Friday, May 16, 2014

Lessons on Happiness

(it's long, guys. read it anyway.)

A couple weeks ago, I went to Target for some groceries. It was a quick trip with a short list, and I was pleased with myself that I stuck to it. When I went to the check out lanes they were, as usual, fairly busy, but not crazy like they sometimes are. I found a lane in which the cashier was coming around to stand at the end and invite people into his line - but I beat him to it. He said hello, and asked how I was doing. I replied with the common "I'm good, thanks." He replied, "You're welcome."

How many people do you know who respond that way? When someone tells me they're fine, thanks, I usually move on in the conversation, or let it drop there. He did not. He also seemed to be someone who has some difference in interactions - social cues are not something he picks up on well. Because of this, he has honest responses that come out because of the situation he is in, and the conversation being given to him. When a person says thanks to you, the proper response is to say, "You're welcome," back to them. But we often let it drop.

I then asked him how he was doing and we had a very nice little conversation while he scanned and bagged my items. He was excited to see a cd (I can't remember which) and went on to tell me how good that music was and that he thought I'd enjoy it. As I left the store, I thought about how much my day had been improved by his genuine, kind interaction with me, and by his excitement for something that is in my world and outside of his. He was thrilled that I'd be listening to something we both liked later that day. How different would our lives be if we rejoiced more in the small things - even if they were things that were going to benefit someone else more than ourselves?

A couple days later, I decided to pick up breakfast at the McDonald's by work. I'm not there too often, but often enough to recognize a few of the employees who work the drive-through window. This particular day, I recognized the woman in the 2nd window, and smiled as she handed me my food. I have no idea if she recognized me, or if she just talks this way to everyone, but she called me honey (as in, "Here you are, honey") and when I said thanks, she said, "You have a good weekend, honey," with a smile. It was Thursday. She new I'd not be back on Friday. So, "have a good weekend." That day, a Thursday, about 3 or 4 weeks later, she told me the same thing. It is a tiny thing, and it may be for everyone, but it brightens my day every time.

I also stopped for a coffee from Starbucks this morning. The line was longer than I usually see at this particular location, but I was running early, so I decided to wait it out. I had money on a Starbucks card I'd been given, and needed the caffeine boost at the end of a long week. When I got up to the window, I was told by the barista that the car in front of me had paid for my drink. I have done that a few times at various drive-throughs, but have never had it done for me. I believe I said, "Oh, wow!" and then promptly asked how much the total was for the car behind me. It was about $10, which was 2x what I had planned to pay for my coffee - and I hesitated. I didn't have enough on my card to cover it. Then, I realized that that was ridiculous. I felt God whispering, "Really? You're not willing to give up an extra $5? It's really not that big of a deal!" $10 is still very cheap to "pay it forward" and I had $10 cash in my wallet. So I told her I wanted to pay for the car behind me as I reached for my money. She told me, "It's really ok," and I assured her it was what I wanted to do. She laughed, shocked, and told me it was like a line - 5 cars in front of me had been doing this. Wow!

Something someone decided to do 5 cars ahead of me had been blessing people far beyond what they expected. They expected to do a small nice thing for the car behind them. And that person decided to continue it, regardless of what happened next. I have no way of knowing who paid for my coffee this morning, and no way of knowing who I paid for behind me. I have no idea if it kept going after me, or if so, for how long. The point is, it was a small thing I was able to do - and I obeyed. I know it brightened my day, and hope it did for whomever was behind me.

It was this event at Starbucks that reminded me of the others in the last few weeks. Sometimes little things that are easily passed by or overlooked because they aren't big enough gestures, or are small but take a little effort, are the things that really can change the direction of someone's day. I am tired, I am super busy at work, and I have felt fairly overwhelmed several times in the last few weeks. But these small acts of kindness and genuine care shown in small simple ways over the last few weeks made today a good one - even as busy as it was.

The funniest part is that when I got in and changed my daily calendar over to Friday, May 16th, this is what I saw:

God has a great sense of humor, doesn't He?

It just cemented what I'd been mulling over the past half hour and reminded me that these are the things that create happiness. It is a choice - which I hate to admit - but the choice sometimes isn't in how you feel, but in how you react to how you feel. When you choose to give, to share, to be kind, you change your perspective and your trajectory. Sometimes you see the reaction and the impact your action gives, and sometimes you don't. Either way, we are to give
and love not because it is good for us, but because it is good for them. The amazing thing about our great God is that He knows we need a pick me up too. He knows that the joy we can experience from obeying in these small moments is truly what makes the difference in a life.

I want my life to be one marked by giving and loving. I can only do it because He enables me to do so, but I so desire that to be how people perceive me. I have been so frustrated lately, and my circumstances have not changed - and I don't expect them to any time soon - but today I choose to do a better job not complaining (even internally) and not putting on a fake front, but choosing to do and act out of love and caring and giving rather than the frustration or tiredness I feel.

Because of that, today, I'm really good.