To the people in my corner
I want to start today by looking at two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You are driving home from work and as you weave up and down through the hills along a lightly traveled country road your car unexpectedly loses power. You are able to safely navigate the car to the shoulder of the road and as you slow to a stop, everything in the car comes to a loud end. POOF.
You get out of the car and, since I am the one writing this fictional scene, know nothing about vehicles. You then discover that you don’t have cell service during this stretch of the road and need to start walking back towards town to search for help.
As you turn around you are at the foot of a hill. When your car lost power, this hill propelled you down into the valley. Now, your only logical move is to walk back up the hill you coasted down. When you look at that hill before you, you most likely aren’t looking forward to the climb that is to come.
In fact, research says that you will overestimate the angle of the climb ahead by 20-30%. When you stand and look at a hill, you are most likely going to over-exaggerate the difficulty ahead of you, by a large margin.
Scenario 2: Only one thing changes in the second scenario compared to the first - the number of people in the car. Instead of you driving home from work by yourself, someone else is riding along with you. A friend, an acquaintance, or a spouse - it really doesn’t matter - but someone else is there with you.
As you both stand at the base of that hill, what do you think happens to your perception of the climb ahead of you? Do you overexaggerate by 20-30% how difficult that climb will be?
If you guess that you will view the climb as easier, you win a completely non-existent, fictional prize. Having someone there with you standing before a task makes the task easier. Research confirms this.
It makes total sense, right? Facing a challenge is better when there is someone there to walk with. The same can be said of most of the times when we’ve been happiest as well - happiness is amplified when others share in the experience.
I am grateful that my school district sent a few of my coworkers and me to an EdTech conference last week. Shawn Achor was one of the keynotes and his life’s work has been studying the power of positive thinking and happiness. He was the one that cited the research study about the hill.
The big takeaway for him when looking at the “hill” study was that a person’s social connection score is the greatest predictor of happiness. How connected people are to others provides the best indication of a person's happiness.
Since hearing Shawn speak I have been reflecting on that point. Am I a happy person?
The next part is the key though, why am I a happy person? It’s not because I have everything I want, it’s not that I live a stress-free life, and it certainly isn’t that my bank account removes any monetary worries. Happiness in things of the world is elusive because the target of happiness is always changing.
The simple fact is that my happiness in this world is tied to the reality that my social connection score is high - I have really good people all around me. My happiness level is high because I have you all. You are a key contributor to the happiness I feel.
Two hours after hearing Shawn speak, as I was walking down the hallway of the convention center, I stopped right where I was. “To the people in my corner” were the words I typed into my running note of blog ideas.
What stopped me in my tracks was the realization that the same social connection score that is the greatest indicator of happiness must be the same factor that impacts a person's ability to walk in grief…at least the supportive community around me has felt like the most impactful factor while walking in grief.
Rachel and I have felt so much support from so many different people, for so many different reasons. When we walked through the third anniversary of Anders’s death a few weeks ago, people shared with us that they had been praying for us for the last three years.
People continue to check in to see how we are doing.
People still sit and listen to us share our struggles when times get tough.
People even choose to read my blog posts and tell me how much it meant to them.
We were all created in God’s image and God created us to be in relationship with others. Jesus continually taught his followers the power of serving others by taking the posture of a servant himself. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, hung out with those that the religious elite despised, and used his hands to touch and heal the leper.
Jesus entered into the lives of others to lift them up. He called his followers to show others love in the same way he showed his love. The Apostle Paul called the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Whether it is checking in with us, praying for us, or listening to us, these are the actions that God calls believers to take with those that need lifting up, that are bearing burdens.
While reading through the hill study, the researchers shared that not only did the presence of others impact the perceived challenge ahead of the hiker, but so did the weight of the backpack they were wearing. The heavier the pack, the bigger the hill looked to be climbed. The burden was heavy and the road ahead seemed more difficult.
But our burden, when walking with others in the love of Christ is light.
You are the person standing at the bottom of the hill, right next to us - you’ve been in our corner. Thanks for helping us bear our burdens. Thanks for being there to let us have a mindset shift about everything we’ve been through. Happiness is possible, even when grief shares the stage. Happiness is possible because God has put you in our life for such a time as this.
So, to all of you out there that have been in our corner, thank you.