I realize my timing might be off. Posting this happiness booster just days after a presidential election that left many of us — including me — devastated and exceedingly concerned about the future, may be long before many people are ready to read about happiness. I myself feel a low-grade stomach ache. The threats are real on almost every front, from bullying to grave damage to democracy itself to the big question, will Trump’s actions on climate change lead inevitably to an unlivable planet? Never have we more desperately needed a gross national happiness approach to measuring governmental success, but that is surely not currently in the cards.
On the other hand, perhaps a dose of happiness will be a helpful diversion, as we breathe, recover, and prepare to advocate with all our hearts for well being for the ill who need health insurance, for the brave souls at Standing Rock, for the Black Lives Matter movement, for the LBGTQ community, for Latinos and Muslims, for the environment, even well being for future generations. We need to be our personal best to do this work, and as discordant as this may sound right now, greater personal happiness — ie, hope, energy, confidence, compassion, resilience, and creativity — will help us succeed.
Thus I share with you the informal “poll” I took the Saturday before Election Day, when I exhibited at the annual Wellness Fair hosted by Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, Vermont. The centerpiece of my booth was a simple colorful poster asking, “What Makes You Happy?”
Seventy-three boys, girls, women, and men took the time to write or draw their responses, and it was a beautiful experience. A friend started it off with “Standing With Standing Rock” which later earned a “Me too.” She had just participated in a march on a local bank which has ties to the North Dakota Access Pipeline. I, too, have felt the happiness of meaning and community in marching for climate justice. Her word provided an auspicious beginning.
In fact, I could personally appreciate a lot of what people wrote: “yoga!”, “a cup of coffee!” “the ocean,” “singing,” “books,” “a really good book,” and “sunshine,” for example. They all make me happy, too.
Here’s what really made me happy — interacting with all these people, as they thoughtfully wrote their responses. Not one person mentioned money, power, or material possessions. Young and old, they took the spirit of the exercise to heart, thus filling my heart with joy — a classic happiness upward spiral.
The number one answer, you can probably guess, was relationships. Two young women, seemingly quite smitten with one another, wrote each other’s names, with little hearts. There were two “loves,” one “hugs,” two “family,” one “my family,” a “family and friends,””connecting,” “relationships,” “twelve grandchildren,” “Grammie” (with a heart dotting the i), “Granddaughter!” and “Being with my mom.” There were also some variations: “Road tripping with my best friend”(with two hearts) and “Being outdoors with friends and sharing nature with them.” I suppose you could even include “sex” in the relationship category.
One family stopped for a while. While the dad cuddled a sleeping nine month old, the mom wrote, “chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce.” When I laughed, she said, “It’s a special dessert he makes for me.” So I guess that was about relationships, too.
Dogs beat out cats by a long shot. There was only one cat, but it was a cute drawing husband and wife both contributed to. As for canines, there were three “dogs,” two “puppies,” one “fluffy puppies,” a “dogs and gardens,” and “Hiking in the woods with my dog.”
Given that we were at a fair focused on healthy living, with an emphasis on food, it isn’t surprising that food loomed large: one, “food,” two “Good food,” one “local food,” and one “cooking good food.” In that same vein, perhaps, are “gardening” and “gardening and compost.” And then there were a few location specific responses: “Vermont,” “Montpelier,” “Vermont’s natural beauty,” and “Vermont classical radio.”
Here’s another one that’s not exactly specific to Vermont, but does have a rural bent: “Fresh air, plants, mud, birds at the feeder, even a Grosbeak today!”
One answer was very time specific: “I already voted!” Sigh. Ah, for the pre-election anxiety — so much better than the current reality.
Some of the answers were philosophical, including one that makes me wish I’d seen the person writing it: “comfortable silence” (I was probably too busy talking). Als0, the sheet contains a drawn peace sign, “inner peace,” a “Peace, Progress, & People over profit,” “Compassion,” “freedom,” “Expressing creativity” (another one with a heart), and “Life in general.” Two young girls, maybe nine or 10 years old, blew me away. The first one put down a numbered list: “1. Life. 2. Family. 3. God.” Her friend wrote, “1. Hope. 2. Food. 3. Being Alive.” Wow, just wow.
Of course there was beauty: “Rainbows,” two “Music” plus two specific music favorites (“The Grateful Dead” — with their logo and “Clash of … [something illegible]” from a young boy), “Poetry,” “Sunsets,” and two very similar descriptions of one of my favorite natural sights: “Sunlight reflected in pools of water” from another pre-teen girl and “Light reflection of waves of water — diamond light” from a self-described very happy middle aged man.
Sports showed up: “baseball,” “soccer and basketball,” from young ones. From a more mature person, a “good massage.”
A young child had his mother draw and spell, “Balloons.”
Finally, one person wrote my name!! I was touched. And I have to say, right backatcha. All of them, and all of you. We need other people in order to be happy, and they need us, too. After this election, oh, how much we need each other! One man asked me at the end of the fair, “Will you be happy if Trump wins?” I said I didn’t know — but I do. Yes, of course, after some grieving time, I’ll straighten out my happiness attitude and get back to work. I do hope you’ll join me.