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You’ve lost your smile

Over the holidays, Karen's dad and I were looking at 20 years of old photos that we want to digitize. Karen and I have lived lives filled with adventure. There we are at a colorful Hindu temple on the slopes of a volcano in Bali. There we are on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Fast forw…
By Seth Barnes

Over the holidays, Karen's dad and I were looking at 20 years of old photos that we want to digitize.

Karen and I have lived lives filled with adventure. There we are at a colorful Hindu temple on the slopes of a volcano in Bali. There we are on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Fast forward a few years and we're raising kids in Virginia and Florida or on a mission trip somewhere in the world.

Wherever we are, usually I've got a smile on my face. But in recent years, something has changed. Maybe it's too much responsibility; maybe it's the burden of my dreams. Lately, I have a lot of decisions I'm mulling over.

Often during the holidays, I'd be lost in my thoughts while in the other room they were playing "Settlers of Catan."

As we flipped through the photos, my father-in-law turned to me and, in a matter-of-fact way, said, "You've lost your smile."

He wasn't being mean, just pointing out the contrast between the carefree younger me, and the more sober man I've become. And it caused me to reflect.

Is this tradeoff I've made a good thing? We take on more responsibility and we can have less space to enjoy life. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. What does it say when there is less of it in your life?

We watched a documentary called Happy last night. It explores why some nations are generally a lot happier than others. Japan is the unhappiest nation in the world. The Japanese work their fingers to the bone. So many people die from overwork that they have a name for the syndrome: Karoshi – death from working too hard.

I wonder if I'm part of a larger trend of people becoming grumpier and more stressed-out. Are we working harder and smiling less? Are we missing out on the games in the other room? Is something broken about the way that we're living? Are you smiling more or less these days than in years past?

So many of us face more challenges than ever as we start a new year. The fiscal cliff is a metaphor for what we're experiencing internally. We feel swept along by events beyond our control.

The makers of Happy interviewed a surfer in Brazil and a guy living on a Louisiana bayou – guys who felt joyful everyday. They weren't particularly wealthy, but they were rich in two things: in relationships and in purpose.

As I look at the changes I want to make in 2013, I'm going to give greater priority to my key relationships and the things that give me a sense of purpose. Maybe you'll find me smiling more. How about you?

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