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The Clearest Path to Happiness Is Right in Front of You

“Marc! Marc! Por fin!”

I’d heard stories about Marc and we’d exchanged a few letters over the years, but we’d never met in person. While his youngest sister and I were falling in love in Barcelona, he was partaking in a three-year Buddhist retreat in the remote hills of central France.

Before I could turn my head to see where my mother-in-law was screaming to get my first glimpse of the man I’d heard so much about, my wife and her family made a mad dash towards him. Seconds later, Marc disappeared out of sight again. Only this time, instead of being lost in a stream of flowing maroon and gold robes, he was inside a Catalan sandwich stacked thick with hugs and tears.

“Hello!” I looked up and saw him standing over me moments later. “Sorry if my English is rusted,” he said with a wink. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

I followed Marc as he etched his way around the crowd to grab a coffee. “I don’t understand this,” he said. “I haven’t seen people in three years and our final ceremony rivals the crowd at Barcelona versus Madrid!”

My wife told me girls used to go crazy for him. I immediately understood why. He looked like every actor I can’t remember the name of. High cheekbones. Perfectly kept unkempt beard. Piercing eyes. But what I wasn’t expecting was his sense of humor. The guy was cool.

“I gotta know something,” I said after we found a seat. “I think I know where this is headed,” he shot back.

“For the last three years, you’ve been up here with 20 other guys, cut off from the rest of civilization, living in an area no larger than a basketball court. Laia told me why you decided to come here and I understand that. But what I don’t get is how you’ve been able to stay sane?”

“It’s not that bad,” he replied with a laugh. “But don’t get me wrong, I seriously questioned my decision in the first few months. But around the 90-day mark, I experienced a shift. I stopped worrying so much about myself and what I wanted to do and I started to think about how I could connect with the people around me and make a contribution to better this community.”

After a long pause that I’m glad I didn’t interrupt, he concluded by saying, “My life used to be complicated. But now it’s pretty simple. Happiness is found in doing what you can to make the lives of the people around you a little bit better. At least, that’s my take.”

I was once told that it’s not what we collect that matters, but rather what we choose to keep. The conversation above — passed down over a lousy cup of coffee on a drizzly day in France — is one of the lessons I plan to carry with me.

Most people wake up each day and think about what they need to do. Deadlines. To-do lists. And a bunch of other stress-inducing things in our endless pursuit of crushing our goals.

People like Marc, however, serve as a reminder that waking up each day and asking yourself how you can best help the people around us is potentially an easier option. A more effective one.

Think about the happy people around you. Who’s truly smiling? Who’s really laughing? Who actually sleeps well at night?

Sure, some may take a magic pill while others spend their Sundays rolling around on top of their invisible bitcoin stash. I’d be willing to bet, however, that 9 out of the 10 happy people you know, lead pretty normal lives — dare I say it, even average ones.

The big secret that these people share isn’t a secret at all — they’ve just realized there’s more to life than themselves.

The person to the right of you. The one on the left. Forwards. And behind. When people are old and grey, when asked what matters most, it’s not a coincidence the names of the people in their lives is the first thing they say.

Chase after your goals. Button your to-do list up nice and tight. Just don’t forget to also lift up your head and identify ways to make the lives of the people around you a little better.

Words of encouragement.

Looking after your neighbor.

Asking if you can lend a hand.

We all have different definitions for the word “success.” But no matter how you define it, it loses serious power if you aren’t doing what you can to make sure the people you love, love you back.

“If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.

If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.

If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.”

— Chinese proverb

Marc’s no longer a monk. The same day I met him he locked eyes with a woman who was leaving her own retreat. Months later, they started sending each other postcards.

They don’t make much money. They share a beat-up car. Their rented house is small. He tends to the finances of the monastery when needed while they both do odd jobs around town with people they like who like them.

Marc’s initial reason for going to the retreat was to find inner-contentment. He found what he was looking for but not in the way he imagined. He won the inner-game by looking at how he could help his immediate world.

Rumor has it he gives his girlfriend a massage every single night. Each morning, he sends us photos of the sunrise over the French countryside. He makes simple yet seriously delicious soups for his friends.

Some people would call this a mediocre existence. The older I get, the more I think it’s extraordinary.

While everyone’s running towards every ding and piece of bling, Marc’s walking slowly in the direction where he’s needed — which has made him not only the coolest person I know, but also the happiest.

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