By Victor M. Parachin
Several years ago, Collin Perry was living the American dream. He had a thriving construction business, a comfortable home, two new cars, a sailboat, and was happily married. Then the business climate soured, eroding his savings. He lay awake at night knowing he couldn’t make ends meet. Just when he thought things couldn’t get worse, his wife declared she wanted a divorce.
With no idea what to do next, he boarded his sailboat and literally began to “sail off into the sunset.” He started by following the coastline from Connecticut toward Florida, but somewhere off the New Jersey coast he turned due east, straight out to sea. Hours later he stood on the stern rail watching the dark Atlantic and thought to himself, How easy it would be to let the water take me!
Suddenly the boat dipped, knocking him off balance. Desperately, he grabbed the rail and clung for dear life. His feet were dragged through the icy brine but he managed to pull himself back on board. Shaken, he realized he did not truly want to die.
“From that moment, I knew I had to see things through. My old life was gone. Somehow I’d have to build a new one,” he recalls.
Although Perry gained a new appreciation for life through his adversity, it is not necessary to experience life’s trials and troubles in order to feel good about living. We can cultivate daily spiritual approaches to life that will bring us optimal fulfillment and satisfaction.
In Galatians 5:22 the apostle Paul writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness . . .” Goodness is in this list because doing good and feeling good should be qualities readily evident in the life of every Christian. Here are five spiritual guidelines for doing good and feeling good every day.
1. Begin each day with a blessing. That advice is offered by Charlotte Davis Kasl, a Quaker psychologist. In her book, Finding Joy: 101 Ways to Free Your Spirit and Dance with Life, she writes, “A wonderful way to start the day is to bless it.” She offers these examples:
• Blessings on this day; may I make it special in some way.
• Blessings on my life; may I treat it with love and care.
• Blessings on all people; may I see the goodness in everyone.
• Blessings on nature; may I notice its beauty and wonder.
• Blessings on the truth; may it be my constant companion.
2. Be honorable in all your dealings. From the Jewish tradition there is a story about a rabbi who purchased a camel from a trader at the bazaar. When the rabbi arrived home, he discovered a valuable diamond in the camel’s saddlebag. He immediately returned the diamond to its rightful owner and said, “Sir, I purchased a camel, not a diamond; the diamond is still rightfully yours.” The moral of that story is clear: we have an obligation to be honorable in all our dealings.
Feeling good about yourself requires personal integrity. Maintain the highest ethical standards. Keep your word and treat others fairly. Virtues like those open the door to deep satisfaction with life.
“People with personal integrity don’t act one way at work and another way at home,” says psychologist Kathryn Cramer. “They have the same standards of honesty, behavior, and emotional response wherever they are. Strive to bring out the best in yourself and others. Remind yourself to help others who need help, and be generous with your time and energy. Your reputation and enthusiasm will soar.”
3. Use your influence to help someone else. A woman who signed her name ”Carol” wrote to an advice columnist to share a joyful story. In the early 1990s the woman saw the movie Crazy People starring Dudley Moore. The film is about people with mental illness who band together to become productive citizens in their community. The writer felt the movie sent a clear and positive message to the public about people struggling with mental illness. “Since I suffer from clinical depression and have for most of my life, I wrote a letter to Dudley Moore telling him how much this picture helped me,” she wrote.
To her surprise, a few months later, her phone rang and she heard: “May I speak to Carol? This is Dudley Moore calling.” The actor phoned simply to express support for Carol in her struggle with clinical depression.
Carol described the actor as modest, sincere, and extremely caring. “I can’t tell you what a big help it was knowing that someone of his fame still cares for those who fight a daily battle with mental illness. It made my day.”
It is worth recalling Jesus’ statement, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). In the next verse Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” Those words are a reminder that we have influence. Like salt, we flavor life by what we say and do. Into lives that have been darkened, we are to bring light. While few of us are famous actors and actresses, all of us have influence over someone—a child, a spouse, a relative, a friend, a neighbor. Perhaps, because of our profession or standing in a community, we have a larger sphere of influence. Whatever the case, we should, like Dudley Moore, use our influence to help others
4. Do your part to keep the earth clean. Everyone has an obligation to keep the earth clean. Not only should we avoid littering but we ought to make it a habit to pick up litter whenever possible.
A good friend of mine made an indelible impression on me as we were jogging along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He interrupted his run several times to quickly bend down and pick up empty soda containers that had been carelessly thrown on the ground. As he continued jogging, he dropped the items into garbage containers spaced all along the boardwalk.
5. Place yourself in the company of good people. “Tell me what company you keep and I’ll tell you what you are,” wrote Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. What does your company say about who you are?
Connect with others in common causes. Join civic organizations, be involved in your church, link yourself to a guild or professional association.
And avoid the temptation to be a soloist in life. Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with people of integrity, values, ethics.
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, wisely taught: “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.“
Victor M. Parachin is an author and freelance journalist writing from Tulsa, Oklahoma.