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It's about what we give out

“The only ones among you who will be happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” — Dr. Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize recipient

When I was 49 years old I counted up the number of children’s books I had sold, and it came to more than one million copies. At first, I was thrilled. But moments later, I realized that I actually wasn’t any happier than I had ever been. It was then that I truly understood I could never be rich enough, famous enough, or anything enough to be happy.

It reminded me of a quote by comedian Gertrude Stein: “When you finally get there, you find there is no there there.”

She’s absolutely right.

I also remember a pastor-friend of mine who once lived in Las Vegas, where he drove rock stars around the city for the music industry. He noted they were the biggest bunch of whiners and complainer he’d ever heard. And he wondered, “If these guys have everything anyone has ever wanted — fame, money, girls, cars, drugs — and they still aren’t happy, then who is?” His search for this answer eventually led him into the ministry.

My search for happiness also led me into the ministry. But I quickly learned that spirituality, in and of itself, was not the answer. I remained miserably unhappy.

Then one day, a friend of mine invited me to bring my guitar down to the Ashland Community Center to play songs for the free, city-wide Christmas Day Dinner.

My wife, Jeanne, volunteered to work as a server on the food line. We had signed up for two hours, but we ended up staying all day. On the ride home, we both noticed the same odd feeling. We were literally “ballooned” with happiness! And it was that experience that taught me for once and for all, it is not what I take in that fills me, it’s what I give out.

I eventually wrote a children’s book about it, called “Heartprints.” On the cover is this definition: “heartprint; the impression left behind by a deliberate act of kindness.”

My favorite verse in the book reads, “Yes, each little kindness leaves heartprints that say, ‘A very nice person has been here today!’ ”

In other words, what are we leaving in our wake? Are people smiling because we were once there? Are people better off because we passed by? Is the world a better place because we walked in it?

In the Bible, after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “If you understand these things, happy are you if you do them.”

In other words, if we want to be happy, we just need to start DO-ing for others. A warm smile. A kind handshake. A willing ear. A broad shoulder. It’s just that simple. After all, it’s not what we take in that fills us, it’s what we give out.

P.K. Hallinan lives in Ashland