elitefts™ Sunday edition

Finding Success in Happiness

“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspect of their lives.” – William James

I was recently asked to write an article concerning people as a whole, not just the powerlifting and bodybuilding segment. As I read what was being asked of me, I immediately knew what I would write about: How do we, as people, find success in happiness? The past 10 months I spent searching and reading what happiness truly was. Why are some people happy and others not? Is happiness partially dependent on income and material possessions? Is happiness an esoteric and elusive attribute that only a select few people will discover? Deep down I've always been happy with who I am, how I've conducted myself, and the choices I made as an adult, but outside of myself, I was not a happy person. I looked at the world and saw a barren place – a place that I wanted little part of. I only wanted to do my own thing, take care of my business, and do things I enjoyed while not involving myself with other people, with the exception of my close friends.

This time last year, an event transpired that forced me to sit down and thoroughly evaluate my life. I began making a list of what I was happy with, what I was not happy with, what needed to be improved upon, and what I could do so that a year from then, I wouldn't be in the same position with nothing being improved to better my situation. In the past 10 months, this is what I learned:

Happiness is being selective on who we share our life with.

In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of being happy. It is as simple as positive people bring you up, while negative people bring you down. While we should treat everyone with respect, we need to be wise in who we choose to share our life with. Do you want to be around others who talk about how horrible their life is, how someone at their job is always trying to get them fired, or those who are constantly unhappy? I don’t. I would rather be around people who are striving to better themselves, have common interest, enjoy helping others, love to joke around, and do not take many things serious. Laughter is great. Negativity is not.

Happiness is helping others.

I remember in high school, I was helping my mom clean out the garage when we came across a box that wasn't opened in probably 15 years. Inside the box, there was an old photo album of when I was born and when my parents brought me home from the hospital. Behind the front cover, there was a message from my parents that they wanted me to read later on in life. My dad wrote something that will always stick with me. He wrote, and I am paraphrasing as it has been several years since I last read it, to treat everyone as if they were family and help as many people as you can. Looking back, I remember many times when my dad, along with my grandparents, would go out of their way to help those who were in need. They never asked for anything in return and often times refused money. This habit was instilled in me at a young age.

Happiness is being mentally and physically strong.

I couldn't imagine my life without strength training. If I could put into words how much strength training has been instrumental in my life, it would still be a huge understatement. It isn't something I can explain, but I'm positive there are others who feel the same way. Not only has strength training helped, recently I added Muay Thai to my repertoire. Unleashing left over aggression on a bag, Thai pads, or a sparring partner was a tremendous help for me to become more relaxed and think clearer. Those who are mentally strong are less likely to deviate from their moral code of ethics and it gives you the confidence needed to stand behind tough decisions we are sometimes forced to make. I always felt every man needs to be strong or know how to fight. Or better yet, both!

Happiness is remaining positive.

Last November, I lost a friend of over 10 years to cancer. If you didn't know she missed work due to chemotherapy, you would never know about her condition because she never complained once about her cancer. There were many times she had chemotherapy treatment and still showed up to work the following day. You could visibly tell she was worn down, but if you ever asked how she was doing, she would always say she was well. The last times I spoke to her, she was upbeat and said she had never felt better, but later on that week she went into the hospital, only to never walk out alive. Even if she never lifted a single weight in her life, she was one of the strongest people I've ever known. There are times if I find myself complaining, I will stop because if she never complained about a disease that killed her, then I have no grounds to complain about whatever situation I'm going through. If at any time you're angry by a past or recent event, think to yourself that there is someone else who has it much worse – and they continue living every day with a smile.

Happiness is forgiving others and more importantly, forgiving ourselves.

This is something I struggled a great deal with. Anytime I felt slighted or betrayed by someone, I quickly removed that person from my life and continued on as if I never knew them. Looking back, it's scary to know I could block out someone’s existence in a matter of seconds, but that also brought to light how much I kept people out of my life. There are some acts so atrocious they don't deserve our forgiveness, but there are others that do. If for nothing else, do it for your peace of mind so you don't continue to dwell on things from the past. Realize we are human, we make mistakes, and we deserve our own forgiveness so we can move on in life.

Happiness is channeling anger in an appropriate manner.

Many people see anger as a negative emotion and one they wish they could do without. When poorly managed, anger can lead to stress, depression, unhappiness, and other negative experiences, as I learned in my youth. It took quite a few years to learn, but when channeled correctly, anger can create opportunities to better yourself as a person. I use my anger to better myself academically, to better myself in the gym, and to better myself as a friend, which is directly connected to me becoming a better person. There's a strong correlation between each endeavor we excel at and the confidence we gain within ourselves. Don't dismiss anger as a purposeless emotion. Use it to your advantage.

Happiness is letting people into our life.

Sharing our life with positive people not only enhances both lives, it makes living more fun.If you're someone who shuns new friendships or relationships, then I'd recommend searching for the underlying issue and resolving it. There was a biographical film made a few years ago called Into The Wild about a young man who navigated across North American in search of exotic locations, thinking that was his destiny in life, thus what would bring him happiness. While traversing through the continent, he met several people who helped shape him as a person and at one point, he questions whether to proceed with his mission. After some deliberation, he continues into the Alaskan wilderness where he eventually becomes trapped inside of a bus. He reflects back on his life and comes to the realization that he found happiness, but it was not from fulfilling his destiny as he always thought, it was from the people he had met during his journey. Shortly before dying, he wrote “Happiness is only real when shared” into his journal.

Happiness is not compromising on compromise.

What I mean by this is that it is okay to compromise on the little things, but do not compromise on the important issues. Last summer, I was at the gym talking to a close friend of mine, one of the very few people who I will listen to for advice, and we discussed the interference of training on my social life. I was joking how every Friday night people are out mingling, drinking, going to bars, socializing, and what-have-you, but I'm always in the gym training. He asked if I had any regrets thus far and I couldn't give an immediate answer. This thought plagued my mind and I decided to let it linger for a few days before obtaining a conclusive answer. My answer ended up being no, that I did not have any regrets. Training may not be what entirely defines me, but it's a huge part of who I am and that is not worth sacrificing. If I'm given a few days notice, I'll change my squat night from Friday to Thursday night, but I won't ditch it all together. I would, however, have no problem compromising when I'm not training and doing something with a friend. Or, if I have a girlfriend, watching Titanic, some other chick flick – albeit any Twilight garbage – or any activity that she feels important to her. If you are with someone who also has their own training time or they have church on Sunday morning, it would not be right to schedule an event during that time, so while it is okay to compromise, do not compromise on issues that are important to you or others.

Happiness is being honest.

One characteristic my core group of friends and I have is that we are all honest with each other. Sometimes we get to the point of being brutally honest, but that is how I prefer to be since there's no reading between the lines. Being honest is one of the most respectful things we can do for someone. Everyone has a moment in the past when they lied or were deceitful, but growing older allows us to see that is not a way to live. Sometimes the truth hurts and is not what we want to hear or say but often times, it is what needs to be said. I see people who get frustrated by the actions of those around them, but refuse to talk to them about the issue. Most people are half way reasonable and will make a change, or at least a compromise. Always be tactful when being honest with someone else.

Happiness is something we must truly want.

You may read this with some confusion and wonder who would not want to be happy. Sadly, I feel there are people who do not want to be happy for whatever reason. Maybe they are afraid of being happy just like some people are afraid of being successful? Much like losing weight, getting stronger, or accomplishing anything else in life that is worth having, we cannot approach this halfheartedly. We must be decisive in our actions and gear ourselves towards being happy. We all need to smile and greet others more often. Ask your cashier or waiter how they are doing and wish them well. If you see an elderly lady having trouble carrying her groceries, offer to help. If someone cuts you off in traffic, refrain from using your horn and middle finger to express your anguish. These are all positive actions we can choose to do that not only affect us, but affect those we interact with.

Happiness is grabbing life by the balls and never letting go.

Each year I look forward to one weekend more than any other and that is Memorial Day weekend. This is also known to myself and three other close friends, as Maryland Deathfest weekend! As much as I enjoy the music, I have the most fun spending four-and-a-half days with great friends, eating waffles from Miss Shirley’s Café, drinking nothing but whiskey and Coke, and following it up with pizza at three in the morning. Few things in life bring me more pleasure than this. Make a list of things which bring you pleasure, goals you want to accomplish, places you want to visit, and go out and do them. I have a list and I make it a mission to do two or three a year. If something is time-limited, make it a priority and put it at the top.  The last thing I want to do is look back on life and realize I never lived it to my fullest potential with those closest to me.

Last, but certainly not least, happiness is being around my nephew, Carter “Little C” Byerly.

To conclude this article, what is the common denominator behind everything I learned over the past 10 months? Happiness is not centered on our finances, luxury cars, over-sized televisions, or large houses. It has everything to do with who we surround ourselves with, how we treat others, and how we treat and conduct ourselves. Happiness is an action, therefore happiness is a choice. Being happy is a choice we all have the ability to make. It doesn't derive from a single element. There are many elements that fuse together and allow true happiness to form, and it's our responsibility to piece those elements together. Life is not a fairy tale or a scripted Hollywood film where we wait until someone comes along to show us what happiness is. This is something we must find out for ourselves. Instead of always feeling like the grass is greener on the other side, perhaps we need to look beneath our own feet and make our grass greener. We are only given one chance in this life. Why would anyone want to spend it being bitter, unhappy, and spiteful when they can make the choice to change their behavior and become a better, happier person? Being happy is a choice, so what are you going to choose?