From the Hills: In the Pursuit of Happiness

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Wouldn’t we all like to live a happy life? This week I found a TED Talk that has inspired me in my quest to find happiness. 

Sam Berns was born with one of the rarest disorders in the world, progeria. It accelerates the body’s aging process and affects less than 400 children worldwide. At age 17, Sam looks like a very short, very old man. 

Despite a lifetime of obstacles, Sam shared the three things he had learned about having a happy life.

First, he suggested, "Be OK with what you ultimately can't do, because there is so much you can do." Sam said he is very much aware of the things he can't do, but is happiest when he is focused on the things he can do — the things he really cares about. 

People often ask him if it’s hard living with progeria. 

“Most of my time is spent thinking about things that have nothing to do with progeria at all. Now this doesn’t mean that I ignore the negative aspects of these obstacles. When I can’t do something like run a long distance, or go on an intense roller coaster, I know what I’m missing out on. Instead I choose to focus on the activities that I can do, things I’m passionate about.”

The second thing Sam said is essential for a happy life is to surround ourselves with people we want to be with, people of high quality. 

“I’m fortunate to have a really close group of friends at school. We help each other when we need to. We see each other for who we are on the inside. The bottom line here is that I hope you appreciate and love your family, love your friends, and acknowledge your mentors and your community. They are all a very real aspect of everyday life. They can make a truly significant positive impact on your happiness.” 

The third aspect to Sam’s philosophy on a happy life is to face forward, even when things are hard. He has learned that life is richer when he has something to strive for. It helps him see a brighter future. 

“I try hard not to waste energy feeling badly for myself, because when I do, I get stuck in a paradox where there is no room for happiness. I don’t ignore myself when I feel badly. I kind of accept it, let it in. Then I do what I need to do and move past it. I believe that regardless of what I choose to become, I can change the world. When I’m striving to make a difference, I’m happy. 

“Sometimes I have to be brave, and it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I falter. I have bad days. But I realize that being brave isn’t supposed to be easy. And for me, it’s really important to keep moving forward.”

James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Sam concluded, “I surround myself with people that I want to be with and I keep moving forward. This is my philosophy. I hope that all of you, regardless of your obstacles, can have a happy life as well. Oh, wait — one more piece of advice. Never miss a party if you can help it. My school’s homecoming dance is tomorrow night. I’ll be there.” 

Sam Berns died an old man at the age of 19.  

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net.

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