What I Learned from a Homeless Man and My Dog

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“I don’t get enough love”
– Jeremy (homeless man)

Last winter Salt Lake City had a huge snow storm. It was cold, wet and tough to get around. As I was traversing the “fender benders” and trying to get back home I noticed a man, a homeless man, slowly walking by my car. I rolled down my window and asked him if he was okay.  “Can you give me a ride?” He asked. “Now I had done it,” I thought to myself. “I should have never rolled down my window. What if he has a weapon?” More thoughts flooded my mind. “What if he wants money? I can’t afford to give him any.” Hesitantly I said, “Sure, get in.”

As the disheveled man got in, a horrible odor engulfed my car and it was clear this man had not seen a shower in a very long time. Again more thoughts came to my mind, “I may need to shower or at least wash my clothes when I get home.” Or worse, “will this odor stay in my car?” I’m embarrassed to say, but no thoughts of love or kindness were in my heart at that time, only feelings of inconvenience and a lack of compassion.

My dog Louie was with me. He is a five pound yorkie and when in the car must be on my lap. The homeless man introduced himself as Jeremy and reached out to pet Louie. Louie immediately greeted Jeremy just as he would anyone he meets, with tons of dog kisses. You could see this struggling, homeless man melt as my dog gave him love. For the next several minutes he pet Louie and enjoyed the love that my dog gave him, love that unfortunately I was unable to give. Louie didn’t see the filthy clothes. Louie didn’t notice the stench of body odor and alcohol. Louie just gave love. As we arrived at our destination, the downtown homeless shelter, Jeremy commented on how loving Louie was and then, almost in a whisper, he said, “I don’t get enough love.” Jeremy got out of the car into the blustering snow storm, and was gone. Continue reading

Is Happiness a Choice?

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We have all heard that happiness is a choice. In fact, it is almost assumed to be the truth. As you may know, I understand the principles of positive psychology well, am a self-help author, and life coach, and have some strong opinions on the topic of happiness. In fact, my book Bounce Back: Finding Joy During Times of Adversity focuses on the topic. I want to challenge the conventional wisdom that happiness is a choice and would love to know your thoughts on the issue. Is being happy simply a choice?

It has always frustrated me that self-development speakers or teachers say happiness is a choice. How does a person make that choice? You see, a choice implies a concrete answer and an outcome to that choice. If I choose to wear my red shirt, I put my red shirt on. If I choose to drive faster, I push the accelerator down and I go faster. Choice has a cause and effect. So what happens when you choose happiness? Are you suddenly happy? There have been times in my life that I tried to choose to be happy and it worked in the short term. Simply, I was choosing to ignore the things that made me unhappy. That worked briefly but soon the sheer weight of life’s challenges became too burdensome, and unhappiness returned. This has led me to ask, “Can you simply make the choice to be happy and…voila…you are happy?” If so, you are a better person than I.  I believe happiness is not a choice; it is a series of choices that inevitably result in happiness. Here are some of the choices I believe led to my nearly continuous state of happiness:

1.  Reduce negative thoughts as much as possible.  

Negativity is the lifeblood of ongoing unhappiness. Efforts to be positive through the use of positive affirmations, meditation, counseling, and spiritual practices can greatly help in controlling the flow of negativity. Separating yourself from those who foster negativity is also important. Beware though, some preach that this alone can bring you happiness. I believe that it is just the beginning of the choices that must be made for long-term happiness. Continue reading