I grabbed two cups of lousy French coffee and made my way through the crowd towards my brother-in-law. He was smiling. I was nervous. It was the first time we’d met in person.
“Thanks for making the drive up here with my sister and parents,” he said. “Not a problem,” I replied. “I’ve never been to France, let alone a Buddhist monastery, so it wasn’t that big of an ask.”
“When you married my sister I bet you didn’t think that her brother would walk around all day in a robe singing funny songs,” he said.
I knew I was going to like my brother-in-law. But one thing that caught me off guard was that he was seriously funny. He put me at immediate ease.
“I gotta know something,” I said as we sat down on a random log. “3 years — 20 other guys — spending your days and nights inside an area no bigger than a basketball court! How’d you stay sane?”
“The first few months were a struggle for sure,” he replied after taking a moment to gather his thoughts. “But over time, I can’t say when for sure, something changed. I stopped worrying about myself and I started to ask myself how I could make better connections and contributions to the community.”
I’d been told variations of the words “You can get anything you want out of life as long as you help other people get what they want,” a million times. But something about the confident tone of my brother-in-law’s voice, and the way he carefully crafted and delivered his words, helped to make the lesson finally stick.
Since that day, I’m not going to pretend like I sprinkle rainbow dust on the heads of everyone I come into contact with. I’m still moody. I still annoy people. I still wake up anxious some mornings and immediately think about all the things I need to do.
But today, thanks to my brother-in-law, some days, instead of thinking about myself, I think about what I can do to support the people I care about. It has made me a better person — a happier person. Those days I feel lighter.
What can I do to make the lives of the people around me a little bit better? The question sounds so simple, I know. But if I’ve learned anything in my 41 years it's that simple advice is often the best advice.
Take a look around you. Identify the people who are truly happy. These people don’t have a magic potion on their nightstand or a million dollars in their bank account. Happy people come in all shapes and sizes. But they have all come to the realization that life isn’t only about them.
If you want to be happier, and feel like you are making a difference in the world, by all means, keep striving towards reaching your goals.
Just don’t forget to steal a line from my brother-in-law and also ask yourself what you can do to make the lives of the people around you a little bit better.
A helping hand here. A word of encouragement there. It’s hard to not feel successful if you are doing what you can to be helpful.