02 May The Secret to Happiness in Life
In high school, I had a gambling problem. I started dealing blackjack in 8th grade, and made enough money as the “house” to bet on the slot machine at the corner store bodega on my block in Brooklyn. Then, I began to take bets on sports at my school, and as a bookie I earned thousands of dollars – which I proceeded to gamble on horses at the track and on cards at Turning Stone, the native American casino in upstate New York. I used to bet on horses, on sports, on cards, and on anything I could find someone to cover a bet for – until I lost all of my money. And hit rock bottom.
When I lost it all, in the spring of my senior year in high school, it was really tough. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt completely out of control.
Then I Joined Gamblers Anonymous, and within a few weeks, I began to feel better. In the twenty years since that dark time, I’ve certainly experienced my share of ups and downs, good times and bad, wins and losses. But I’ve kept with me something that guides my attitude, my choices and my happiness. I’ve held on to something I heard for the first time at that GA meeting at age 17. It’s called the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
The serenity prayer has been used by many millions of Alcoholics Anonymous members and other addiction support groups all over the world. But you don’t need to have an addiction to heed its wisdom.
You can be wealthy and successful – and unhappy – or poor and unsuccessful – and relatively happy. You can get everything you’ve ever wanted – and still be completely miserable and wanting more – or you can be dealt a series of catastrophic events, and still be at peace and happy. What it boils down to is this: How well can you accept the things you cannot change, and change the things you can?
This certainly isn’t always easy, especially for ambitious people. As an entrepreneur, I do find myself trying to change things that others might accept as unchangeable. I do believe in seeing problems as opportunities and thinking outside of the box to solve those problems.
The key is knowing when you’re not in control of something, and letting go.
No matter what, the one thing you always can control is your own attitude.
In my early twenties, when I was in love with a married woman, I wanted her to leave her husband for me, but I couldn’t control the situation. I wasn’t happy until I truly let go.
In my mid twenties, when I was on reality TV, I wanted everyone to like me. But I couldn’t control that, no matter what I did. I wasn’t happy until I realized this, and let go.
Throughout my adulthood, the most challenging aspect of my life has been dealing with my father’s health. As I’ve written about before, my dad has struggled with chronic bipolar disorder for the last 25 years. His mental health has been a big stress on my family, from the first time he had a psychotic break when I was 12 years old, through today. In the past ten years, my dad’s physical health has deteriorated a lot as well, as his smoking three packs of cigarettes a day has led to emphysema and trouble breathing and now trouble walking.
Of everything in my life, it’s my dad’s health that I’ve had the most difficulty accepting and not trying to control. “If only I could get my dad to stop smoking,’ I used to think. “If only I could find him a new psychiatrist that could get him on better meds,” I used to think. “If only I could…”
I realized that whenever I tried to control the outcome of my dad’s health, not only did it not work, I felt like a failure. Whenever I accepted that I couldn’t control it, even if I was sad about my dad’s health, I felt at peace with myself. The serenity prayer really did work.
Yesterday, I brought my wife and kids to visit my dad, and we took the picture above. My dad has many challenges ahead, for sure – as do I – but in that picture, I see serenity, acceptance, and yes, even happiness.
We all have things in our life we can’t control, and things we can. I wish for you to have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
What can you let go of today?
Now it’s your turn. Have you or anyone you know used the serenity prayer to help overcome addiction or let go of something? How do you let go of that which you cannot control? Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below, and please do share this post with your Network.