05/16/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Value of a [Sunshine] Dollar

"Sunshine dollars. That's what they're called..."

I had only known RJ for ten minutes when we were paired up as golf partners at the local municipal course; he had just verbally dropped in my lap insight that would remain with me all week. That morning, both of us were walk-ons (no reservation) on the golf course; enjoying a random Tuesday morning in March and playing a little hookie. I later found out it was just me playing hookie, RJ, sixty-five and in great health, is semi-retired.

"Sunshine Dollars? What do you mean?" I asked.

"All my life I've lived in California. I've had many opportunities to move, and many of those jobs offered a lot more money than the one I held. But it wasn't about the money. The difference was what I had to give up in Sunshine Dollars. Living here and having 300 days of beautiful weather. Those are Sunshine Dollars. You can't buy them anywhere else."

I thought RJ was fully retired, but he's not. Maybe if he had taken those other jobs he would have been retired; it's only speculation on my part because he never talked about it. He chose his path and took pride in appreciating each one of those 300 days.

As we continued to play the course my mind wandered often -- as did my ball for different reasons -- to the decisions I made in my life and the road I ultimately chose for myself. Part of the key to happiness, I believe, is when we take an active part in our destiny. Sure, many people like the mantra "If it was meant to be, it will happen." That's all fine but you don't mysteriously get transported to work and food does not magically show up on your plate each mealtime. You have a role in making something happen. If not, you are truly a victim of circumstances. And that phrase is more meaningful in bad times than in happy times.

When I was in my early twenties and living in Philadelphia for the better part of a year, I read many books by Ayn Rand and Paulo Coelho, and allowed all of them to become very significant in my life. I began to question how I got to Philly and why. And what did I want to do in this life, since I believed I had but one? I realized a desire to move out West. Maybe Seattle. Why? No other reason than it was all the way across the country and as a kid I played on a basketball team named the Supersonics (fortunately the Seattle Supersonics still existed in 1992). I quickly scheduled a visit to Seattle and over a weekend trip, knew that I wanted to move. So I sent myself a postcard of the Seattle skyline and on the back wrote, "See you here soon!" And then I mailed it. Upon my return to Philadelphia I waited anxiously for the mail and, upon receipt of the note, put it on my refrigerator, and planned my adventure two months away.

When I gave noticed to my employer I fielded serial questions about my pending departure: "Why Seattle? Do you have another job lined up? Do you know anyone there?" The list went on and many people said they would not make the move if they were me. I quickly realized the difference. They weren't me. And I was excited to go. And nervous. Very nervous.

Driving across country is fine if you have a reason. Honestly I didn't have a reason. In order to diffuse self-doubt about this life-altering quest from life as I knew it, I had to manufacture a reason that I could honestly believe. After all, your mind can be/should be/ IS your friend. If you treat it right.

I came up with the notion that I was going to Seattle to meet someone. I just didn't know who, or where, or when. And that I left my clothes there. This latter idea stemmed from the experience that if you go somewhere, like a friend's house, and forget an item, you get in the car and drive back; no questions asked. I was going to go to Seattle and the travel rule would be not look back, unless it was a side view mirror on the automobile.

Things in Seattle worked out great. I stayed there until 1997 when I relocated to LA. Looking back at the Seattle skyline postcard I sent myself in Philly I realized my Seattle apartment, eerily, was front and center in the picture.

That trip out West changed my life and it also changed my relationship with my mind. That might sound odd, but it is very important to know and understand yourself. Your likes, your dislikes, what makes you happy and what makes you sad. You may have all the friends in the world but the only friend that can truly make you happy is yourself. Treat yourself that way.

Robert Frost famously wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." I'm not suggesting that RJ, or myself, took the road less traveled. No, indeed not, I'm saying that RJ chose his road, and what he gave up to get there, others may consider a sacrifice. But only because they would have taken the other path. And that is why there is room for all of us to share in the wealth of life.

Invest in yourself and your happiness. What's your Sunshine Dollar?