Thursday, December 6, 2012

Of happiness. And monkeys.

A few months back, my sister Jennifer related a story to me from Dr. Henry Cloud. Cloud is a leadership consultant, clinical psychologist and by all accounts a pretty smart guy. Anyway, Jenn had listened to a message Dr. Cloud had given to the congregation at Willow Creek, and it resonated with her. As she spoke, I understood why.

The story goes that years ago - back when we did a lot more testing on animals than we do today - a study was done with monkeys. The animals were caged, alone, and exposed to extreme stress. Scientists measured the changes in the monkey brains (which, incidentally, are not the same ones Harrison Ford and Kate Capshaw were served in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom") when they were stressed. Simply put, it wasn't pretty. However, when the stressors remained the same but the monkeys were put together, the stress indicators within their brains dropped by 50 percent. Cut in half.

The message, and this particular illustration, was all part of a talk on happiness. I may not be a clinical psychologist, but happiness is something I know a whole lot about. I am one of the happiest people I know.

It wasn't always like that. I can think of a number of times when I was anything but happy. The biggest difference between then and now? Monkeys.

I'm proud to say that I am one of Jenn's monkeys, and she is one of mine. But it goes beyond that. I have a network of monkeys! I have people in every area of my life who help make the bad times better, and who always make the good times awesome. I have monkeys who are local and monkeys overseas; long-term monkeys who have been around as long as I have, and monkeys who are new but no less monkey-like. It took monkeys to bring me through some extraordinarily tough times, and I hope to be a monkey to help others in a similar way.

If you aren't living a joyful life, please look around and ask yourself: where are my monkeys? Put in the effort to spend time with people who make life better. Put yourself on the road to true happiness. It's not like once you get there it's smooth sailin' - bad times assault us all from time to time - but the truth is, having people around you to help you through them is enough of a reason to ... well ... get through them. I could illustrate by sharing about the time I was served legal documents while a good friend was visiting, but I won't go there. Today.

Suffice it to say that, had she not been there, the way I reacted might have been vastly different. Having her there changed how I handled every challenge from there forward, because it taught me to seek out support when things suck.

There will always be things that suck. How you get through them depends on your monkeys.

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