Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

The Secret to Happiness? Let Life Surprise You

remember sitting one day with my  three-year-old daughter. She had a book in her and was turning the pages and telling the story. This was her regular habit. She could not yet read the words, but she could tell the story based on the pictures.


I had one ear listening to her voice and the other, I am sorry to say, thinking about the coming week’s sermon. Suddenly I stopped thinking about the sermon. I turned my head toward her. Something was different.

I looked down at the book. I realized she was not telling the story in her own words. She was reading the words on the page.

I couldn’t believe it. Time stood still for a second. Then I looked at her, laughed, smiled and started to sing. I didn’t sing any particular song. It was just words of joy and happiness, and we both started dancing around the room. That was a transformative moment. It was a time on my journey when the waters parted and I glimpsed God working in the world.

How Surprises Touch Your Soul

What made it special? Not the reading. That would happen one day. It was the surprise. It was the sheer delight in seeing expectations shattered.

We all have these experiences. Perhaps it is the twinge inside when you fall in love. Perhaps it is swelling up of pride when your child does the right thing when they don’t know you are watching. Those moments make all the difference. Life is richer when we let it surprise us. 

Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel made this point when he said he remained young by constantly being surprised? How do we heed Heschel’s advice?

1. Keep an open mind: I known that sounds like a cliche, but think about it. How often do we look at the future as a series of milestones to achieve? Next year we’ll get the promotion. In a few hours we’ll look at a different house. We’ll start that book when our first kid goes off to college. We often look at life as a puzzle to solve rather than a mystery to embrace. But when it’s a mystery, surprises abound.

2. Moderate expectations: Many psychologists point out that expectations are the enemy of happiness. They set us up for failure because we look for what doesn’t fit. Picture a man or woman looking for the perfect spouse. They have a checklist: right income, right family, right hair color. Where is the mystery? Where is the space for surprise? It’s hard to be surprised when you know exactly what’s going to happen.

3. Shift your perspective: Albert Einstein said many wise things. Most of them have nothing to do with science. Amongst my favorites is his observation that  “There are only two ways to look at the world. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

 Albert Einstein said many wise things. Most of them have nothing to do with science. Amongst my favorites is his observation that  “There are only two ways to look at the world. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” To that we can only say “Amen.” 

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