During the thirty years I have traveled internationally, I traveled literally millions of miles to more than 150 countries and became very familiar not only with all types and shapes of aircraft but also all types and shapes of travelers.
Since cabins had become my adopted abode, I was tempted upon occasion to velcro my family pictures to the plastic walls just to help me feel at home. I even learned to enjoy the company of my flying companions.
I boarded a morning flight out of Frankfurt, Germany, headed for Colorado when I met Sheri. Sheri wanted to know if my travels originated in Frankfurt. I asked if her flight to Dulles meant that Washington, D.C., was her final destination. She said her company sent her to Germany quite often, and she enjoyed traveling because she liked to observe all the people.
Then she asked me, “Where is your favorite place in the whole world?” I responded, “There is a twenty-five-acre spot in Colorado that boasts a crystal-clear mountain stream and is blanketed with majestic trees. A romantic fire crackles in the gigantic fireplace of the old log and stone house.”
Wow,” blurted Sheri. “Have you been there on vacation?”
“No, I live there every day when I’m not constrained by this seat belt!” I said with a smile, and then asked, “Sheri, you said that you enjoy observing people as you travel. What have you observed so far on this trip?”
“The thing that impressed me this morning at the airport,” Sheri confided, “was the high percentage of folks who looked terribly unhappy. And I suppose I looked as disgruntled as the rest of them. Except for this pleasant conversation, my own life is sort of bummed. It’s beginning to dawn on me that I am running faster and faster, chasing something that I can’t really identify. For certain, I’m not catching whatever it is I’m running after.”
“Is it possible,” I asked, “that someone or something, or perhaps the entire culture, has instructed all of us that we should be in hot pursuit everyday and spend our energy to the last dregs to lay hold of whatever it is that we are all supposed to be chasing?” I went on, “Sheri, don’t answer this unless you feel comfortable doing so. What was it that made you get up this morning and go through the hassle and security procedures to get on this flight?”
She studied her hands that were folded in her lap and pensively mumbled something about economic security and happiness. “This is none of my business,” I replied, “but I’m very curious. Just how much economic security would it take to make you really happy?”
Her reply came surprisingly quickly, “About twice as much as I’m presently making!” Then she grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I think more money, about twice as much, would give me a good shot at personal security. That would be enough to make me happy!”
The captain came on the intercom with some announcements, and we put a bookmark in our conversation. But Sheri wasn’t through talking.
“You know something?” Sheri asked. “It just hit me. I am presently making twice as much as I was making two years ago, and now I’m back into the same emotional cycle, saying the same things over again—‘I need about twice as much as I am making to make me secure and happy.’ Who keeps moving the bar up on the high-jump standards?” We laughed together.
“Sheri,” I continued, “just one more question from a fellow traveler. If money were not the issue, what would your list look like of what would really make you happy?”
“I want to feel worthwhile,” she confided. “I would want to be involved in some worthwhile things. I would want to personally enjoy some love, some fun, some friendship, and respect from my family and a few other people. And, I guess, I would like to leave some kind of legacy when I’m gone.”
Then Sheri said something absolutely brilliant: “You know, none of those things I just listed are available on the open market or e-Bay. Therefore, I guess if something isn’t priced on the market, then you can’t buy it. And if you can’t buy it with money, then perhaps just possessing twice as much of the stuff called ‘money’ isn’t the answer. I guess I’ve been looking for happiness in the wrong places! What a wonderful observation I’ve made today!”