Gardner spoke with Beliefnet about his definition of success, how to achieve it, and how his mother’s “spiritual genetics” set his determined wheels in motion.
Do you think successes like yours are rare in the world?
First of all, you have to define success. For me, it wasn’t about the money. Money is the least significant aspect of wealth. My life story is really about so many people who have connected in so many ways. In the movie alone, for instance, you can see that it is not about me. It is about every father who has ever also had to be a mother, and every mother who has also had to be a father.
It’s about every parent who didn’t have a parent and tried to give their child something that they did not have. And also, at the same time, it’s about everyone who ever had a dream, and everybody was telling them no you can’t do that, it won’t happen. But they made it happen anyway. So, it’s not about me--it’s bigger than me.
In the film, there are moments of tension between the good moral side of you and the cutthroat business side. Do you think the film did a good job of reconciling the two?
Absolutely, and that’s why I was there everyday for 17 weeks of filming. And none of us are all good, pure, and true. All of us have multi-facets to our lives--thank God. And that provides the balance. But I’m very, very happy with the direction of the movie, no doubt.
What were some of the things that you imparted to your son along the way? What were some of the key lessons that you wanted him to learn?
The most important that he has taken away is that the most important thing about being a man is being responsible. And because I broke the cycle of men who are not there for their children, I’m going to have an influence on generations of my offspring that I probably will never meet. And that all started with me breaking the cycle here.
A lot of people are wondering, why is “happyness” spelled with a “y” in the title of the movie?
There was a place called “Happyness” that became very, very important to my son and I. They spelled happiness with a “y.” It was Happyness Daycare Center. In the film and on the cover of the book, the Y is in a different color. I wanted that for a very particular reason because I want people to start thinking about, well, you and your happiness and what makes you happy. And everyone you talk to today is probably going to have a different definition of happiness.
What constitutes happiness for you and your family?
I am healthy. As a single parent with a lot of help, I’ve raised two children that have become fabulous, young people. And I am now in a position to do work that reflects my values that makes me happy.
Did your Christian principles help you to get to where you are now?
Oh, they still do. I was just at church last Sunday. [My faith] is one of the strongest guiding forces in my life.
My mom had too many of her own dreams denied, deferred, and destroyed. But she still instilled in me the idea that I could have dreams--and not just have dreams, but have the power and the responsibility to make them come true. And I am so thankful for that, and I’m so thankful for embracing her spirit. Anything positive that I’m doing in my life now is directly attributed to my mom.
Was there anything that she said that struck really strongly with you?
I was getting ready to watch a basketball game when I was a kid, and the announcer is hyping the game and talking about the bright futures these guys are going to have and how much money they are going to make and all this great stuff. And I said out loud to no one: “Wow, one day that guy is going to make a million dollars.” My mom overheard me and she said, “Son, you know what? If you want to one day, you could make a million dollars.” And until she said those words it never entered my mind as a possibility. But after she said them it was just a matter of finding the right venue.
What are some of your passions now? Is there any one thing that is extremely passionate to you?
The one thing I’m most passionate about, I can’t talk about. We’re doing some work in South Africa. That, next to raising my children, is going to be the most important thing I ever do in my life. I can’t talk about it right now because we’re doing a private transaction and you can’t talk about those in public until they’re done.
But I’m also looking at opportunities to be involved with addressing this issue of homelessness here in the United States and studying and trying to find out who is doing truly unique things. I think Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, is doing something with his concept called “Care Not Cash” by trying to bring all of the services of the city to one place--at one time--to help address the issue of homelessness in San Francisco. Guys like Gavin are doing a fabulous job. And I’m also studying and looking at what’s being done at the federal government level. And more importantly, looking at what some state agencies are doing to create low and affordable housing for working people.
In the film, there’s a key defining moment when you give a man your parking spot and ask him about his career and how he achieved it. And that propelled you to your success. Do you have any advice for our readers about how they can discover their defining moment?
First, you got to find out what it is that you want, and you got to be bold enough to embrace it. Everyone can’t do that, because you’re going to succumb to pressure from whomever--your mom and your dad for instance--who want you to be a doctor or lawyer or an Indian Chief. You got to be bold enough to say, well this is what I want to do, this is what makes me happy. And you got to find that thing that gets you so excited you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning.
Did you know that you wanted to be a broker?
I knew I wanted to be world class at something. My first ambition in life was I wanted to be Miles Davis, and I studied trumpet for nine years, but my mom sat me down one day and explained to me, “Son, you can’t be Miles Davis, baby, he already got that job. So, you got to do something else, you’ve got to be Chris.” And that scared me because I did not know, who is Chris? I just knew from an early age that I wanted to become world class at something.
It took me 14 years after my mom and I had that conversation where she told me I could make a million dollars if I wanted to. It took me 14 years to find Wall Street, but the second I walked into a trading room, I knew this is the place mom was telling me about.
You knew without hesitation? It wasn’t like "I'm going to try it and see?"
I knew. Some things you know in your soul.
Now that you’re a success, how has it influenced your faith? Are you stronger in your faith now?
Absolutely. I talk to God everyday, and I tell people sometimes [when] they want to ask me, "What’s the secret?" and I tell them all, "Jesus loves me, he just likes you."
How do you get Jesus to love you instead of like you?
You have to talk to him everyday. And it’s between you and him, and when it happens you’re going to know. It’s as simple as that--you’ll just know.