Happiness Is A Moral Obligation

There are just a few basic things my wife and I require from our kids and, quite frankly, also from the people we hang out with. One of the most important thing for us is for people to “act happy.” It was about ten or twelve years ago when I came across a daily radio show on which the host, Dennis Prager, was dedicating one full hour a week to the topic of happiness. In his view people have a moral obligation to act happy. Since moods should not dictate how one acts the principle is simple: even if you are having a crappy day and don’t feel happy, you have a duty to act happy. Happy people make the world better and unhappy people make it worst.

I vividly remember a conversation with my son Alex when he was about six or seven year old. We were in the car listening to Dennis’ Happiness Hour and Alex said: “That’s crazy. So if someone steals my favourite toy I’m supposed to smile and say: I’m so happy someone stole my favourite toy?” I explained to him the concept: “You may feel sad or even angry that someone stole your favourite toy but that does not give you the right to act out on it. You have an obligation to keep behaving the right way and be nice to those around you, because those around you care more about how you behave and treat them than they care about how you feel.”

Fast forward to December 2014 and I was faced with the exact same kind of situation described by Alex: someone stole my favourite toy, a Project One Trek Madone 6.9, designed by me and with which I had trained, raced and also went on various memorable group rides. I wrote a blog post about the incident at the time. The short of it is that what happened the day my bike got stolen out of my garage in Tucson, Arizona was almost miraculous.

I reported the theft to the Tucson Police department. At about 9 pm Mary Lou and the kids were watching TV and I was outside smoking a cigar (something else I picked up from Dennis P.). That is when the doorbell rang. A police officer walked in, asked for my ID and took my report. I then told him a little bit about myself and why a family from Montreal, Canada had built a house in Tucson. I told him I am the Chairman of a professional cycling team whose professional riders all have Type -1 diabetes and that our team’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower people around the globe who are affected by diabetes. He responded: “I have Type-1 diabetes.” He tapped his shoulder and said “my insulin pump is here” and then tapped his hip and said “my continuous glucose monitor is here.” I wish someone could have recorded the family’s reaction. The officer added that he knows our team well and follows it closely. He told us that he is an avid cyclist who regularly competes in bike races. What are the odds of that?

That is where my first blog post on the stolen bike ended but that is not where the story ends.

A couple days later the officer came to pick up Alex at home and took him patrolling in Tucson. Needless to say, Alex thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I supported the idea from the start as I think it is important for kids, when they grow up, to be taught to be respectful to police officers (and obviously military persons) who everyday put their lives at risk to keep us safe. I also wanted Alex to see that how thin the line is between living a “normal” life and screwing up your life. You should have seen his face when he learned that the person who stole my bike was facing two years in jail. “Never take what doesn’t belong to you!”

The day after Alex’ “tour of duty” I woke up early, had breakfast, dressed warmly and headed out to meet the police officer and one of his buddies for a four hour bike ride. Within five minutes I knew I was in for a real bike ride.

Ready for a four hour ride.

Ready for a four hour ride.

The pace was high and while my breathing quickly became more difficult, the officer and his friend were just chatting away in front. Like most group rides, the pace settled down after a while and we had hours to get to know each other better. We spoke about diabetes management, cycling reforms, new biking technology, how to work together to help people affected by diabetes and much more. I had a really good time. It turns out the officer has a lifetime of service to this country and community, including serving in the military and correctional services.

It also turns out that like too many people, once diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he was told by his doctor to quit riding his bike so much. Given the fact we run a professional cycling team comprised of riders who all have Type 1 diabetes, he was a little puzzled by the advice he got. I know too well the importance that cycling can have on somebody’s life so I can imagine his reaction.

This is not where the story ends neither. I got my new riding buddy a team kit. By pure coincidence, he was registered to ride the Phoenix Tour de Cure the following week-end and was one of the guest speakers. Guess which kit he proudly wore at that event?

Proudly wearing our colours.

Proudly wearing our colours.

It gets even better. The officer, I am told, is seriously considering joining me and members of our foundation, the Team Type 1 Foundation, and participate in the Haute Route Alps in August. The Haute Route Alps is a seven day race from Nice to Geneva. We will ride our bikes about 900 kilometers and climb about 22,000 meters. Our foundation is the exclusive charity associated with the Haute Route and we have a uniquely strong partnership with the organizers. We use the event as a way to raise money for the foundation which we then use to provide supplies to the all of the kids in Rwanda who have Type 1 diabetes.

I should also mention that my bike getting stolen has had a positive impact on my cycling. After the Christmas holiday I flew from Tucson to Spain to be with our team for a two week training camp. I rode a team bike and found it to be stiffer than my old bike and it made me more comfortable, especially on the descents. I also realized that riding with compact gearing wasn’t ideal for me. On the new bike I had more speed and could always find the right gear to climb, attack on the flats and even drop people on the downhill rollers.

My new bike.

My new bike.

How cool is the story of the stolen bike? Pretty cool indeed. It isn’t a story about theft, sadness, anger or financial loss. It is a story about happiness, inspiration, education and making the world a better place.

So next time something bad happens to you, remember Alex’ comment and keep a smile on your face. You never know how things will turn out.