In Miami Beach, we have our fair share of hurricanes and hurricane warnings. Because most of the city is built just above sea level, we also get our fair share of floods. What I’ve always found so incredible about the people here is that they seem to weather storms so well. When a hurricane is on its way, they don’t panic. If they don’t already have hurricane supplies, they go purchase all the necessary materials and close their hurricane shutters. Then they figure out where the hottest party is going to be for that night — and the one after, and the one after that! And if they aren’t into partying, they call their closest friends and go to a movie, rent a movie, or make a movie, depending on the kinds of friends they have. Residents don’t run for the hills, book the first flight out of Dodge, or break down in a fit of tears. They are more resilient than that. They know that the storm will pass.


Often the storm ends up being not as bad as predicted. On the few rare occasions when the storm is worse than expected, people still remain calm. If an evacuation is ordered, people seem almost enthusiastic to drive off to a nearby shelter. There’s no rush, no fear, and very little confusion or chaos. It’s quite a sight. The tourists, of course, are different. They are filled with sheer terror. What they don’t know is that bad weather always looks worse through a window.


Miami residents, for the most part, are used to the fire drills that are part and parcel of living in a tropical climate. They know that dark clouds can appear out of nowhere and deliver a torrential downpour. They also know that after a two-hour rainfall the skies can open up and it can turn into the most wonderful, brilliantly sunlit day you could ever imagine.


The weather in Miami — alternately stormy and calm — is a lot like our lives. Sometimes storms wreak havoc and things don’t work out as we had hoped. That’s a given. It’s how we cope with, respond to, and rebound from the adversity in life that makes all the difference. Happy people handle adversity much as the residents of Miami handle storms and hurricanes: they take it in stride and appreciate how it can shake things up for the better. When you practice happiness from the inside out, adversity reveals hidden strengths, weeds out some relationships and cultivates those that re-main, and clarifies what’s most important in your life.


Hidden Strengths and The Wizard of Oz


You are never stronger, more focused, and more clear about what you want than when you are experiencing extreme adversity. You’ve heard of women lifting cars several feet into the air to save their babies’ lives? Well, there you go. But the kind of strength I’m referring to isn’t just the physical kind. It’s also the psychological and emotional kind.


The film The Wizard of Oz (1939) illustrates well how adversity can uncover hidden strengths by forcing us to rise to the occasion. In case you don’t remember, Dorothy Gale lives a simple life in Kansas with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and three colorful farm hands. One day Miss Gulch, a neighbor, is bitten by Dorothy’s dog, Toto. Miss Gulch takes Toto away, by order of the sheriff, over the protests of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Toto escapes and returns to Dorothy, who is momentarily elated. But Dorothy soon realizes that Miss Gulch will return. She decides to take Toto and run away in search of a better life “somewhere over the rainbow.” On their journey Dorothy encounters a fortune-teller who, out of concern for Dorothy, tricks her into believing Aunt Em is ill. Dorothy rushes back to the farm but is then carried away with the house and without her family by a sudden tornado.


When Dorothy awakens, she discovers that she has un-wittingly killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Glinda, the Good Witch, magically slips the dead witch’s ruby slippers onto Dorothy’s feet and instructs her to visit the Wizard of Oz if she is intent on returning home.


During her journey along the yellow brick road, Dorothy meets several companions who all want a better, happier life, and they think the Wizard can deliver it to them. The Lion desires courage, the ability to face fear. The Tin Man wants a heart, the ability to feel compassion. The Scarecrow desires a brain, the virtue of wisdom.

Dorothy is in search of a better life herself. In addition, the opening scenes of the movie showed Dorothy to be lacking in each of the virtues that her new companions want to acquire. One of the farmhands accused her of not using her brain (lack of wisdom); she ran away when things got difficult (lack of courage); and she left her family (lack of compassion).


By the end of the movie, however, things have changed quite significantly for Dorothy. The adversity Dorothy encounters reveals in her a number of hidden strengths. She expresses courage when confronting the Wicked Witch of the West and when approaching the Wizard; she shows care, kindness, love, and compassion for her new friends by consistently encouraging them to march forward in search of their dreams. Likewise, she shows the same kind of compassion and love when she decides to return to Kansas. In fact, that decision is probably the greatest testament to her transcendent experience and her character development because she comes to the realization that “if you can’t find your heart’s desire in your own backyard, then you never really lost it to begin with.” She stops looking for happiness in other places and begins to truly understand that everything she needs to live a happy life is inside her.


The message is clear. All of us have what we need al-ready; all that we desire we have already. From this perspective, happiness is less about improving things or getting things than it is about appreciating things, accepting ourselves, cultivating things, and expressing pre-existing strengths. The question becomes: “Which part of myself do I want to show up in this present time-space reality?”


Life’s trials and tribulations provide the opportunities for character expression. In this vein, there is no such thing as finding yourself; there is only expressing different parts of yourself when adversity presents its challenges. In The Wizard of Oz, adversity is clearly a catalyst for character strength and virtue development. And all of the characters own and exhibit their virtues long before the Wizard awards them the physical symbols of those virtues.


Robert Mack is the author of Happiness from the Inside Out. He is the resident life coach for Miami Life Center, of Travel & Leisure’s top twenty-five health and wellness centers. Visit him online at


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Excerpted with permission from Happiness from the Inside Out  © 2009 by Robert Mack. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.  or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.

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