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The most generous people are the happiest people

Happiness, real and genuine happiness, is the essence of a life well lived.” This stirring statement from author and American TV host Hugh Hewitt immediately caught my eye while reading his book, The Happiest Life, a gift from a former student on my recent birthday.

The struggle towards happiness doesn’t end with lots of bank deposits and high-earning investments, a thriving career or entrepreneurial success. Hewitt explains, “Careers are small parts of large lives. Some of the happiest people I know don’t care for or about their careers at all. And material happiness can either destroy or amplify happiness.” 

Hewitt’s thesis is basic and uncomplicated: the most generous people are the happiest people. His work shares the seven essential gifts that exalt both the receiver and the giver. The seven gifts include encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, empathy, good humor, graciousness, and gratitude, and the seven well-placed givers are your spouse, parents, family members, friends, coworkers, teachers, and the church. The happy tome is interleaved with authentic narratives, ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking, but all of which are real. They are conveyed with down-to-earth, straightforward flair, and accompanied with appropriate biblical quotes. Key takeaways from Hewitt’s work include:

Encouragement does not require sainthood, or near sainthood. You just need an eye for accomplishment, the effort and the willingness to remark upon it in a habitual, indiscriminate but truthful fashion. Encourage someone today. Observe how he or she reacts to your word. Nothing is for sure, but genuine encouragement is met every time with gratitude and joy. Sometimes they’re sheepish, sometimes embarrassed, but rarely are they insincere. The Epistle to the Hebrews says, “Consider how you may spur others to stir up love and good works.”

Energy is the secret to nearly everything that needs doing. It is the means to any end, and it can be given in amazing amounts. The very energetic can be wearying, but it is much better to be exhausted from having been involved in purposeful, striving work or play than to be lethargically living out days on a couch.   People with energy energize others. Proximity is all it takes, which is a good reminder to stay close to the spirited. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” The Book of Ecclesiastes states.

Enthusiasm is contagious and, like colds, it requires contact. Some people do their best to avoid infection, but this is where judiciousness comes in.  Never ask a friend to dive deep with you. Ask him or her to come to shore once or twice to watch. A marathoner can take a friend for a mile walk-jog along a favorite path, a horseman can coach a newbie on a first ride, a hunter can mentor a city boy on an early-morning foray.  Lend your favorite books. Better yet, give them away, as no one ever returns books anyway. The effort to share your passion makes the connection. The Epistle to the Romans reminds us, “Be fervent in spirit.”

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Empathy is not sympathy, but a relationship between individuals who have similar experiences of suffering. You can sympathize with almost everyone, but you can truly empathize only with those who are enduring what you have yourself experienced.   Empathy must be born out of experience. It’s an action, not a feeling. Even if you aren’t feeling empathetic, you can act as though you are. It’s a very good habit of living that, once developed, will not easily wear out. The Book of Job declares, “To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend.”

Good humor has much to do with perspective, and it flows from a sense of proportion. It is knowing and embracing that, whatever the circumstances, they too, shall pass. It is a choice, a condition of repose, a basic happiness, radiating joy. It is “good cheer,” much like “charitable giving.” Unlike “perky,” it is not annoying. Genuine good cheer can be very quiet, but it is always noticed. Mirth is a quality that comes in all sorts of packages. The Book of Ecclesiastes writes, “I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice.”

Graciousness is practiced and intentional. It requires awareness of everyone every day, from the person in front of you as you exit the street, to the parking lot attendant that helps you park, to every waiter or waitress that takes your order in every restaurant.  It is what you might call “situational awareness” of everyone in your life, and it is the beginning of graciousness. “The essence of good taste is to never be offended by bad taste,” is a famous anonymous saying. Ben Franklin said something similar: “He is not well bred who cannot bear ill breeding in others.” Both bits of abbreviated insight point to the same command: be gracious. The Epistle of the Hebrews proclaims, “Pursue peace with all people.”

Giving thanks is giving praise, and genuine gratitude is the sweetest thing to receive.   It is a great way to start, grow and keep relationships, which is the foundation of success for anything you do, or any connection you establish and nurture. It is extolling a person or a group that has done something well. It is sharing success stories with others with the goal to inspire, to motivate and move them to action. It is letting them know what their work means, how it helps and the kind of impact it creates. Saying thank you is not only a matter of good manners and right conduct between people, but an acknowledgment of decency as well. “In everything give thanks,” the First Epistle to the Thessalonians says.

Nobody gets out of here without pain or sorrow along the way. It is an obvious occurrence, but so is the denial of most people about the fact that suffering is ahead — some very awful days. The failure to prepare for it is an invitation to even greater sorrow.  When people are suffering, “show up and shut up.” Indeed, one of the best pieces of advice you could ever heed.

The days are flying by. It is one of the most important points to consider every day, when looking at every person and every gift you can give them.   Playwright David Mamet said in his tome The Secret Knowledge, “The afternoons are endless, and the years fly by.” No one believes this in their 20s. Everyone does in their 50s.”

Friendship is one of your treasured gifts in life. How does one develop a capacity for friendship?  Be aware of and anticipate the needs of your friends, from the very basic simple things like shared time to being there in moments of terrible grief and loss. The capacity for friendship develops by being available to people in your orbit and letting them truly get to know you, and for you to get to know them. It takes time. The opportunities for such friendships are declining as the devices in your life eat up more and more of the time that was only 10 years ago devoted to conversation.  

Happiness is all about generosity.  It is giving what you have received from God, which you give to others in his name — resources, time, talents and skills. “If you have forgotten that, recall it. If you have failed, start again. If you are happy, be thankful. And if you aren’t, you can be,” Hewitt recapped.

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Email bongosorio@gmail.com. Thank you for communicating.

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