Being Happy

Most people, when confronted with an obstacle, suffer some degree of shock and dismay. Even if they don’t consciously acknowledge the problem, their bodies respond in ways that make them less capable of bouncing back.

You may find it interesting to know, for example, that scientists have found that testosterone – the hormone that drives us to work hard and win – actually drops measurably in people who run into unanticipated problems. This clues the body to move into a defensive mode. We feel the impulse to slow down or shut down or run away.

Sophisticated scans have shown similar responses in the brain. The pleasure center becomes less active, as do the parts of the brain that promote the will to act and take risks.

Our bodies are designed to be energized when things are going well. But when things turn against us, they are programmed to retreat.

These are deeply ingrained instincts. Evolutionists tell us that we developed them in order to survive life-threatening situations such as famine, extreme cold, and attacks by predators.

And though these retrenching responses are necessary for survival when the threats are mortal, they can work against us when the challenges are less serious.

That is why we so often feel defeated by soluble problems – the sort of problems we run into when we attempt to enhance our lives and build our careers.

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No Place is Better Than Home

No place is better than home. “East or west, home is best” — upon completing a round-the-world trip, Andrew Carnegie illustrated the universality of that sentiment with two stories:

• After hearing that he came from a country where rivers froze, tapioca workers in the woods near Singapore felt pity on him and invited him to come live with them.

• A Laplander, having made a fortune and traveled to all the great cities of the world, came back to his native town, Tromso, and built a two-story house — which by local standards was a mansion.

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The Ten Commandments of Charity

Down the road going north from my vacation home in Nicaragua, you pass two hamlets, both bearing the same name: Limon.

Most of the families that live there have at least one member who works for Rancho Santana, the residential real estate development my partners and I started 13 years ago. Some work as guards, some as groundskeepers. Others work as housekeepers or gardeners. Still others have found employment as bartenders, waitresses, lifeguards, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, electricians, or laborers.

The homes they live in are two- or three-bedroom wood-framed or clay-block structures. They travel to and from work by bus or bicycle. They get their water from community wells. Their children go to local schools. When they get sick, they get medical treatment at the clinic, which is financially supported by Rancho Santana.

It is a simple life but not without its pleasures. There are baseball games and soccer matches on Saturdays, church-sponsored events on Sundays, and many birthday parties and weddings and baptisms.

And ever since Rancho Santana erected a tower three years ago, everyone has a cell phone.

When I first came to Rancho Santana, these same families were living in abject poverty. Their houses were shacks put up on dirt floors. Their diet was rice and beans. And there was no medical care available less than an hour’s bus ride away.

The reason things are better now has nothing to do with international development agencies, government initiatives, or non-profit organizations.

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