How much does it take to make you happy?

Happiness can be elusive. So can peace, comfort and contentment. But when I was in college I regularly found a state of complete peace, comfort and happiness. It wasn’t alcohol or drug-induced. Although I did listen to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic more than this parent of 3 would like to admit. But I skipped the Gin, and was simply sipping on juice. #sobersincebirth

Different Times

Looking back, I really can’t tell if college was a simpler time or more complicated. School, with its odd schedule, intense studying and testing seemed harder than my job seems now. Despite the fact that I now run a multi-million dollar business.

Dating was far more complicated than marriage.

My track and field demands at the University of Wisconsin were both significant and complex from a mental, physical and nutritional perspective.

My finances seemed much more complicated back then too. I had to wrangle a combination of my own money, my parents’ contributions, student loans, grants and an athletic scholarship. I was in a perpetual state of relative poverty. And I remember one of my roommates commenting that it looked as if I did my grocery shopping at Goodwill. Maybe that is why dating felt so complicated.

Despite the complexities of my college life, I remember a state in which I felt whole, complete and longing for nothing. In fact, I still remember summarizing that feeling in a brief email to my parents during my junior year.

When updating my parents on my wellbeing in Madison, Wisconsin, 1000 miles from my home in Norwich, Vermont, I wrote:

I have a fridge full of food. A tank full of gas. And a dresser full of clean clothes. Bliss.

With those 3 simple needs met I had everything I needed in life. I have never forgotten that feeling. Ever since that time I have felt whole and at peace with my minimum needs met. And it has led to a tremendous amount of happiness. Like Pharrell Williams, in a room without a roof.

Key Takeaway

I hope that in this complicated time that you can find happiness in the simple pleasure of having your basic needs met. The rest is all gravy.

*If you know someone who would benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What to do when you are pushed to your max.

I love driving in the mountains. Maybe it is because I grew up in Vermont, but I find the twists, turns, inclines and declines thrilling. I love the constantly changing scenery and inspiring views. Mountain driving is like life itself. It offers ups and downs, surprises, wonder and danger all packed closely together. Although in the mountains, the restrooms are always spread far apart.

One of the most fascinating features of mountain driving is the runaway truck ramp. Because of the long steep declines that are unavoidable in mountain driving, truck brakes can occasionally max out. Leaving truckers with no means to slow down or stop their vehicle. Remember Large Marge?

The runaway truck ramp is a last-resort safety measure. It is an off-ramp on the side of a downhill road that consists of an incline filled with gravel or sand. The ramp provides rolling resistance to decelerate a runaway truck and bring it safely to a stop. It’s a simple solution to a potentially deadly situation.

Runaway-Truck-Ramps

Whenever I see one of these ramps I can’t help but think that we should also have runaway people ramps. And not just for Julia Roberts. Because life can be hard on humans.

There are times when we all could use a good backup system to help us regain control. And given the challenges of the past several months, this is certainly one of those times. Stress, sadness, loss, anger, depression, and other mental illnesses can push us beyond our capacity to cope. So can debt and financial difficulties. Drugs and alcohol are famously hard on our brakes too. As are all forms of addiction. Except perhaps Jane’s Addiction. #JaneSays

When the challenges of life push you past your personal capacity do you have a runaway truck ramp? Do you have friends or family that will step in and help you through? Do you have a teacher, coworkers or a supervisor who can step up and listen or lighten the load?

Do you know which people or programs are available for you? No matter what challenges are maxing you out there is help available. There are specialized support groups, counselors and therapists. There are hotlines you can call that can help you with issues more serious than baking your Butterball turkey.

There are doctors and nurses and treatment facilities ready to help. There are websites and chats and technologically advanced resources you can tap into any time from anywhere. A simple google search will often help you find the type of support you need. And if you need any of these things, use them. They are prepared to help you regain control.

Key Takeaway

At some point, we all need backup help. The past several months have provided a wide variety of human challenges. If you feel like you are rolling downhill fast, it’s time to find some help. If you see others who are on a decline and struggling to slow down, step in and help them pump the brakes. We need to watch out for each other. There are plenty of great views just down the road. Let’s make sure we all get there safely.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this idea, please share it with them.

Don’t push yourself until your tires come off. Trust me.

On a recent Saturday my family and I drove from Knoxville, Tennessee to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The drive was beautiful. We rolled through the grand mountains of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky. We passed the surprisingly un-Indiana-like hills of southeastern Indiana. Which is by far the most beautiful part of Indiana. We played geographical connect-the-dots with the great cities of Knoxville, Lexington, Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee.

I also saw something I didn’t want to see. I saw a tire come off of a vehicle directly in front of me. Twice. Seriously.

Incident One

The first time it happened was on I-75, as we were descending a mountain pass in southern Kentucky. A large white SUV in front of me lost its driver’s side rear wheel. The whole tire-rim-wheel situation left the vehicle and made a break for the center median. The remainder of the vehicle, now sitting on 3 wheels and a brake rotor, skidded to a stop on the right shoulder of the freeway.

The runaway tire crossed the highway in front of me, slammed into the cable barrier in the median, bounced into the air, and flopped to the ground on its side. I was happy I didn’t run into it. And I was thankful that the barrier prevented it from crossing into the oncoming traffic.

Incident Two

Three hours later I was on I-275, about to cross the Ohio River, north into Indiana, just west of Cincinnati. I noticed the large pickup truck directly in front of me had a flat passenger side rear tire. I assumed the driver would notice the flat tire and pull over. But no. The driver sped right along at 75 miles per hour on that poor flat tire.

We soon drove onto the Carroll Lee Cropper bridge that spans the Ohio River, and I slowed my roll, concerned about the fate of that poor, little tire that probably couldn’t. It was a good thing I slowed down. Because in the middle of the 1700 foot-long bridge, the tire gave out. The outer tread separated like a giant piece of Goodyear calamari. It rolled down the road in front of me like a naughty kid chasing after the car he had just been kicked out of. Which brought back strong memories from my childhood.

The rolling tread then angled to the right side of the road, slammed into the bridge wall, lost its shape, and flopped to the pavement.

Meanwhile, the pickup truck sped down the highway tossing bits of rubber all over the roadway from the tire’s rapidly vanishing sidewalls. Finally, once the truck cleared the bridge, the truck pulled to the shoulder. A woman in her 50s, with her hair in a long braid, wearing denim shorts, dropped out of the driver’s door and quickly ran around the truck to look at what was left of her rear tire, which was not much.

As I drove past the second 3-wheeled vehicle in 3 hours I heard Nate Dogg’s lyrics from Dr. Dre’s Next Episode in my head:

We gon’ rock it till the wheels fall off. -Nate Dogg

Indeed, both of these vehicles rocked it till the wheels fell off.

But you shouldn’t

These two de-tiring episodes serve as a strong reminder that we all need to take care of ourselves. This has the potential to be an uber-stressful time. COVID-19, the economy, politics, racism, weather, social isolation, uncertainty and unemployment are leading to high levels of unenjoyment. Overworking and underplaying are problems too.

Pay attention to both your physical and mental health gauges. Control the things you can control. Eat right. Get plenty of sleep. Exercise. Brush and floss. Consume more humor. Tend to your spiritual health. By which I mean your Faith, not drinking more spirits. Take your vacation time. We all need it.

Key Takeaway

You have to take care of yourself during this stress-filled time. Think long term. Don’t rock it till the wheels fall off. That is too far. And the results can be disastrous. Not just for yourself, but for those around you. Nate Dogg died at just 41 years old. So check your tire pressure before you wreck your tire presssure. Check your tread and your lug nuts too. Adjust your inputs and outputs as necessary to make sure you and all your tires are here for the long haul.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.