Last week I attended a lecture by Michael Tougias, an author of 19 non-fiction books that range from nature humor, There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse, to several books documenting horrific sea disasters, Ten Hours before Dawn... The author attended the same small college I did— our time overlapped briefly. Though we have never been introduced, I’ve been aware of, and intrigued by, his own story for years. He’s a former businessman, turned full-time author and speaker. But it wasn’t until last week that I took one of his books, Fatal Forecast… out of the library. Coincidentally, at the check out desk, a flier advertised that he was scheduled to speak locally the next day, and I decided to attend.
I arrived at the meeting room Thursday night to a large video screen pulled down at the front. Rather than a traditional reading, the author's talk included a slide show with several images that drove home the desperate plight experienced by the true-life players in his newest book, Overboard. Images of 30 foot waves cresting over unfortunate vessels elicited more than a few gasps from the audience, but it was a remark during his presentation that pulled me in deeper then the seas off of George's Bank.
Tougias explained that while interviewing the survivors of the many nautical disasters he's written about, a reoccurring theme arose. Each person he talked to remarked that, no matter how many years go by, they continue to carry the gratitude for their survival with them through their daily lives. Tougias said after hearing this repeatedly from these individuals, all of whom had come within a hiccup of dying, he adopted the idea of embracing gratitude too. It didn't take a near death experience for him, as a result of listening as they described their harrowing stories, he made a decision to focus on things he is thankful for. Consequently, he says he has become more open to joy.
A few days later and way behind the mainstream, I sat in bed reading the mega hit Eat, Pray Love, (please tell me how they made a movie out of a book that involves so much thinking) and encountered a passage that reminded of me Tougias’s words:
Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
“…people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You need to fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.”
So in less than a week, I encountered two different authors traveling polar opposite paths…a man who held conversations with survivors of natural disasters off the East coast of America; and a woman who traveled through Italy, India and Indonesia to find self-fulfillment. Both writers communicated the same reminder.
Life is filled with unexpected storms, hurricanes that veer off course, waves that swamp us, and forecasts that are wrong. We lose people we love, struggle through things like depression, job loss, financial hardship and illness. And yet, we can decide, in spite of these things, to find joy— we all hold the power and strength to complete ourselves whenever we decide use it.
Happiness is a choice.
I’m going with it.