Bloom Where You’re Planted: What Haze Mabry, an Elementary School Janitor, Has to Teach Us About Leading a Happy LifeApril 15th, 2019 // Tags: healing, mental health, relationships, trauma
Haze Mabry has much to teach us when it comes to leading a happy life.
A few days ago this story by Allison Klein, editor of Washington Post’s Inspired Life, appeared there and has since gone viral.
“Haze Mabry”, writes Klein, “who works as a janitor at an elementary school in Georgia, walks into the building every day and empties trash cans, wipes down bathrooms and mops wet messes in the hallways.
Last week, after he arrived at Pike County Elementary, instead of finding garbage to clean up, he found almost 800 students lining the hallways with handmade cards and banners, blowing noisemakers and singing a full-throated happy birthday to him. It was his 80th.
The students chanted “Mr. Haze! Mr. Haze!” as he walked the long corridor, and some spontaneously popped out of line to hug him”.
Haze Mabry has found a way to be happy where he is. He isn’t postponing the good feeling of love and caring for a day in his life that looks perfect. Rather he is engaged in what he has turned into, a profoundly meaningful and purposeful work life, being a janitor in an elementary school. Simply put, he is a very important part of the day for hundreds of little children who feel they can come to him with a problem, ask for a hug, a high five or a little love. As a psychologist, I am amazed and moved to see how closely Haze Mabry’s life is to the studies on what makes people happy. I will let the reader connect to Klein’s full story below, but I can’t resist commenting on a few of the high points from a research point of view. The quotes below are all from Klein’s article in The Washington Post. As exemplified in them, Mr. Mabry hits some of the top 9 in terms of happiness.
“He’s the most loved person in this whole building,” said teacher Lori Gilreath, who planned his surprise. “He won’t brag on himself, but it doesn’t matter what he’s doing or where he is, he will always stop what he’s doing to take care of a child if that child is having a bad day.”
- He is capable of receiving love, this one is where psychology and spirituality cross over in this most basic and profound human need (to say nothing of mammals, plants etc….plenty of research there, too!)
“He doesn’t expect a lot,” Gilreath said. “He just wants to work hard and love on people.”
2. He is capable of giving love, he is not waiting for it, he’s a love generator. Relationships are connected in the research to everything from physical and emotional health to longevity, they are happiness hack numero uno. Enjoy the people around you.
“Mr. Haze, he works circles around all of us,” she said. “It’s hard to keep up with him.”
800 Children sang “Happy Birthday”
3. He has purposeful action, he moves his body. Moving your body allows the physiological mood-regulating chemicals like serotonin to flow. “Use it or lose it” is the chant in terms of keeping physical health, flexibility, and balance as you move along in years.
“They’re like my children,” Mabry said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I’m like the old lady in the shoe.”
4. He has a sense of humor, he has imagination and he’s not stuck in a role, not stereotyped, “I’m like the old lady in the shoe” WOW, go Mr. Mabry. Laughter is cleansing for both the brain and the body and it resets us if we’re out of balance, particularly a good belly laugh.
Did he feel like a celebrity? No. Did he feel special? No. He said he felt loved.
5. He can accept care and support from others which is not only part of resolving trauma, as trauma makes you freeze up, shut down and isolate, it is part of feeling alive and connected to something bigger than ourselves.
“My wife was singing happy birthday, and I was dancing, if you can call it dancing. I’m not a good dancer,” he said. “You know this little thing called the floss? I was trying to floss. No, I cannot floss.”
6. He dances (whether or not it’s ‘good’. Dance, too is an age-old method of resolving trauma and moving painful feelings through the body, it is also an age-old form of the celebration of life. He is in a long term committed relationship. Research says he’ll live longer and better.
“Mabry, one of nine siblings who grew up picking cotton and peppers not far from the school, has been the janitor at Pike County Elementary for 13 years. The school recently hired someone to help him, but that person works a shorter schedule. Mabry arrives at 6:30 a.m. and doesn’t leave until 5:30 p.m”.
7. He is humble and hardworking. “No, I cannot floss” who cares, floss anyway. The important thing is not how well you sing or dance or even love, it is that you sing and dance and love. He is committed.
“Over the weekend, he said, he was still working through the piles of homemade cards at his house. He wanted to be sure to read each one. One card from a student stood out to him. It read: “Mr. Haze, you are my sunshine.”……“I feel the same way about them,” he said.
9. He has what researchers call “heart coherence” which will emanate to all of the organs of his body. He can recall a pleasant moment over and over and over again and experience pleasure.
Haze Mabry can see and create meaning and purpose in the life he has. He is not on a constant search for some elusive happiness that is “out there”, he is finding it where he is standing, he is the one bringing the meaning. He is creating his own happiness.