A lot has been said and written about how your outlook on life determines your level of happiness; how appreciating what you have determines your overall well-being.
I've conscientiously tried to act that out for the past 33 months. But here's the thing... when you try to employ an abstract concept on your own, it's hard to know if you're getting it right. But when you see someone else do it, the results (or lack of) are more clear.
I spent the past week at a big conference in Chicago, with expositions, keynote speeches by celebrities, loud music and catered parties.
Wednesday night, I went to a party at The Joy District, and another at The House of Blues. Lots of free exotic cocktails, and finger food served off silver trays held by the manicured fingers of big city beautiful people.
The fancy finger food didn't add up to a full dinner, so after saying good-byes and thank-you's, I left the club in search of an honest burger and beer.
While waiting to cross Dearborn Street, I asked the man next to me if he knew the neighborhood.
"Sure do - I've been working here for years - how can I help you?"
He named a couple popular spots in the neighborhood. I opted for Miller's Pub.
We walked together for the next six blocks.
We talked about the Cubs, his five sons and daughters, their school activities and the hospital where his wife (of 29 years) works. He was proud, happy and appeared to be loving life. We shared a few stories and plenty of laughs about our contrasting worlds of Chicago and Portland, Maine.
When we arrived at Miller's, he introduced himself by name and wished me well. We shook hands and I thanked him. Then he turned and continued toward the subway entrance. He wasn't carry a briefcase. He carried a heavy-duty broom and dustpan. The bright lights on State Street reflected off his neon Department of Public Works vest.
The man was a Chicago street sweeper - the person that cleans the sidewalks and gutters of cigarette butts, chewed gum and other litter. He may have also been the most genuinely happy person I met that night.
I suspect it wasn't necessarily his job that drove his upbeat disposition, but the relationships and good fortune he felt he did have; all those things he appreciated, that many of us take for granted. And that's what likely defined his disposition, state of mind, and outlook on life.
During my early morning walks around Portland, I conscientiously think of things in my life that I ought to appreciate. Within this daily ritual, I try to mix it up, and think more deeply about what I have, so the list is a little bit different each day.
It's not that hard. Like a lot of things in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Especially when you have a lot to appreciate.
I don't know if that if that Chicago street sweeper consciously does this mental exercise, but it doesn't matter. He's already accomplished what so many of us are struggling to achieve. And he's accomplished it by learning to appreciate the things that he does have. Over the course of our six blocks together, he named plenty.