One Saturday morning, I kidnap our ANAWIM (Editor's Note: ANAWIM is the non-profit home that Bo operates to help the underprivileged in the Philippines) orphans and kids, all fifteen of them, and squeeze them into my car for a day of fun. Along the way, the kids are singing, dancing, screaming, and vomiting on each other. No wonder my car’s air freshener isn’t working well. And where are we going? Not to those expensive amusement parks where people pay $8 per head. Multiply that by fifteen, and I’ll be poorer than a presidential aspirant who has just lost the elections. Instead, I decide to go to a place that suits my personal tastes and cultural preferences and artistic orientation: a place with no entrance fee.
I drive them to a free park (Quezon Circle in Quezon City, Philippines), rent old bikes—that cost me only $8 for everyone! I spend the whole morning trying to teach the small ones how to balance on a two-wheeler—and wondering whether the big kids left the park and were now biking up Canon road to Baguio City (200 miles away)!
As I try to catch my breath, wipe my sweat, and remove the new designs off my shirt and pants (i.e. bike-tracks), I begin to wonder why I ever got into this thing of putting up an orphanage. Perhaps I should shift careers now. I begin to imagine entering into Showbiz, and making a movie with Cameron Diaz.
After failing to catch them with a lasso, or with ingenious pits that I dig and cover with leaves—I give up and softly whisper to myself, “I am getting hungry and I am going to eat now. If you guys don’t want to eat, I will!” Immediately, all fifteen are behind me, little angels in a row.
After budget meals, plus ice drops – four cents each - for dessert, I decide on a discovery expedition, to a place that they’ve never been to. I escort them to a public toilet. Naturally, they are flushed with excitement. After that, it was “swings and slides” time in the park. Life’s pleasures are free indeed.
I’m driving home with my tired crew. I’m exhausted, yes, but peeking through my rear-view mirror, I catch a glimpse of the kids sleeping soundly, and my heart skips a beat.
I love them so much.
One girl was still awake. She sides up to me and whispers, “Uncle Bo, I am so happy right now.” So I wonder if it was the bike ride, or the swing, or the ice drop, or the public toilet. I ask why.
She gives me a tight hug. “Because, today you were with us.”
I try to drive carefully. My tears are getting in the way.
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I recall a few years back, I felt depressed.
I had a million problems! I had conflicts to deal with, a few storms in my Catholic community, plus a number of personal trials as well. To top it all, my dandruff was getting worse and my pimples are erupting again.
I prayed, “Lord, are you sure you want me to continue preaching and writing? I know I’m good-looking (depression has a way of making me hallucinate), but shouldn’t You have picked someone much holier and wiser and more loving?"
As I poured out my grief before God, and as I felt His tender comfort, a crazy question popped in my mind: “Bo, give me five reasons why you should be happy today.”
“Happy? Lord, how can I be happy at a time like this?”
But the question remained lodged in my brain, and I couldn’t give it up.
“Well,” I mumbled, “my five reasons for being happy are lovely Lily, sexy Sylvia, pretty Pamella, terrific Tanya, and gorgeous Grace.” (I was still single at that time, so I could make jokes like these.) Fearing that lighting may strike me anytime, I decided to become serious.
“First reason, Lord: You. We have a great relationship. You love me so much, and uh, I love You sometimes. What a God! Second, I have a beautiful family. Dad’s old and Mom’s (bleep!), yet we’re still together… Third, despite of it all, I have a great Catholic group. Fourth, I’ve got a fantastic job as preacher, writer, helping the poor… Can it be better than this? And fifth, I’m in love with this one girl. (Not five!) Pretty, sweet, loving, honest, and insane enough to go out on dates with me.”
And before I realized it, my “lousy feelings” left me and I felt happy!
You know, it worked so well, even to this day, I’ve decided to do this daily. Before I go to bed, I recall five things that happened during that day which I want to be thankful for.
It could be small stuff like, “Today, I watched the sunset,”; or “A little kid put her arms around me today and that felt so good”; or “My wife and I ate at Macdonald’s ‘cuz that was all I could afford but felt t’was a candlelight dinner in Shangrila.”
Because of this practice, the way I see life has changed. Because from the moment I wake up, my antennas are up—looking for the five things I’m going to be thankful for. I’m no longer focused on the bad things that happen, but on God’s great blessings each day.
Happiness is a choice.
You and I have everything that we need for happiness. Happiness isn’t “out there” but something that’s deep within us.
We choose to be happy. We choose to make our lives great.