A story from The Richest Man in Town
At times Marty made it sound too easy. On a visit to his home I heard him say, "People need to decide to be happy."
I pressed him. "What do you mean by that?"
His face took on an incredulous look. "You have to ask me?"
At that moment I felt a little foolish. Complex human problems, at least to me, often prevent people from being happy. To Marty it was a matter of common sense. I wondered, what was I missing?
"C'mon, Marty," I said, "do you really think people can actually decide to be happy?"
"Who makes decisions for you?" Marty asked me. "All my life I've watched people waiting for someone else to make them happy. The way I got it figured, the only one who can make you happy is you."
As I considered his point, my mind began to wander. Strangely, I
thought of an old "Peanuts" cartoon-the one in which Lucy asked Charlie Brown, "Why do you think we were put on earth?"
Charlie Brown answered, "To make others happy."
"I don't think I'm making anyone happy," Lucy replied, "but nobody's making me very happy either." Then Lucy screamed out, "Somebody's not doing his job!"
I smiled at that moment, thinking Marty had something in common with Charles Schultz, the creator of the "Peanuts" cartoon. Both seemed to be saying that it was silly to expect other people to have such an influence over our lives.
That was Marty's third lesson: Only you can make you happy.
That night Marty told me a story that was very personal for him. I knew Marty and Mickey had four children. I didn't know there had been a fifth. She was their second child, Lynette, born with spina bifida. She died shortly after birth.
Forty years later, Marty still grieved for her.
"The funeral director was a super guy," Marty said. "He knew we didn't have any money, but he told us he would take care of our little girl. He went out and built a wood casket for her and lined it with white satin."
Marty's voice started to break. "He only charged us five dollars. He knew we wanted to pay, but he only charged us five bucks.
"It's stuff like that. You can look for the good in people and you'll find the good. You can look for the bad in people and you'll find the bad. The way I've got it figured, you'll find what you are looking for. I'd just as soon look for the good in people."
I didn't know what it was like to grow up poor. I had never known the hardship of trying to live on a meager budget while raising a family.
Marty's life was filled with minimum-wage jobs, borrowing on insurance policies, and working overtime to make a little more money. When his father died, he inherited one thing: a Zippo lighter with a pheasant imprinted on it.
Even in the autumn of his life, Marty worked. He wanted the company's health benefits as much as the wages. Sure, he enjoyed his job, but he felt he needed to work. Before I met Marty he had suffered a heart attack and prostate cancer. When he talked about these problems, though, it was to tell me about all the cards his fellow employees had sent to him.
In my lifetime I had seen people in similar circumstances grow angry. Bitterness took hold of their lives and choked them.
"I never had much money, and I don't think I ever will," Marty said. "People think they need to have a lot of things to make them happy. They ought to look around and see what's really important."
When Marty looked around, he saw the most beautiful girl in the world as his wife, four children who loved him, a home he was proud of, and a job that made him feel alive. He was happy because, in his mind, he had it all.
"People need to decide to be happy."