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Everyone wants to be happy. How often do we begin each day hoping that sadness and problems are on the day’s agenda? We read books, listen to talks and seek other resources looking for the key to happiness...but sometimes the biggest lessons in life come from the most unlikely of places. Working with homeless women and children has brought me many experiences and life lessons. I just never believed a lesson in how to be happy would be included.

When I began working at ACCESS Homeless shelter I believed that I would be the one doing the teaching but often the roles are reversed. Some days I serve the shelter, other days the shelter serves me. I see the trials homeless women endure on a day to day basis and often wonder how a smile can still exist on their faces. After many conversations and endless stories, I have learned their secret. Here is how the homeless have taught me to be happy.

Happy people live in community - At any given time, approximately19 women and 20 children live at ACCESS. No matter their past, their present lives look identical…they are all homeless. Community forms when a common bond exists and that is true in a homeless shelter. Over meals and program sessions, you will find each woman sharing resources, referrals and opportunities. Instead of being in competition, they are in community.

Happy people are content people - When a resident moves into the shelter, they are limited in what they are allowed to bring. In other words, they are only allowed to bring what can fit in a black garbage bag. When I see black bags at the entrance to the shelter, I often evaluate my own life and inventory. What would be in my bag? What would I consider a need or a want? What would I be able to get by on and what would be unnecessary baggage.

Happy people have a unique perspective - I remember a client coming to ACCESS after making a tough choice. Option one was a life of comfort that accompanied danger while option two was to voluntarily become homeless and free from temptation and addiction. We may look at being homeless as a step backward, but others see it as a step forward.

Happy people allow circumstances to develop character - Poverty hears the word “NO” a lot. The “NO” can be an interruption that causes you to quit or an inconvenience that causes you to come up with a new plan. Facing and overcoming an inconvenience forces us to be resourceful and creative.

Happy people don’t let situations define them - Life comes with ups and downs, highs and lows. It is up to us to decide which one will be our legacy. Homeless is who they are now, but not who they will be forever.

So…would you like to be happy? You may just find it in an unlikely place.

Joy Trachsel wants others to stop and look at poverty in a different way! As a Christian author and speaker, she travels nationally and internationally inspiring women to follow their calling. Her motto “we can’t do everything but we can do something” serves as a foundation to her life and her message. Learn more by visiting

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