How to Be Happy

Step 1: Change your default settings.

“You and your generation, you’re just a bunch of mess, with your John Lennons and your love this and love that. You know, the Russians are going to come over here, and they’re not going to love you. What are you gonna do then?”

It was December 1980, my senior year in high school, and Lennon had just been killed.

“But Dad,” I replied from the back seat, “we just got out of church, where we spent two hours worshipping Jesus. How come He’s right but John Lennon’s wrong?”

Dad said nothing more, and he drove us home in silence. Later, I saw this moment as a great victory, as it was the first debate with my father that I won. Recently I’ve found the answer to that question, but sadly my Dad’s gone. So I’ll tell you. Of course, people like Jesus and Socrates and Confucius figured all this out centuries ago, but like most things, I had to learn it the hard way.

You’re wired for fear. All of us are, animals too. That bear really is afraid of you. Which is ridiculous if you think about it, but it’s true. If you come across a bear on a hike, it’ll most likely run away from you, even though it could easily rip your face off. Fear is a defense mechanism that has kept bears, and humans, alive for centuries. But it’s no way to live.


The sculpture above is my interpretation of the battle that goes on in my head. The next time your alarm clock goes off, you may hear it too. One side wants to call in sick, play hooky, and maybe enjoy the day. The other will quickly remind you how nice it is to have a home and food, and money to pay for both. So of course there are limits to trust. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, knowing you’ve only got two. But show that image to any child, and ask them which one is the brave one. A six-year-old can see it.

When you die, your body will still be here. You, your personality, or soul, or whatever you like to call it, will be gone. Let’s take the big threat that people are talking about today, bad guys are going to come across the border and hurt us. And for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that the worst is going to happen: somebody’s going to kill me, but first they’re going to cut my toes off and feed them to me one at a time. They still haven’t hurt me. Not as badly as I can hurt myself by becoming the kind of person that is so afraid that I condone turning people away who are running for their lives, or harming children.


On any given day, you probably cross paths with a dozen jerks. And so many people and things that can hurt you that if you give them serious attention you’ll be miserable. That’s why you need to go into your settings and them change from fear to love. Nothing can hurt you as bad as choosing the life of a coward.

I wish I could tell Dad all this, and that he was right about the Russians. And that the weapon they used against us was our own fear.


Next: If you have no one to love, there’s a good chance you’ll hate everyone.