Richard and Paige Sowden live in Texas with their two kids, Emory and Tatum. Through their children’s adolescence, Richard’s recovery with alcoholism, and Paige’s ownership of Interior Resources (a custom rug company), this is his view on happiness, interviewed by myself at their home.
After a lovely dinner of chicken covered in baked squash with grapes, toast, and salad, accompanied by a glass of bubbling Sprite, we sit down on the couch. I have my computer, pen and pencil in my hands, and the family is sprawled across the many chairs and other comfortable furniture pieces. The mood in the house is light, and as the faithful family watch, I ask my first question.
What makes you qualified to know these things about life?
R: I’m living. I’ve had a lot of experience and learned things the hard way, through bad experiences. In the world’s view, I’ve had a lot of success in my life. But what the world defines as success, I have not found satisfaction in.
What has been the hardest for you in life so far?
R: Getting over my own selfishness. I fail at it every day, and I try. But we’re so programmed to get and consume. Chase new things, and it’s never enough.
How has this selfishness manifested in your life?
R: Activities that I chose to do that were unhealthy and the amount of time I spent working was damaging to my sense of peace. I wouldn’t call it happiness, as the world calls it, but inner peace. I would say even though I know or think this to be true, I still struggle to be selfless.
What are things you do that make you happy or give you inner peace?
R: Spending time with my family, reading, serving others, such as things like mission trips and being friendly.
What would be your advice to those that aren’t happy?
R: Usually when people are upset, it’s because of internalization. Instead of telling them what to do, let them tell you what’s bothering them, and being there to listen is sometimes all they need.
How has having kids changed your happiness?
R: It’s been a learning process. Obviously initially, when they’re born they require constant attention and for a selfish person this can cause a lot of distress. But having children has taught me to be less selfish and think about what was best for them, and not always getting what I wanted.
How does that differ from being married?
R: The response should be the same, but it’s easier to be selfish in relationships. Humans have an innate nature to care for our children, and children are more dependent. When my wife Paige and I first had kids, we fought a lot over little and big things, like chores or not getting to spend enough time doing what we wanted. Over the years we both have become less self centered and our relationship has become a lot more fulfilling as a result.
Do you think a lot of your happiness has come from religion?
R: Yes, I think this all stems from religion. It all started from the serpent telling Eve to eat the apple to have all encompassing knowledge of how God did and saw things. That is ultimate selfishness, trying to play God.
Have you ever had to trade something selfish in order to achieve happiness?
R: I traded alcohol for being more present in my family. Even though it may not appear like I’m involved, I’m there and I’m listening. Doing this has reduced my guilt, stress, and irritability. I’m here for my family and it feels good.
As the interview wraps up, we go around the room and ask each other what our favorite things about the other person are. I’ve known this family for 6 years, and they’ve grown with me. Richard looks on with a smile as I prepare to leave for the night.