Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When I Learned to Actively Pursue Happiness (Life Changing Moments Series)

This week's guest post for the Life Changing Moments series comes from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. I first "met" Debbie through her work on the's Market Watch column. For close to a decade, we worked together (her in Toronto, me in Ohio and then Georgia), though she posted her last news update to the site this past December. Debbie is now focusing more on her career as a writer and illustrator for children's books. For instance, she's the illustrator for I'm Bored, by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Be sure to check out, her illustrated guide to kidlit and young adult writing and illustrating, as well as

Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Photo credit: Beckett Gladney.

The biggest life-changing moment for me occurred on August 6th, 1993 when the phone rang at around 1:30 a.m. A phone call in the wee hours of the morning is never a good thing but up to then, it had always been a wrong number.

This time, it was my father calling to tell me that my brother Jim and his wife Diane had been killed in a car accident.

Apparently they had been on the way to meet friends for a camping trip. According to witnesses, their car drifted left onto the median shoulder of the highway, veered right and seemed to be fine for a moment, then angled sharply left again, across the grass median and into the path of an 18-wheeler. My brother and his wife died instantly. We never found out what caused the car to lose control.

Jim and Diane on wedding day.

I know the whole "life is short" phrase has become a cliché, but the heart of those words remains true. Losing my mother a few years before the accident to cancer and seeing Jim and Diane having their lives cut short so unexpectedly (they were both only 27, married just over a year) has made me much more conscious of the choices I make in how I live.

I'm far less inclined now to just coast. I'm more willing to take risks when it comes to pursuing what I want. I'd rather dive in than cautiously dip in a toe. Sometimes things don't work out and I fail spectacularly, but only after giving it my best shot.

I actively pursue happiness instead of just hoping it happens my way. If I'm consistently unhappy about an aspect of my life, I try to change it instead of just complaining. I choose my friends instead of letting them choose me, and seek out those who inspire and motivate me.

It's so easy to take people and things for granted, especially when you've never experienced loss. Sometimes when I'm feeling upset about some minor inconvenience or slight, I'll purposely remind myself to put things in perspective.

Debbie with her sister and brother, Jim. Photo by their dad.

Not all of the changes in my life are necessarily good. I'm far less patient with certain types of people than I used to be, and some of my friendships have suffered as a result. I get especially impatient with people who waste my time or are overly passive, or who are drifting unhappily through their lives but are too scared or lazy to attempt to improve their situation.

Overall, though, that one life-changing moment years ago has set me on a path that is much more good than bad. And I'd like to think that if my brother were to peek in to see how I was living my life, he'd be pleased.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:


Nin Andrews said...

What an amazing story. So often the greatest sorrows plunge us into despair. But in your case, as a result of your suffering, you "actively pursue happiness." Wow!

Andrea (Andee) Beltran said...

". If I'm consistently unhappy about an aspect of my life, I try to change it instead of just complaining. I choose my friends instead of letting them choose me, and seek out those who inspire and motivate me."

These two sentences struck me this morning. Too many (including myself) fear change, but why fear when you seek out something/someone that will result in more happiness?

Thank you, Debbie, for your post, and Robert for sharing it on your blog.

Julie said...

Debbie! I can relate. Thanks for sharing your story :)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Nin: Thank you. I don't always succeed, but I find it's the trying that counts.

Andrea: Thank you for your kind words. I still wrestle with fears and insecurity, but try to do at least one thing each week that pushes outside of my comfort zone.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Julie: You're welcome! Glad you enjoyed my guest post. :-)

Carmella Van Vleet said...

Your post made me tear up. But they were both sad and happy tears. "Choosing happiness" is something I need to work on more often. I'm all for taking risks, too. I decided that making mistakes is okay, but not even trying is not. Regret weights so much more than failure.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Carmella, I love your phrase: "Regret weights so much more than failure." Thank you.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

That really is a great phrase, Carmella.

Also, I just want to say thank you again to Debbie for sharing this story.

Kate Fall said...

Thank you, Debbie, for sharing your story. I'd like to adopt "I'm far less inclined now to just coast" as my mission statement. Coasting really is a luxury I cannot afford; it costs too much.

Collin Kelley said...

"I'm far less patient with certain types of people than I used to be, and some of my friendships have suffered as a result. I get especially impatient with people who waste my time or are overly passive, or who are drifting unhappily through their lives but are too scared or lazy to attempt to improve their situation."


Renee LaTulippe said...

Debbie, my experience mirrors yours -- thanks for writing what I couldn't. I feel lucky that I've never been afraid of risk and change and rejection, and my experiences only strengthened my natural tendencies, though not in a completely positive way. I am now often anxious at the end of the day, thinking "Did I waste it? Did I do enough?" So I understand your impatience with certain people, too. Nothing to do but keep doing, really. :)

Rhonda Parrish said...

Fantastic post Debbie, so touching and so true. You're awesome, and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post! Your insight is so true! I've been struggling with my role as an artist/illustrator lately. Mainly, I've been angry that I've let money (or lack of it) dictate my art. It's really affected my work and my attitude. Just as I was ready to give up illustrating, I got an offer to do something I really loved. I loved it so much I did it for free because I was so grateful for the opportunity. As I was doing the project, I decided that I had to LEAD with the kind of work I wanted to do, truly love it, embrace it, and seek out more of the same, instead of complaining about what comes my way. It's a conscious choice to be happy. You're right. Life is short. We need people like you (and Robert) to remind us every once in a while. :)

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atlanticmo said...

Thanks for sharing, Debbie. You are such a bright light. Keep shining.

Beth Stilborn said...

Thank you Debbie. What good learnings, indeed life-changing learnings, to glean from such a devastating experience. My heart goes out to you, and my heart rejoices with you that you've taken the grief experience and built such good, life-giving things upon it.

Thank you for sharing, and thank you for helping me remember to keep things in perspective. I have finally learned to truly open myself to possibilities and not let the fears that held me back for so long get in my way, and my life is so much richer.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing Debbie, Your out-look on life is beautiful. It is amazing how through our struggles we can see positive out of them. I also went through many losses, but it has made me stronger and more aware of not taking everything for granted.
Congratulations on your book, your brother and mom are proud of you, I am sure of it!

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Kate: Yay for not coasting!

Collin: :-)

Renee: Good for you re: never been afraid of risk and change and rejection! I used to go to extreme lengths to avoid confrontation, and would almost always opt for the safe/easy rather than risky/adventurous. I still don't like confrontation and still get nervous about taking risks, but I don't let it get in the way as often.

Rhonda: Thank you so much.

Cat: Thanks, Cat, and I'm so glad you enjoyed my post. And good for you re: pursuing happiness! Fingers crossed for you.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Atlanticmo: Thank you for your kind words.

Beth: Thanks so much, Beth. And good for you re: not letting fears get in the way of embracing life.

White: Thank you! And I'm so sorry to hear about your losses but glad to hear that you've found a positive outlook from it.

Hardygirl said...

Wow, Debbie. Amazing story. And I'm so sorry for your loss.

I need to print this up as a reminder--especially to remind myself to take risks and pursue happiness.

As I've gotten older, I've gradually curated (sounds nicer than dissed or tossed aside, yes?) my group of friends. I found that I was wasting a lot of energy with some toxic friendships.

Thanks for sharing this!

Susan Scott said...

Thank you Debbie for sharing your incredible story. And I love the comments by other people as well .. all inspiring and heart felt. Best wishes, Susan

Anonymous said...

Debbie, thank you for this post. I'm so sorry for your loss but gratified to see that good has come from it. I'm sure your brother would be - and is - pleased. I've coasted way too long myself and am learning to move away from that. You are an inspiration for many!

God bless, Anne Marie :)

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Debbie, I didn't know about your brother, but I can definitely say you are a gal who lives her life with GUMPTION! Hugs, e

Debbie Ridpath Ohi said...

Hardygirl, Susan and Anne Marie: Thank you!

Christopher Denise said...

Very inspiring-thank you!