Happiness and Hard Times

I started kindergarten in the autumn of 1960. One of the first group activities our class of 30+ students learned was “duck and cover!”

When the school siren sounded, we were taught to quickly get up, form a single file line, and move out of the classroom to the school’s basement. There we would crouch face-down on the shiny linoleum floor covering the back of our necks and head with our folded hands. 

The objective was to stay safe during a nuclear blast.

The nuclear attack, of course, never came, which was fortunate because I doubt duck and cover would have done much good. 

We spend a lot of time preparing for things that never happen and then are never prepared for the things we must endure, like the death of loved ones, devastating medical diagnoses, and major disturbances in the lives of those close to us. 

No one escapes hardship, yet it often catches us off guard.

Winston Churchill was no stranger to hard times. He offered sound advice when tragedy strikes: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” 

What else can we do, right? Except, Churchhill’s advice doesn’t address happiness. 

I aspire to be a happy person. It’s not always easy. Our family, like all families, has difficulties we must work through. 

Over the years, I’ve sought wisdom from people who have risen above trying circumstances and found joy. Borrowing from their teachings, I developed a practice to build joyful resilience. 

The practice has three steps: Stop…Accept…Renew.

Sounds easy, right?

It’s not! But it’s worth the effort!

Let’s take the steps one at a time.


I don’t know why, but most of us can’t resist touching our wounds.

When faced with emotional trauma, we tend to play negative thoughts repeatedly in our heads. Maybe the disturbing thought concerns an unkind comment from a friend or the behavior of a loved one. Perhaps it deals with a serious medical diagnosis or loss. As these thoughts cycle in our brains, trauma is amplified until it robs us of joy. 

Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, refers to this as the “pain body.” It’s an apt description.

The Stop practice has two steps:

First, we have to recognize when the “pain-body” is activated. That’s harder than it sounds because we’re upset. 

Once we acknowledge we are dwelling on a disturbing thought, we must hit the “stop button.” Upsetting emotions are like a Spotify playlist filled with songs we hate, yet we continue to listen to them. The stop button on the app silences the song. That’s what we have to do with our troubling thoughts. But there’s an additional challenge. Unlike songs on Spotify, disturbing thoughts have a tendency to spontaneously re-start. 

Recognizing the difference between ignoring a thought and hitting the “stop button” is essential. Trying to ignore a disturbing thought usually doesn’t work. Remember what Yoda said in Star Wars? “There is no try, just do!”

Depending on the severity of our problems, we may find we have to hit the “stop button” dozens and dozens of times. Remember, “no try, just do!” 

Disturbing thoughts are like glowing embers on a living room carpet. They must be extinguished immediately, or damage will escalate.

This takes practice. 

Continue practicing Stop until you feel you have acquired some mastery before proceeding to the next step.


To move into acceptance, we must first silence the narrative in our head that tells us how things should be or how we wish things were!  

Most of us are entirely unprepared for acceptance because we are fundamentally unsatisfied with the status quo, which includes “Self.”

From the earliest age, we work to change who we are. Life is spent acquiring knowledge, developing skills, and pursuing self-improvement. We are propelled forward by the gap between what we are and what we want to be. The stasis of acceptance is foreign to our being.

This is the stuff of human progress, but it leaves us unprepared for the things we can’t control, like illness, loss, and death. 

Acceptance requires us to exchange the way we want things to be for the way things are. It is a wholehearted acknowledgment that “it is what it is.”  

Acceptance, when mature, is absent of regret.  

Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius explained it this way:

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

Acceptance unburdens the soul, giving us the strength to move forward. 

Acceptance demands us to be present to what is directly in front of us. This is not bitter acquiescence but rather a full-hearted willingness to meet the day with an open heart and clear mind and then do what needs to be done without fear, regret, or anxiety. 

The voice in our head hates acceptance, which is why we must pair it with Stop. 

Stop and Accept are always a two-step dance. First, we hit the “Stop button,” silencing the voice in our heads. We then full-heartedly Accept that the situation is what it is. This two-step dance must be repeated over and over and over again. I’ve had days where I lost count of the repetitions. During exceptionally trying times, the two-step dance takes the form of a mantra. Ultimately it becomes a habitual part of life.

Silencing the internal voice of “Self” and fully accepting what is in front of us is the way of the peaceful warrior.


Once we have hit the “Stop button” and fully Accepted our fate, we are ready to Renew.

When Stop and Accept are skillfully executed, we are left with the clarity and spaciousness to do what needs to be done. Renewal is a positive doing, despite our situation. The act of moving forward without pain or regret creates joy.

Allow me to provide two examples:

Example 1:

I took up distance running in my mid-twenties. Unfortunately, I was a Clydesdale, a term reserved for runners in the 200-pound-plus category. Eventually, twenty years of pavement pounding took its toll. Today my knees provide constant company on walks around the neighborhood. 

So what does this have to do with Stop, Accept, and Renew?

I have never accepted that I can’t run anymore. I am frustrated that my knees make me conscious of every step. I wondered if Stop, Accept, and Renew might help.

On a recent walk, when my throbbing knees triggered a painful narrative in my head, I just said Stop, and then fully accepted that it is what it is! It didn’t work on the first few iterations, but I stayed with the practice for nearly a mile; Stop…..Accept…. and move forward (Renew).

Eventually, my knee pain went away! 

Was it all in my head?

Well, kind of!

Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived and returned as soon as I started thinking about it again. So I made a game of it, seeing how far I could go staying with the Stop, Accept, and Renew practice. 

After working on this for several months, I find the practice helps. I’m amazed that “dropping in” to this routine has such a profound impact on pain! 

Now for a more challenging example!

Example 2:

MJ and our oldest son Dan were playing a table game earlier this year when Dan’s moves and conversation suddenly stopped making sense. 

Further investigation revealed that he didn’t know what year it was or who the President was. 

No Bueno!

Dan has faced many difficulties in his life. This latest one didn’t seem fair. 

On our way to the emergency room, I peppered Dan with simple questions with the same concerning results.  

Emergency rooms can be a real pain in the butt. However, when you tell the admitting nurse that you think your family member is having a stroke, you jump straight to the front of the line! 

While Dan was in the CT scanner, I did the two-step over and over. It was harder than battling knee pain. I knew a clear mind and open heart would be needed to face this new challenge. So rather than allowing emotions to run their course, I worked on fully accepting what fate had brought us.

Fortunately, Dan has regained much of his cognitive function over the past five months. I am still practicing the two-step.

Our family isn’t the “loan ranger” when it comes to facing difficulties. The practice I’ve described has given me the strength to joyfully continue forward.  


Hopefully, the practice will help you as well!


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Previous posts may be found here and here.

3 Replies to “Happiness and Hard Times”

  1. Thanks for today’s post, Tim. Acceptance is one of the key tenets in The Book of Joy
    Book by 14th Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams.

    A related Churchill-ism ( I think him): When you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.

    Have a good week. tv


  2. Hey, Tim! This post rings so true to me following the near loss of my husband in a non-COVID lung situation over the last year (he has thankfully fully recovered!) and adjusting to the joyous new normal of retirement.

    I’m seeing many of my past assumptions being challenged all the time, but doing this three step approach will make that natural process of life a lot more seamless. So glad to hear Dan is recovering well. Best to you all.


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