What's Tony Thinking

The Happy Basket


Growing up my mother often said, “We just want you to be happy.” I am sure she meant it.

But there was an unspoken as well. “Why can’t you just be happy?” Which wasn’t too far from, “Why can’t you just be normal?”

She had on her hands a kid who was probably a little too sensitive, a little too smart (as in “smart-aleck”), and a little too intense.

So I get that she would say, with a certain exasperation, “We just want you to be happy.”

I wished that too. But it was elusive.

In my teenage years, existentialism was “in.” Good times. Brooding and angst everywhere. You didn’t have to “be happy.”

In reading one of Kathleen Dean Moore’s essays in Wild Comfort I found a fellow-traveler. Her parents had said the same to her. Here’s Moore:

“So many people are telling me what should make me happy. Buy a cute new car. Be thin. Get promoted or honored or given a raise. Travel: Baja! Belize! Finish the laundry. The voices may or may not be my own; they are so insistent that I can’t distinguish them from the ringing in my own ears. Maybe they are the voices of my mother and father, long dead and well intended, wanting only that I would be happy.”

So Moore launched a personal research project, “The Happy Basket.” Every time she experienced happiness, she would make a note, write a brief bit and toss it in the happy basket. For a year.

This way she would figure out what happiness meant for her, as opposed to what other people were telling her would or should make her happy.

So I tried that, or at least something similar. What made me happy that day?

Here are one recent day’s notes. What made me happy?

At about 8:00 two spotted fawns and a doe bounced through the yard outside our cabin. The fawns bounced. Mom walked.

Reading and thinking about the short essays Laura had written for her UCC “Profile.” (The thing a pastor looking for a call circulates to churches).

The new bright yellow trim color I’ve started painting on the cabin’s window frames.

Swimming in the Lake. Then warming up again sitting on the lakeside rocks in the late afternoon sun.

Reading the wise and hopeful concluding chapters of Jim and Deb Fallows book “Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey into the Heart of America.”

In bed, Linda curling into me during the night against the cooling temperatures.

So much happiness, who knew!

One day’s notes and observations is a small sample. But I like Moore’s idea of paying attention to what makes me happy.

You might feel that paying attention to your own happiness, in a world of suffering and injustice, is shallow or insensitive.

But I’m not sure justice or compassion are served by being morose, guilty or depressed. They may be better served by noting and celebrating beauty, goodness, the often unexpected and sometimes weird things that make us happy.

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