Happiness Is Success

happiness-whistle-while-you-workI’ve said it for years; it’s as true now as it was then, as it has been since the Creation. Humans were made to work. We were designed to sweat and labor and do. There is an indescribable satisfaction in hard work. I believe that nothing else can make us feel as truly alive as getting outside and putting our backs into it. Whatever it is. Yard work, building a shed, painting the fence, building a house, digging a ditch, cutting down a tree, whatever. Far too many people treat work as a dirty word, but it’s not. It’s a beautiful thing to do what we were made for. It brings a happiness that few things can match.

Last week, I worked the hardest I have ever worked in my life. We had a huge dying tree in front of our house that needed to come down. About 200 years old, 70+ feet tall, 5 feet in diameter. Three days of running a chainsaw and hauling branches and logs. I was sore and tired and sunburned, but I was happy. I had almost forgotten that level of happiness existed. I just feel so alive, it’s unreal. It has satisfied the primal need to work that we all possess.

I work a blue-collar job, so hard work is the norm for me. I love it; I couldn’t work an office job if you offered me all the money in the world. It would drive me insane. Literally. For years, we have been sold the lie that, to succeed, you have to get a college degree and pursue a white-collar career. And yes, for some people, that is true. But the sheer number of people who hate their jobs and are dissatisfied with their lives would indicate that maybe it’s not true for everyone. Success is not measured in diplomas or income or material possessions – or at least it shouldn’t be. Success is living a life you love. Whether you are a mechanic making $40,000 a year or a surgeon bringing in $500,000, what difference does it make? Success is not money, success is happiness.

As a kid, I was incredibly blessed to have parents who understood that. My Daddy worked in construction and Mama was a full-time mother. Six kids to feed and clothe, and construction doesn’t pay the big bucks. But you know what? I cannot remember ever being worried about where our next meal was coming from or where we were gonna live. I never thought of us as poor, even though, looking back, I can see that we were. We had a beautiful childhood, one that any kid could envy. We never bought brand-new clothes, we never had the coolest toys, but one thing we did have. Love. We were happy. Mama and Daddy loved us, we loved each other; we are still an incredibly close family. No, we’re not perfect, but it is a beautiful feeling to know that there are people you can always count on to have your back. Success is not working long hours to make more money, success is building a strong happy family and living a life that you love.

Audrey Hepburn, Radiant Beauty

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailerConsidered by many to be one of the most beautiful women who ever lived, Audrey Hepburn was beautiful inside and out. She was never afraid to be herself. While other iconic beauties of the day were of the more voluptuous goddess type, her charming elfin-like beauty and inner glow has made her more enduringly beautiful than many of her contemporaries. Part of her radiance stems from the purity and beauty of her soul.

Born in Belgium in 1929 to a British father and Dutch mother, young Audrey divided her growing-up years between these 3 countries. She studied ballet from the age of 5; dreaming of one day being a prima ballerina. The hardships and hunger of WWII in the Netherlands forever destroyed that dream. The horrors of war would remain with her forever, making her a passionate advocate for starving children, and working with UNICEF in particular. This is the beauty of Audrey Hepburn’s soul: to have survived what she did, yet still retain a serene joy inside that nothing could take away. The things she saw and experienced made her sensitive and caring, but not bitter or cynical. She saw to the full the ugliness mankind is capable of, but still chose to see the good in humanity too.

Ranked by the American Film Institute as the 3rd greatest female screen legend in the history of American film in 1999, Audrey Hepburn left a legacy equaled by few. Although certainly not the most prolific actor in Hollywood, she is one of the most universally well-received. Even in films panned by critics and audiences alike, her performance was almost invariably praised. Her first starring role in Roman Holiday (with already-a-star Gregory Peck) won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award. This made her the first actress ever to receive all 3 awards for a single performance. She went on to appear in a number of movies with a number of famous actors and actresses. One thing remained constant: Audrey’s fashion style. Even today, Audrey Hepburn is considered a fashion icon – perhaps because she never followed the latest trends. Instead she opted for a style that suited her perfectly, a trend that’s always in style.

As the years went by, she appeared in fewer films, devoting more and more time to humanitarian work with UNICEF until her death in 1993. It is this which, I believe, she would most like to be remembered for. Audrey Hepburn chose a legacy, not of fame or stardom, but of loving and caring for the “least of these.” Those are footsteps we should all try to walk in.

Green: Color of Life

color of lifeGrass, Peter Pan, key lime pie, fresh herbs, Yoda, clover, Tharks, Shrek, trees, Robin Hood, kiwi fruit – all have one thing in common. The color green. In my opinion, green is the color of life and vitality. When spring comes, and creation awakens from the cold sleep of winter, everything becomes green and the world is once again vibrantly alive. It’s the most beautiful event of the year. As spring morphs into summer, green is everywhere we look. Green is the official color of summer; it’s a happy time and a happy color.

Green is also life when it comes to food. Fresh herbs will liven up just about any dish, and most green fruits will wake up your taste buds – limes, kiwis, green grapes, Granny Smith apples. Key lime pie is a dreamy concoction of lively limes in a creamy filling. And the list of green vegetables is nearly endless. Most studies and nutritionists agree that green vegetables are more densely packed with nutrients than other vegetables – and what are nutrients if not life for our bodies’ cells?

Green seems to be the color of choice for lively, energetic fictional characters as well. Who is more exuberantly alive than Peter Pan, the boy who won’t grow up? Or Yoda, the little green guy with a light saber? How about the 4-armed giants of Barsoom (Tharks), the Scottish-accented ogre with a gentle soul (Shrek), or the longbow-wielding hero of Sherwood Forest (Robin Hood)? They’re all enthusiastic, energetic, forceful, flamboyant – ALIVE. And their attitude is infectious, which is why we love them – and their trademark color of life.

Abundantly Alive Soul

Some people say that I’m shallow, consumed by trivial things. Partly because I am one of the easiest people to shop for in the history of, like, ever. Ask me for gift ideas and I can give you a 5-page list – mostly of items that can be bought for $20 or less. Another reason would be the fact that I am a packrat. Things that have no value to anyone else are special to me. And then, too, I tend to chatter on mindlessly about anything and everything – but seldom about the deep stuff. I don’t open up easily. Very few people have ever bothered to look past my trivial exterior to see the soul beneath.

And yet, the pieces aren’t too hard to put together. I find pleasure in simple things because of my joyfully exuberant personality. I attach value to certain things because they belonged to someone I care about or because they are associated with a treasured memory. I ramble (almost incessantly) because it’s hard to talk about the things that I really care about. Triviality and a certain roughness in my demeanor serve as my armor, a protection against feeling too deeply. And when that doesn’t work, they do a fair job at playing levee and holding in a flood tide of emotions.

But this is not a healthy way to handle deep feelings. Enjoying trivial stuff is good, a natural extension of an abundantly alive soul. But building a wall between my emotions and the world around me – that’s not good. Deep emotions are a blessing, not something to be ashamed of. I admire people who wear their heart on their sleeve – that takes a special brand of courage. The more deeply we love, the more agonizing the pain when that love is betrayed or rejected. And yet, if we turn away from experiencing the good to avoid the bad, are we truly alive?

So this year, I am resolving to work on that. To strip away the tough façade I’ve built for myself and to learn what it means to be truly vulnerable. It’s a scary thought, you know? That others will see the real me, the girl behind the mask. This will no doubt be a process, however. It would be absurd to think that I could drop the mask overnight, but I’m sure enough going to try. Maybe you’d like to join me and be your real self? Be abundantly alive?