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  • Writer's picturePeter Stadalsky

The Happy Bus Guy

How do you spend your time? No matter what you do or don’t do, what is each moment like? It is easy for us to get stuck in the mindset of always looking ahead. Looking towards getting out of work, keeping focused on the weekend ahead, or maybe even next year when that bill will finally be paid off. And then, you can finally enjoy things. This is called anxiety.

If our heads go back the other direction and always compare our present experience to past experiences, it is easy to drift into fear. This is called depression. “Those were the good old days” we say. Or “things just ain’t like they used to be. Which is true, but that doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. What if we are living the good ol’ days, today? Every day? Is that possible?

So how you spend your time means, what does each moment feel like, day to day? Of course moods go up and down, but what is our idling emotion constantly humming in the background. Do you wake up grateful, knowing each day brings a new adventure, or is it a drag to crawl out from under the sheets?

"I'm staying here today" - Unmotivated Cat

Unmotivated cat performs the "blanket retreat."

So there is this guy Phil. He has those squinted eyes that always smile. You wouldn’t even have to look under his handlebar mustache at his actual smile, his eyes tell it all. He is a bear of a man, standing six and a half feet. There is such a stability to him that if a car clipped him while crossing the street, the car would likely suffer more damage. When I shake his hand, my hand looks like it belongs to a toddler. Inside this bear is the sweetest man that many people know.

And he is so happy. Every time he walks into the room there is this sense that things are going to be okay. You can tell a truly happy person by how they carry themselves and how they speak. They are always content with just how life has played out. No desires to go back and do it again and no need to hurry up and make a million changes to become happy. A happy person usually seems more interested in others than himself. This is Phil.

When you ask him what he does you’d be surprised.

“Oh, I drive a big yellow school bus,” he says.

Having a fulfilling life doesn’t mean you have to save kittens from a burning building or start a multi-billion dollar business. From all my searching and questioning; it doesn’t matter what you do as much as how you do it. Now Phil may have done some rescuing in his life, being an army veteran, and he has already retired from his career. But now he drives a big yellow bus.

I asked him why he drives this big yellow banana.

“It was just my turn,” he said, with that smile, of course.

““Someone drove my kids to school every day and made sure they got there safe. Now it’s my turn.”

Falling into things is more profound than it sounds. We all plan out our lives and really hope the world cooperates, but that is not always the case. It’s about 50/50. Half the time life goes to plan, half the time other stuff happens. The amount of control over life’s outcomes is a lot less than we would like to believe. I know there will be some major disagreements coming from those who believe everything in their life is there because they worked hard for it.

But how do you plan for an unexpected death? Or suddenly losing your 20-year job? House burns down, car accident, etc. On the contrary, what about those amazing opportunities that just “show up.” Everything comes together with seemingly divine planning or you hit the lottery. We cannot always choose what comes in life, but the most important thing we can choose is how to respond to it.

Phil explained, even though some of his passenger are as young as 3, they don’t hesitate to test him. One day, one of the “little pups” laid smack dab in the aisle and released unabridged screams at the top of his lungs, just to see what Phil would do. Nothing grows faster than the wild energy of 60 kids who were just preloaded with bowls of sugary Cinnamon Toast Crunch right before they hopped on the bus.

Young man experiences the elevated effects of American cereals.

Amongst the occasional outbursts and maniac kid behavior, Phil has found ways to amend the situations rather than losing his cool. The most important thing about driving other people’s kids to school is making sure they get there safely. He’s got to watch the road and watch that big rear facing mirror simultaneously. One trick Phil has discovered is the power of music. Now, they didn’t respond too well to 60’s folk singer, James Taylor, but a little Hawaiian music and the kids are cool as coconuts. When the right song tunes in, Phil watches the little heads propped up over the seats slowing sink back into their seats. Like a bunch of gophers retreating back into the earth.

Bus driving jobs don’t make people any happier than a million dollars. But happy people do become bus drivers and happy people can make a million dollars. The job, the status, and the dollars do not produce a happy person, but a happy person can surely produce those things. As long as we buy into the lie that we need things to be happy, we will always be chasing that next shiny new toy or achievement. It is very difficult to see life this way. Some people will always measure wealth in dollars. Others will measure wealth in the experiences they have.

Phil has gotten to watch, over and over, mothers and fathers send their children off into the world for the first time. Over the school year, his face became a familiar one to the parents waving their kids off to school. Twice a day, just for a passing moment, he gets to move in and out of families’ lives. The amazing thing he said is how each kid has such a unique personality. And he gets to watch these personalities grow into their oversized shoes. A little bit, day after day.

These are the moments in life that are well spent. The ones that do not have a price tag on them. The ones that make it all seem worthwhile. To see this as a privilege in life is true gratitude. Gratitude is being happy with what you’ve got, instead of focusing on what you are missing. For the 99% of us who are not T.V. stars or world icons, we are the everyday soldiers. The ones who make this world stand together. Don’t ever believe that what you do is not important.

When those little kids step up onto the bus for the first time and look up to see husky Phil and his squinty eyes, they may stop dead in their tracks. Then his gentle self comes through:

“Hey buddy, do you know how to tie your shoes?” he asked.

The little guy looked down at his tied shoes and looked back up at Phil.


“Well, those are some cool light up shoes.”

You don’t have to be on the television to be significant. You don’t have to have money to impact someone’s life. You don’t need a special degree to make others feel appreciated. And you don’t need anything you don’t already have to be happy. Ask the Happy Bus Guy.

Phil humbly denied using his photo and last name, in the spirit of principles before personalities.

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