On Happiness

Submitted by Joyce Hollyday on May 20, 2011 - 12:13pm
The dilemma and the challenge

I suppose it’s telling that I received a request over a month ago to write a blog about happiness, and I’m just now getting to it. I don’t much care for the word happiness. In our day, it seems to get confused with wealth, or success, or prestige. With being beautiful, or young (preferably both). And more and more, with being entertained.

The message seems to be that we’ll be happy if we just own enough stuff and look the part. And if that doesn’t work, we can feel better about ourselves by being voyeurs through the media of those whose lives (real or invented) are really dysfunctional and violent and scandalous. Why live our own lives when we can find round-the-clock laughs from the misery of others?

So, an hour ago I was plucking beetles off the potato plants. A light mist draped the mountains that ring the small farm where I live with friends. My dogs Sophie and Micah were romping together in the pasture, tussling playfully. And I thought, “I’m happy.”

Now, I realized immediately that if I were plucking potato beetles in the middle of the day under a scorching sun, or if I had to support a family as a potato beetle plucker, my sense of happiness would evaporate rather quickly. But I knew as I made my way down the rows that I would be coming inside and going straight to my computer to write a blog about happiness. In addition to being a potato beetle plucker, I am a writer, pastor, teacher, sister, aunt, community member, friend…

So perhaps happiness has something to do with balance. And contributing. And connection. I was plucking beetles from plants that grew from potato eyes that someone else put in the soil. Others help to water and weed, and we’ll all share the bounty of the harvest when the potatoes are ready.  So stooping to pluck a beetle is not an act in isolation but a gesture of community and shared destiny. We’ll eat well from the potatoes and tomatoes, zucchini and peppers, onions and okra, because we have tended them together.

It’s difficult to stay connected and in balance when we are obsessed with wealth, or success, or prestige. Or even with doing good in the world. Especially if we're constantly distracted by mindless "entertainment." Increasingly, I think a major key to happiness is simply slowing down. Doing the things that really matter. Staying in touch with the people who are committed to us through thick and thin. And learning to play like two dogs tussling joyfully in a pasture.

Tonight we’ll host a surprise birthday party for one of my co-pastors. There will be feasting and storytelling and music on guitar and hammered dulcimer. If we’re lucky, there may even be dancing on the farmhouse porch. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.

Dear Joyce, Thank you so much

Dear Joyce,

Thank you so much for this window in to your life. I live in a city and can't imagine plucking potato beetles in the shadow of mountains on a communal farm but it sounds so beautiful. Reading your post reminds me again how important it is to take a moment to reflect. To recognise that the most simple and concrete moments often make for the happiest.

I hope your party was glorious filled with dance and laughter!





The party was indeed glorious. Ken, the friend who was feted, was totally surprised; the potluck feast was delicious; and my musician frends put together "top songs" from significant years of Ken's life, which we all sang along with--a great trip down memory lane.

I lived for 15 years in inner-city Washington, DC, and while the things that made me happy then were significantly different, I believe that we can find happiness wherever we find ourselves. Every chosen home comes with tradeoffs and gifts. I have loved city living, and now I love rural living. You're right that reflecting on the choices and gifts is at the heart of happiness.

All the best to you,