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As the spiritual leader of the 28,000-member New York Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, it is highly probable that A. R. Bernard has been asked numerous times about the secret to obtaining life-long happiness. Bernard's thoughts, drawn from a 30-year tenure, are shaped by the wisdom of his spiritual leadership and serve as the core of his new book, Happiness Is… Simple Steps to a Life of Joy.
Inspiration for Happiness Is… came by chance, after Bernard picked up a copy of USA Today and ran across an article by Kevin Maney entitled "Money Can't Buy Happiness, But Happiness May Buy Money," Intrigued by the article's premise, Bernard drafted a series of sermons on what happiness is — and what it isn't.
Over fifty-two chapters, A. R. Bernard outlines what happiness is, how to find it, and how to keep it. Within each, Bernard's strategies and tips are supplemented with scripture, common sense and inspirational quotations from international leaders of various social, religious and political backgrounds. In addition, at the end of each chapter, blank writing space has been left for individual reflection. Fortunately, for the reader, the breadth of wisdom shared in Happiness Is… will touch the soul, no matter one's personal beliefs.
In the book's introduction, A. R. Bernard notes that "happiness isn't a commodity that can be purchased in a store; it's a byproduct of the way you choose to live and the things you choose to think." Genuine happiness, therefore, is a way of mind and a way of life. In Chapter 18, Bernard notes that "[t]he self-fulfilling prophesy is alive, well, and living at your house." How true, indeed!
As it happens, negative thinking about oneself only lowers faith and belief in self. In consequence, a negative outlook about one's life only fosters low expectations about one's future. Hopeful thinking, as a result, is a valuable tool to improving one's life. A. R. Bernard's perception: "Thoughts are powerful things — your thoughts have the power to lift you up or to hold you down."
Joseph Addison once said that the "[t]hree grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for." Bernard expands on these areas in several chapters. My favorite, amongst the fifty-two gems, is Chapter 2: Happiness Is… Learning to Accept the Past.
To be certain, every life has a story. Some parts are shared freely, while others are hidden in the dark. A. R. Bernard tells us: "You'll never find lasting happiness unless you learn to make peace with the past. You'll never be contented until you learn how to look back upon your own experiences — both your victories and your disappointments — with a sense of acceptance and thanksgiving. In short, you must learn how to interpret your own personal history in a positive way."
It goes without saying that a person is the product of their life experiences. Consequently, their character, self-concept and outlook on life are the by-products of how they view those experiences. I am quite sure, like many others, that I, at times, have been my own worst enemy — conceding defeat, due to fear and self-doubt, without ever being beaten by an outside force. A. R. Bernard reminds us, however, that we "[shouldn't] let [our] future be held captive by [our] past."
Page after page, Happiness Is… shows us that the story of our lives is being written one day at a time. With God's grace, that story can (and will) be a masterpiece. In Chapter 31, concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom makes the following observation: "Every experience God gives us, every person he brings into our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see." By the book's end, Bernard assures the reader that these words apply to everyone.