The First Secret to My Happiness

The following is the first in a series of life lessons where I explore what fueled my resolve not only to recover but to live a fulfilling life. Enjoy this first installment.

What seems to attract most people to my story is that they want to demystify how someone like me found my way back to happiness and a fulfilling life. It’s a good question. Especially when you consider how many unhappy people there are in the world who didn’t survive a fire. What most people don’t realize is that the flashover explosion I survived forced the question.

Do you simply want to live, or do you want to thrive? And if you want to thrive, what kind of life do you want to lead? If I was to go through the torture of recovering for weeks in a hospital bed, having my open wounds scoured every day to prevent infection, and wearing a humbling compression mask to mitigate scarring for two years, I’d damn well better have an answer to that question. 

Many of you haven’t had to survive a defining moment like mine, but that doesn’t mean you can’t force the question. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about. Either way, what matters is that you pause a day or two, or more if needed, to describe what kind of life you want to lead. Then ask yourself what’s required to meet that description. Some call it intentionality.

Intentionality is that persistent voice in your head that won’t let go. It helps you visualize possibilities between where you are and where you hope to be. One of my many intentional moments started in the hospital bed after the fire. I wasn’t listening to any of the skeptics who talked at my bedside about my limited chances for a full recovery. Instead, I was telling myself that I needed to focus on making a small improvement every day. 

Initially, my body had to adjust and stabilize while I had medical devices like an intubation tube and an IV supporting my recovery. As I began to heal and no longer need that assistance, my brain kicked in with that intentional voice. At first, I worked on getting from my bed to the chair in my hospital room by holding on to the rail apparatus. Then I graduated to making it all the way down the hall with someone’s help. Then I moved on to walking down the hall unsupported. 

Each step was a tiny victory. 

You know what they say about success. It breeds more success. Did I have setbacks? You bet. Were there moments when I needed to regroup? Sure. Bestselling author Brian Tracy says you become what you think about most of the time. I was intentionally thinking about that next step in my recovery all the time. I’m convinced that focus helped me shut out all the other stuff.

Full disclosure: I had the help of very few distractions since I was staring at the ceiling in my hospital bed early on and had a mask to remind me every time I looked in the mirror. Without the confinement of a bed or a physical reminder on your face, you may have to force the question by providing reminders for yourself throughout your day. You need those reminders to cut through the noise. 

Think about what’s always visible to you and list what behaviors will help you reach your goal. I’d love to hear how intentionality is working for you. It helped me get far beyond my mask-wearing days. I hope it does the same for you. 

Live beyond your mask,


Brian Walsh is an author, speaker and cofounder of Walsh & Nicholson Financial Group, serving over 1,000 clients in wealth management, estate and retirement planning, and more. His first book, Beyond the Mask: Lessons I Might Have Never Learned, was released in May 2020. He holds the esteemed designation of Certified Financial Fiduciary, serves as Vice President of the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation Board, and is deeply involved in charitable pursuits, including finding a cure for juvenile diabetes and supporting firefighters. Brian lives in Haverford, Pennsylvania, with wife Mary Ann. They have three children and two beautiful granddaughters.

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