Others move us more subtly, like the story of my grandfather, who proves happiness has as much to do with who you are as where you find yourself.
An afternoon drive with Grandpa is a trip through the past, and a map of what was a life I never knew.
"I remember when this was gravel," he says. "I've been from Aubrey to Marianna in one day in a wagon and team."
Jimmie Franklin Manley was born on a small family farm in the east Arkansas Delta.
"Everybody worked," he recalls. "You didn't mind working because everybody worked -- you didn't know any different."
His childhood included weeks of chopping cotton, and time to play was only seen in stolen moments.
"Daddy'd come down there and say, 'Boy get back out there, it didn't rain enough not to chop,'" he says.
Poverty often shared a seat at the dinner table, and school came second to surviving.
"We didn't know we were poor, because everybody was," says Grandpa.
Still, he graduated at the top of his 10-student senior class with an offer at a college education.
"I had room and board, books, everything," he says. "To show you how smart I was, I enlisted in the Navy," he says.
The boy who hadn't traveled farther than Little Rock turned the world into his classroom - from San Diego to New York City.
"I got to where I could ride the subway just like a native up there," he recalls.
But despite the rush of the big city, he couldn't ignore the dirt and diesel in his blood.
"People like to see those mountains. I like to see those long bean rows," says Grandpa.
So he chose to come back home, started a life with his high school sweetheart raising a family and returned to 50 years of more back-breaking work.
"I'd rather wear out as rust out," he says.
There's no library or foundation in his honor, but a building does bear his name.
"There are very few people who get to do what they like. I've been blessed," says Grandpa.
If you peel back the layers of years, there are imperfections: white flight after integration, the fallout as factories found other cities; his home becoming a place people leave behind.
"Life goes on. Sometimes I don't like the way things happen, but I can't change it," he says.
It may not be the road I, or anyone else would choose, but the fact is he did, and has been happier for it.
"You can't let someone else dictate how you live your life," says Grandpa.
It's taken me 25 years to take his best advice to heart: understanding happiness is a choice people make by allowing life to move forward.