Author and philanthropist Chris Gardner was in town last month to speak at the Partners in Peace luncheon sponsored by The Center for Prevention of Abuse. To be sure, his life is a triumphant exception to the stereotypes of both privileged and poverty-born individuals. In a world obsessed with instant gratification and material goods, I’ve always wondered if it is heredity or environment which has the greatest influence upon an individual’s success and happiness. Then these questions beg to be answered: “What is success? What is happiness?” Is there a right answer?
Gardner’s story is an incredible journey. Rising from an unstable early home environment, he fell into homelessness as a single father before going on to become a self-made millionaire and philanthropist. His is a gripping story of the motivation and hard work of an individual incredibly focused on the American Dream, with the idealism of love and family at the core of his being.
With the enormous popularity of Gardner’s book, The Pursuit of Happyness, and now the movie, attention is focused on happiness and how to achieve it. Experts suggest that relationships and environment, in addition to having goals and ideas, are all critical factors. Money can help, but it certainly won’t buy happiness. In the end, it’s all relative. Economists and psychologists suggest that after one’s basic needs are met, your satisfaction with your standard of living is more influenced by comparisons to your friends’ lifestyles. That is called “keeping up with the Joneses.”
I once heard the phrase, “Everyone rises to their own level of ‘broke,’” meaning cash flow problems and budgeting issues exist for those making six figures just as it does for the family of four at the poverty level. None of us have perfectly charmed lives; rather, it is how we accept and react to the challenges in our lives which controls our attitudes.
Many of us who have achieved success later in life can recall a humble childhood, yet we don’t remember feeling “poor” or unhappy, again proving that loving relationships provide more happiness, motivation and contentment than material wealth. We must remind ourselves of the great wealth we possess in our health, our family, our community and our country and be thankful. And happiness will follow. tpw