What Makes a Happy Life?

Donald Miller

Last year I had the privilege of spending a few days with Tom Shadyac, who radically convicted me about how I live. Tom was (and is) an acclaimed Hollywood director (Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty) but hurt his head in a bike accident and suffered painful headaches for months. While suffering, he questioned what he was doing with his life. He claimed his life was largely about acquiring things. He realized that while he wasn’t really unhappy, he wasn’t exactly happy, either. So he made some changes.

Tom made a decision to get rid of his house, to stop flying private, and to live generously, focussing on relationships. He moved into a double wide trailer. He pretty much only wears T-shirts (and pants).

*Photo from Collider

When I met Tom he was living in an even smaller trailer because he’d loaned his double wide to a friend.

But while Tom has turned in the American dream, he’s inspired millions. He’s inspired more people with the way he lives his life than he has, probably, in many of his movies. And he’s done it in person. What’s he doing with his money while he sleeps on a simple mattress in the back of his trailer-turned office? He just bought 500 students bicycles, asking them to go and buy another bike themselves and teach a kid in the inner-city how to ride.

Turns out real stories are just as powerful as fictional ones.

And he’s also one of the most happy people I know.

What’s the key to being happy?

That’s the subject of Tom’s new documentary. We’ll be screening it (we hope) at The Storyline Conference and we’ll also be doing a Q and A with Tom as well. You’ll love him. He’s brilliant.

So what are they keys to happiness? Author John Izzo interviewed more than 200 people he considered to be wise.

His findings regarding happiness were that we need to be:

    1. Be grateful and reflective. Just counting our blessings can make us more happy.

    2. Have no regrets. Easier said than done, but we can usually tell when we’re going to regret something. Want to go skydiving? Go. Need to mend a relationship? Do it. The key is to not take regrets to our graves.

    3. Become love. I love the way that’s worded, don’t you? By this Izzo meant we should embody love and give ourselves to somebody else. Fantastic.

    4. Give more than you take. This is another one that feels counter-intuitive, but it has everything to do with no longer doing the math in our relationships. Certainly we can’t be happy if we are taken advantage of, but in normal, healthy relationships, we can throw away the score card and just be generous.

What I love about people who have really found happiness is they seem to have found a magical world on the other side of the Wardrobe. And they bid us come. But the stories of their world make no sense. How can we be happy without money? How can we be happy if we decide to lose in life?

Looking forward to talking to Tom Shadyac at Storyline. He may be the most inspirational and informative person to talk to on the subject. And I can’t wait to see his new movie.

Here’s Tom being interviewed by Ellen:

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Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.