Given as a Toastmasters Competent Communicator#10: Inspire Your Audience speech.His hand was cold, heavy, lifeless. I knew that it couldn’t get any worse - in that moment I found my clarity. As they say, “when you’re sitting at the bottom, all roads lead up.”
I started my twenties holding my fathers hand at the end of his life. It was one of those moments that seemed to drag on forever. As I walked towards the open coffin I couldn’t help feeling that it was some kind of horrible joke - that I would approach and a candid camera crew would pop up. But when I reached out and took his cold lifeless hand, reality hit. This was real. I wondered what regrets we have when we pass from this world - what things we left unsaid, what tasks we left undone, stories left untold and sights never seen.
I started my thirties with my newborn son and I couldn’t help thinking, what must it be like to have all possibilities ahead of you. To have no stress, no anxiety, no regrets. To live life as a newborn - eternal optimism, learning and hope. Do you ever wonder what happened to these days?
Let me ask you:
Are you happy?
Are you passionate about your life?
Do you love the people around you?
Do you love the things that you do?
We don’t spend enough time working at being happy with ourselves. We whittle away our time on this Earth working long days, putting in overtime, taking night classes, doing yard work. We develop new skill sets. We organize and execute. We defer and delegate. We plan holidays with regimented agendas. We come up with objectives and action plans. We plan events thinking of outcomes rather than the people within.
But why? Why do we do it? We have forgotten the point to it all. A life is poorly spent without joy and hope and happiness. This all will end and this too shall pass.
If I told you that you had a day to live, would you change your plans for tomorrow?
and if I told you that you had a month to live, what would you do differently?
Let me tell you today quite clearly - you have a fatal illness called life. I don’t know whether you have a minute left or 20 years but I want to encourage you to make the most of it.
I don’t want to ever hear “I’ll be happy IF” or “I’ll be happy WHEN”. Simply put, find your happiness now.
Let me ask you: Are you happy?
Edgar Allan Poe once said:
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
I moved out when I was a teenager. I figured that I’d be happier on my own, living with friends. Come home when you want to, eat what you want to, clean up if you want to. It sounds brilliant. But life has a cost. Paying rent, buying food, figuring out which compromises to make between a new gadget or buying a car. There was always the next thing that I wanted. Eventually I decided “I’ll be happy WHEN I’m back home”.
But that didn’t work either - I moved back home and was immediately frustrated by having a curfew, having expectations that I’d assist with the house, losing my freedoms. Almost immediately it became “I’ll be happy WHEN I make more money”.
You can spend your whole life living this way - one data point to the next, one goal to the next - with the goalpost of your happiness eternally out of reach. The worst part is that you are your own jailor. You are doing it to yourself.
My external circumstances changed but my happiness did not. Because happiness, love, contentment, satisfaction are all internally driven. There was nothing wrong with my circumstances but everything wrong with the conditions I imposed on myself. I talked to a counsellor once who told me that there are very few things hardwired into us as people - most of the things that we feel like guilt, shame, dread or anxiety are learned responses. We condition ourselves to feel this way.
So I moved out and ended up in an apartment, was frustrated at the lack of a yard.
I moved out into duplex, was frustrated that I was renting and couldn’t make changes.
I bought a house, was frustrated that I had a yard to maintain and didn’t know how to make changes to it.
I learned how to make changes to my house and was frustrated because I didn’t have the money to do so.
I know now that nothing about my circumstances could have changed my perception of it. Think about it - are you content with what you have or are you already thinking about the next thing? That next step? That next goal.
The grass is always greener somewhere else, wherever you are.
Let me ask you: Are you happy?
I told you that the worst time of my life was sitting with my dad’s corpse.
But the best time of my life was sitting with my newborn son a decade later. Looking at his beautiful little fingers. Being so proud of that first black sticky poo, that first burp, the first time sleeping through the night.
I try to spend time every day sitting down with my son and doing nothing. It’s my happy time. There are no set goals, no objectives. He started as a baby by rolling over to me. As the years have passed he’s moved through crawling on me, jumping on me, bringing me toys to play with, learning his words, reading books. His happiness is not conditional and I think sometimes that he’s the wisest person I’ve ever met.
Shakespeare put it this way:
“to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to?”
“To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.”
Let me ask you: Are you happy?
If not then I want to challenge you to change. My call to action is simple. Enjoy the moment. Take an hour out of your day to spend time with a loved one. Sit back in that lawn chair and enjoy the sunshine. Do that which makes you happy. Don’t put it off - be happy now and always.