Some say that happiness is what we make it. The more time I spend with a certain friend, the more I’m convinced that’s true.

Several years ago, he was a successful businessman. Then one of his employees had a breakdown and showed up with a shotgun, intent on killing as many people as he could. In an attempt to disarm the man, my friend lost a hand and an eye. When he was released from the hospital weeks later, his savings were gone. My wife and I met him when we began volunteering at the homeless shelter where he was living. By then he also had Parkinson’s disease and a serious form of skin cancer. He could barely walk or get out of a chair by himself, but he was one of the most cheerful, positive people I had ever met.

He has since moved from the shelter to an apartment, where he lives on a small pension. Two surgeries stopped the cancer before it could spread, and medication and therapy are helping him deal with Parkinson’s. Still, on a bad day there are very few things that he can do for himself. Taking him to doctor appointments and shopping has been a learning experience for me. Regardless of what we’re doing or how arduous it is for him, he has a secret agenda: never leave anyone without a smile. And he always succeeds. He learns everyone’s name, includes it in his cheery goodbye, and remembers it next time. He finds opportunities to build people up and is generous with compliments. He tells corny jokes. He pokes fun at himself. Whatever it takes.

A lot of people, if they were in his position, would blame God or become bitter, but not my friend. “That’s no way to live—and I’ve still got a lot of living to do,” he has told me.

Happiness is what we make it.