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A field of bright red corn poppy flowers in summer.

Summer begins this month, and I find it a good time to recharge my spirit and think about how to approach life. A summer reset helps me refocus my energies, recalibrate my expectations and recommit to a happy life.

My mother gave me the gift of optimism. She used to always say, “Land, life is so short I could hang by my fingernails if I had to.” She lived until she was 93 years of age and sang, danced and quoted poetry almost until the end.

Even with the native cheerfulness I inherited from my mother, I still put conscious effort into a positive disposition. I’ve never found happiness to be an accident, but rather a consequence of purposeful steps to live a healthy and grateful life. I fine-tune my “happy sails” frequently so I can live with a smile, help others along the way and be prepared for stormy seas.

There is a popular phrase many people place in their home. A common location is above a door where family members, particularly children, can see the phrase as they leave. The phrase starts with their last name. In my family, the phrase would read, “Gochnours do hard things.” It’s meant as a reminder and a challenge to encourage family members to be tough, stand tall and persevere. I think that’s good counsel.

My daughter recently told me of a person who had provided comfort to her during a challenging time. The women said to my daughter, “You do hard? I do hard too. Come sit with me and let’s talk.” The woman, still in her thirties, had lost her husband to an illness. Despite this hardship, she took the time to share her insights and lift my daughter’s spirits. I marvel at how some people who have experienced great hardship still find strength to comfort others. That’s a beautiful gift.

It’s common these days to talk about “first-world problems.” In our world of convenience and excess we often lose perspective. The Huffington Post ran a story listing common first-world problems. One person said, “Every time I come to Paris I get sick.” Or another favorite of mine, “I really hate to fly commercial with both ski boots and golf clubs.” As we navigate our challenges we must never forget our many blessings.

I recently traveled to Richfield, Utah, for a work assignment. I was with a group of elected officials from central Utah, and we were talking about the challenges faced by many rural counties. Of specific interest was Piute County, a small county in south-central Utah with limited economic opportunity. A Piute County commissioner was asked how many people in his graduating class were still living in the county. He estimated that out of a class of 35 students, five remained. After sharing this startling fact, the commissioner said something that resonated with me. He said, “Life is about families and happiness. That’s it. I stayed because I found that in Piute County.”

There is a simple and poignant message in his words. We all have big decisions to make and challenges to confront. If we approach our choices with our loved ones foremost in mind and move towards happy energy, we will probably make the right choice.

I find it helpful to ask and act upon these questions:

  • Where do I find the most energy?
  • What actions can I take to move closer to that energy?
  • Am I asking for help if I need it?
  • Am I serving others along the way?

Happiness need not be elusive. We can muster the courage, strength and positive energy to persevere. Perspective helps. Family and other loved ones help too. Don’t focus on trivial problems. Make sure you ask for help if you need it and find ways to serve others. Focus your energies, calibrate your expectations and commit to a happy life.

Natalie Gochnour is an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber.