We trekked for several miles uphill to get a chance to meet the famed Buddhist guru of Thailand. We were told that people come from all over the world to Thailand to meet the guru and are allowed to ask him just one question. Mind you, I’m no Buddhist, but the idea of doing something bizarrely outside of my world held a certain attraction to my wife and me that day. When in Thailand, you do that kind of thing.
The scene was straight out of a movie. We ascended about 300 steep steps and entered a small and dark ancient temple filled with candles and incense. Inside, the star of the show sat cross-legged on a small platform and patiently greeted a long line of visitors, one by one. He was straight out of central casting.
We were ushered in and asked to sit on our knees and place our hands together, and instructed to ask our one question. We looked at each other, stumped and speechless. You would think we would’ve planned something to ask. Finally I blurted out a question that he probably gets 1,000 times a day:
“What’s the secret to happiness?”
The old man slightly smiled and proceeded to expound with a rambling explanation. The translator condensed it and shot off a succinct soundbite, then led us out and asked for a donation. Getting sage advice from a famous guru ain’t free, you know.
But here’s the problem today: I don’t remember his advice. I had gotten a chance to ask one of the leading gurus on earth a momentous question — the secret to happiness, no less — and yet today I’m not exactly clear on what he said. I think it was something about gratitude.
Each new year I invariably find myself drawn to the typical articles about self-improvement in the coming year. One article made me recall my guru story. The article suggested that to live a happier life it’s important to actually make a list of the top things that give you happiness. In doing so, the author suggested, you just might discover something you love but have always taken for granted.
I gave it a shot. The first few items - family, friends - were easy. A few spots down from there I did indeed identify a new and unlikely addition that gives me immense happiness and yet had never been on my radar before: living in the great State of Michigan.
I absolutely treasure Michigan at this stage of my life, especially in the spring, summer and fall. Recently while in Florida someone asked me what I thought about Michigan and I actually heard myself say the words, “It’s the best place on earth” — and I meant it!
Besides the people — usually kind, polite and proud — the geography of our state is a true jewel. No matter where you are in Michigan, you’re never more than 6 miles from a body of water or 85 miles from a Great Lake. We have more miles of freshwater shoreline than any other state in the country. The Great Lakes comprise 90% of the nation’s supply of freshwater and 20% of the world’s supply. We have two peninsulars, pristine beaches, lighthouses, waterfalls, islands, rafting, forests, sand dunes and incredible hiking and biking trails. Our climate is temperate, with essentially zero to very low risk of earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes.
And who doesn’t love and always pull for the city of Detroit — also a place I took for granted for years. I cherish the Motor City these days, and I proudly show it off to all visitors as if I’m the Director of Tourism. We have an ‘us vs. everyone’ mentality that makes us embrace the city as if it were family. I might criticize Detroit sometimes to fellow Michiganders, but no outsider gets to bash Detroit in my presence. No one outside the family gets to call our baby ugly.
And in case you haven’t noticed, Detroit has become the new super cool place to be. Last year TIME Magazine made headlines by naming Detroit one of the “world’s greatest places” with a “newfound glory.” The late Anthony Bourdain, after spending time in Detroit sampling the cuisine and the culture, best summed up the new vibe of our beloved city:
“When you say you're from Detroit, you have an automatic cred and a coolness that translates everywhere I've been. That's a status symbol to say you're from Detroit. It implies something. You come from a place where all of this great music and all these great cars, and all of these great, cool things [are from]. I'd love to be able to say that I came from Detroit. That would be like the coolest thing I could ever say.”
We also have, if I may get political for a moment (which I’m happy to do), the best Governor in the nation. I have had the privilege of spending some time with her and she has an enthusiasm and passion for Michigan that is downright contagious. And - bonus points - she proudly admits that her favorite movie is The Big Lebowski, so that’s just another reason to love her (“The dude abides”, she actually said!).
In her Inauguration Address last week, Governor Whitmer said that Michiganders expect their lawmakers “to embody the values they live up to every day - grit and grace”. I can’t think of a better description that captures the character of our people.
So as I take stock of all that makes me happy in 2023, I will no longer take for granted the spectacular natural beauty nor the grit and grace of our people.
Turns out I didn’t need to go to Thailand to realize that. The four leaf clover I was looking for was always right in my own backyard.