ask to speak to his/her supervisor and offer praise, find a cause that you’re passionate about and support the hell out of it, find something that will make you laugh to the point of snorting every day, find something inspirational that will move you to the point of tears at least once a week, constantly tell your family and friends how much you love them, randomly pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line at Starbucks, help little old ladies across the street, say hello to strangers when you pass them on the sidewalk, and volunteer in your community. The difference with people who Achieve Happy isn’t just about what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it – because they always do it hard.
Don’t half-ass anything. Ever.
HAPPY POINT #9 – Celebrate Life: This was the advice my brother told me as he changed our flights, and these are the two words I live by today. It doesn’t really matter how you celebrate life, just as long as you do. Spaz dance in your underwear, eat pancakes for dinner, take photos of nature, hop in your car and just drive, make an effort to meet people of different races and religions, learn a new language, or take one extra day of vacation to “celebrate life.” You’ll be surprised at how happy it makes you.
Hell, it could even save your life.
That’s my list. Of course there are other Happy Points (surround yourself with good people, eliminate negative influences, show forgiveness, etc.) but those are relatively obvious and I wanted to focus on the ones that sparked my personal transformation (also War & Peace just called and said this post is too long).
As we move closer to the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I still think about how one seemingly innocuous decision is the difference between typing the entry you’re reading right now and being a tragic historical footnote. I think about how close I was to never being a firsthand witness to the joys of fatherhood or being married. I think about how ironic it is that I will board a plane for a family vacation on (you guessed it) Tuesday September 11, 2012. Am I scared? Not at all. I’m not a punk and I’m fearless, remember? (If frogs are on the plane, then all bets are off).
I made the decision on the morning of September 11, 2001 to Achieve Happy, and that’s exactly what I did. If you’re unhappy with any aspect of your life, I hope you make the same decision I did to make a change. As Andy Dufresne said in my all-time favorite movie Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” We have a limited time here on earth, and you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your loved ones to be the best person you can be.
Speaking of owing – Twin, I owe you one. Not only did you save my life in 2001, but you saved it again by giving me the wake up call I needed to be the husband, father, brother, son, friend, and man that I am today.
Most importantly, I’m happy.
I will always be grateful for that. Thank you and I love you.