When I asked Juan to pick up the dog poop in an area of my yard frequented by dog walkers, I could tell he really didn't want to do it. Armed with gloves and plastic bags, he started walking towards the area anyway. Then he turned, smiled, and with an optimistic tone, said: "I'm going on a TREASURE hunt!"
I met Juan for the first time just that morning, when my friend RoquesAnn, who owns an employment agency, dropped off Juan and Daniel to help me do yardwork. I had hired them in hopes of making good use of the Murray City Green Waste trailer I had rented for the weekend.
When RoquesAnn introduced me to Juan and Daniel, Juan said "You mean we get to stay HERE to work?! I like jobs like this!" His enthusiasm and positive energy were contagious, causing me to have a fun, uplifting, beautiful experience as we worked together.
Juan, an immigrant originally from Mazatlan Mexico, is a talker. As we worked together, he told me how much he enjoys life, because no matter what he's doing, he makes it a point to find fun in it, even when doing unpleasant tasks like cleaning my spider-infested window wells and picking up dog poop.
"You would love my new T-shirt" he confidently assured me, and then happily showed me a photo of it: it was a take-off on the John Deere logo, with a Latin twist, including a burro. He was right--I did love it.
"I'm a lucky person", Juan told me early in our conversation.
"Really?" I replied, curious. "What makes you lucky?" Based on what I knew of his circumstances at that point, "lucky" wouldn't have been the word I'd used to describe him. But after hearing him talk about how lucky he was for the next 30 minutes, I had to agree...he is a lucky man.
"Well," he replied "I'm lucky because people like me wherever I go. That's because I give a lot. And the more you give, the more you get." He also told me he'd learned early on to respect people, animals, property, and everything around you, also a key to being happy and lucky, because what you send out will always return to you.
He mentioned he was lucky because his job as a contract laborer gave him freedom. He liked to work for a period of time, saving money so he can travel and spend time on other goals, and then go back to work as needed. His Juan Deere T-shirt was one of his few possessions; he intentionally limited his possessions as a way to give him more flexibility and freedom to have more experiences. I could tell he felt a sense of control about his life, and that he proactively took responsibility for it. When he said "I feel like a millionaire, even when I have no money", I believed him, because having a sense of control over your destiny does indeed make one feel like a millionaire!
He told me he was lucky because he never worried. He had found a job on his first day in America, and was confident that he would always have one (or create one) because he worked hard and was smart.
"Some people are lazy and want to take advantage of you" he said "but I work very hard for my money, so I don't give it to them. Instead, I help them by teaching them how to keep your job. Here's what you have to do," and then he told me his secrets for job success. Among them were:
#1 - don't talk too much on the job. (and then he paused and said with an impish grin: "Like I'm doing right now". Since he was still working and I was enjoying our discussion, I didn't mind!). His point was to work hard, to focus on the job.
#2 - if the boss tells you to do something, do exactly what is asked! (Although I did notice that as we interacted, he wasn't afraid to push back a little when he knew more about the topic than I did, helping me make good decisions about pruning roses and such, which I appreciated).
"My boss loves me" he said confidently.
He pointed to his head when he told me the next reason he was lucky: "Because I'm smart". Even though he'd struggled in school, especially in his English class, he had no problems learning English when he came to America and there was a practical reason for him to know it.
He'd learned to be creative on the ranch where he was raised, always needing to solve problems with few resources, and those experiences gave him confidence that he could solve any problem that came his way. In a very animated way, he told me about some of the tricky problems he'd solved before, including squeezing into a tight space to wash windows--so tight that he was smashed between two walls and couldn't reach into his pocket to get his tools. So, instead, he placed a magnet in his pocket and the tools on the outside of his pants, allowing him to easily access them as he performed what others had called an impossible feat.
Yup...having confidence in your ability to face anything that comes to you in the future--the definition of true optimism--definitely makes you a very lucky person.
He also told me he was lucky because he had a very kind older sister that would leave supportive messages on his voice mail. "If you didn't know she was my sister, you'd think she was my girlfriend, because her messages are so sweet!"
Yup. Having someone love you, and even more importantly, having someone to love, definitely makes a person lucky.
As we worked along, he praised me, saying "You're a hard worker! Instead of you paying me, I need to pay YOU!"
He was sensitive to the fact that I had originally asked for only 4 hours of their time, and made a point of looking out for my best interests, being careful to not run up the bill too high. When we neared the end of my highest priority jobs, he offered to take Daniel back to his car, so that he would be off the clock. "Then I'll come back to work for you for free!" he said happily.
"We can't do that," I said, "because I need to pay you so you can have money for your adventures when you aren't working." But he insisted on giving me that gift. "You are alone and need a lot of help, and talking to you makes me feel good", he responded. And, as I'm sure he knew, being able to give gifts that you know are valued and appreciated is another sure way to make yourself happy.
So, that's what he did. When he returned from dropping off his coworker, he continued to chat as we worked, saying "Now that I'm on my own time, I can slow down and make it exactly perfect for you". That also gave us the chance to chat more, and as I learned more about his life, I became more amazed by him.
He told me about starting a business in Mexico with only $3 in his pocket, and how, by chance, he met a wealthy man who believed in him, providing the financing that allowed Juan to grow his vegetable distribution business until it was bringing in $4000 a day. At that time, even the president of the Mexican state where he lived had wanted to be friends with him, because the president knew that people loved Juan and that Juan's support would go along way towards the president's re-election.
Juan worked hard and things went well, but then he said "I don't mean to speak badly of others", but then described the outrageously irresponsible behavior of his wife, who consistently racked up large credit bills and didn't keep her promises to him to open their store while Juan was working out of town, despite his best efforts to help her see the serious consequences of her actions. Because of these irresponsible behaviors and other factors outside of his control, he lost everything. His marriage ended. He decided to come to America to start a new life.
But he didn't see himself as a victim. Instead, the bad things that had happened to him made him more appreciative of the things he now had--being free from the consequences of irresponsible people not keeping promises, the opportunity to direct his life as he chooses, the opportunity to experience a variety of work and meet a variety of people each day. He also has another key to happiness: something to look forward to, as he makes plans to start another business.
There's something very hopeful in hearing a person who has actually gone through the experience of losing everything call himself "lucky". I sensed that he knew from real experience that the things we typically associate with good fortune--specifically money and prestige--really do not produce happiness. Instead, it's the smaller things--like confidence, optimism, hope for the future, a sense of control over one's life, and enjoying each moment, that actually bring us happiness. Even better: we can choose these things regardless of how grim our present circumstances.
"You and I are from different worlds" he told me. "You are a woman in the United States. I am a man from Mexico. Even though we live on the same planet, our worlds are totally different". Despite the different worlds in which we live, I found that the two of us had a lot in common. When it comes right down to it, all six billion of us on this planet have a lot in common: we're all just trying to figure out how to be happy.
And, after talking with Juan, I'm now pretty sure that I'm lucky too, because I had the opportunity to be tutored on happiness by an expert on the subject: my new, lucky friend Juan.