Life is good, really good. Sometimes I feel like the good karma train picked me up, and simply refuses to let me off. I have an amazing wife, a teenage son that makes me glow with pride, good health, a wonderful family and the best friends a guy could ask for. I have a lot to be grateful for. For many years now, “thank you” has become my meditation as I start each day.
But the truth is, life was not always this good. It wasn’t all that long ago, when the resume’ of my life looked radically different. At one time, my life was filled with nearly everything people try to avoid. Experiencing everything from unhappy relationships to financial struggles, poor health, depression, and an endless stream of negative habits was a part of my daily life.
It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, happiness was constantly eluding me and disappointment became my shadow. It also seemed as if I was paving the way for a future that sadly resembled my father’s…until he took his own life at the age of 54. This was a defining moment for me. Once the shock of losing my father began to fade, clarity and a new sense of purpose became the dominant force in my life. I remember feeling as if I had “met myself” for the very first time while also becoming conscious of my life’s true purpose. It was in that moment that I had made a major decision. Not only would I change my own life, but I would also make a difference in the lives of others.
During the next several years, I totally immersed myself into the teachings of the world’s greatest personal and spiritual development gurus. Eckhart Tolle, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Ram Dass, and The Dalai Lama became some of my most influential teachers. Through workshops and spending way too much time in the self-help section at Borders, (the employees there must think I’m a total mess) I had literally learned hundreds of techniques for living a fulfilling life, but something still seemed to be missing.
Although the ideas I learned had a major impact on the quality of my life, I was still searching for that one universal path to happiness that worked for everyone. Whether you’re African American, Caucasian, Native American, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist or have four legs and a tail-I knew there had to be something that benefited all of us, simply because we all want the same thing in life…to be happy.
Enlightenment and epiphanies can show up in some pretty strange ways. The Buddha found it under a Boddhi tree, Nelson Mandela in prison and spiritual guru Ram Dass through psychedelic drugs.
Little did I know, mine would arrive in the form of a hard-shelled reptile simply trying to cross the road-a turtle. But this wasn’t just any turtle, this was the world’s most optimistic one. He was tenaciously determined to cross twenty feet of tar as cars zoomed by at 55 mph. (Yes, I said He – only a male turtle would be stubborn enough to think he could actually make it).
But today was his lucky day. My wife’s quick driving reflexes not only ensured that “turtle soup” would not be for dinner that night, but her act of kindness would eventually become the foundation for everything I teach today. As unusual as this sounds, the simple act of pulling our car over, removing this little turtle from harms way, and placing him back into the wild, caused something extraordinary to happen inside of me.
As I stood there holding this tiny creature in my hands, a wave of pure joy came over me. It was that warm, teary-eyed sensation that we feel during life’s greatest moments; like falling in love or the birth of a child. I honestly felt as if my heart was completely opening up as everything stood still around me. In no way would I have described it as “enlightenment”, but there was no doubt about it-helping this little turtle just felt so damn good!
After all, it’s just a turtle, right? And then it hit me. I finally realized what was happening. At that point, a flood of inspiring thoughts surged through me. I walked back to the car, opened my journal and wrote eight words that would later prove to be life changing for me:“kindness creates happiness” and “live a life of kindness”.
It was the answer I had been looking for. The secret to inner peace and lasting happiness was kindness. Not “random acts of” or simply being nice, but rather as…a way of life. I had already known the benefits of kindness through studying many eastern philosophies, but I had never actually considered it as a lifestyle.
But, this day was just beginning…
Just thirty minutes after my mini-epiphany, my wife and I arrived at our original destination-a country garden show. After walking around for just a few minutes, a gentle faced 60-something looking man waved me over to the front porch of his farmhouse, for no apparent reason. The entire setting was like a scene out of an old movie-weathered rocking chairs-the smell of cookies baking-and a coon cat that looked as old as the farmhouse itself.
“Let her look around, come and sit with me” he said. I had no idea what to expect, but as I sunk into the large wicker chair beside him, I couldn’t help feeling that he was going to say something profound. After all, if a turtle can change my life, why not a wise old farmer?
After a brief hello and a polite introduction, we simply sat in silence and let the sunlight warm our faces. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke…
“You know” he said, “I’ve often thought that the meaning of life is making things a little bit easier for those around us, what do you think?” I was speechless. It felt like I had just been hit on the head again with life’s big karma stick. He went on to tell me his version of “the secrets to life” and how “true happiness can only be found by loving and serving others”. Finally he finished with, “oh, and don’t forget…you really gotta’ love the one you’re with…yourself”.
Life was obviously trying to tell me something.
In the days and weeks that followed, the world looked completely different to me. The more I studied and tested my “kindness creates happiness” theory, the more I was blown away by its life-changing power. It seemed as if it was the cure to so many of life’s ailments.
Negative emotions such as anger, depression, bitterness, jealousy and hatred simply could not survive when confronted by thoughts or acts of kindness. But there was more. Studies were showing that kindhearted people were receiving amazing benefits in life, such as: fulfilling relationships, a lower rate of divorce, a strong sense of spirituality, relief from anxiety and depression, deep feelings of self-worth, jobs they loved and, they even lived longer!
In addition to those benefits, kindhearted people also experienced “karmic kindness”. By thinking and acting in kind ways, they were attracting unexpected new opportunities and positive events into their life, proving that there are magnetic qualities to our thoughts and actions.
It was a no-brainer. Kind people were happier, healthier and had more fulfilling lives. But, this also made me wonder; if kindness can create happiness, why are there so many unhappy people in the world? What is causing so much suffering? The answer was so incredibly obvious that I swear I heard the universe say, “duh?”! If kindness creates happiness then… unkindness creates unhappiness. It was just that simple. People that are unkind towards others, the environment and especially themselves…end up being the unhappiest people on the planet!
This was a huge wake up call to self-responsibility. I realized that most of my disappointments in life were simply because I had been unkind to others and especially to myself. After spending much of my life thinking “what’s in it for me”, my new inner mantra became; “am I being kind?”
This one simple question changed my life. So, whenever I feel the need to disagree with my wife, lash out at a rude employee in the mall or even before I shove ten cookies into my mouth, (obvious unkindness toward my body) I go within and ask; “am I being kind?” These four little words have become my source to inner peace. It has created many positive changes in me such as recycling and acting more “green” and consciously respecting all of life. I even stopped setting the mousetraps in the garage. (My wife is going to flip out when she reads that last one).
Another big change in my life was the irresistible urge to perform “spontaneous acts of kindness”. Things like buying coffee for strangers and giving money to the homeless just seemed natural. Each kind act felt like a blissful surge of energy through my chest. But what became even more exhilarating were the intense feelings of warmth towards everyone around me-especially difficult people. Whether there was someone who acted rude in traffic or an inconsiderate person in line at the grocery store, I no longer felt anxious or offended-I simply wished for their happiness. That’s when I realized what it truly meant to be living kindness.
Many things have changed for me since “the turtle incident” and discovering the power of kindness. Although I had no idea how a kindness advocate could support a family, I decided to close the doors of my successful business and do exactly what I’ve taught so many others to do, “listen to your heart”. It was the best decision I have ever made. Has it been easy? Not always. There were many times when I questioned this journey and my ability to “change the world” through kindness. But because of the amazing people that surround me each day, The Kindness Center has evolved into something beyond my wildest dreams. If it were not for my wonderful wife Cara, my son Alex, and my loving family and friends…none of this would exist today.
Also, to all of the people who come to my talks, endure my long-winded stories, (like this one) and believe in my vision for a happier, and especially kinder world…thank you! You are the reason I can live out this dream every single day.
With love and gratitude…