Happiness is Optional

Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.                                                                                          –Unknown

Members of the American Happiness League (my name for the folks who write self-help books telling us how to be happy) assures us we can all live happily ever after if we’ll just follow the steps they’ve outlined for us.Some members of the League tell us we’ll be happy if we acquire the products they sell–a big house in the city, a cabin at the lake, a family sedan, an SUV, a boat, an ATV, a flat screen TV, a VCR, an iPod, an iPad, a Blackberry, designer clothing, a pedigreed dog, a couple of cats, a partridge in a pear tree.

They remind us that as Americans, the Declaration of Independence grants us the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All we need do to achieve happiness, they imply, is pursue it like mad until we catch it.

Not so.

Chasing after happiness virtually guarantees we won’t find it. After a lifetime of striving to acquire all the toys that make up the Happiness League’s version of the American Dream, we find we have acquired instead:

Debt. Health Problems. Broken Relationships.

I knew a man some years ago–I’ll call him “Fred”–who delighted in asking new acquaintances, “What good is happiness? Can it buy money?”

His question brought a variety of responses from people. Blank looks. Expressions of apprehension, as if they’d just met an alien, or a zombie.

“Fred” didn’t really expect an answer. His question was meant to make people think. 

About money. Priorities. Happiness.

I remember watching a little girl chase butterflies in a meadow some years ago. Laughing and running, the child followed a butterfly from one clump of grass to another for several minutes, but of course she didn’t catch it. Then, when she gave up the chase and sat down to catch her breath, a butterfly landed lightly on her arm. The joy in her eyes told the story. Happiness had caught her.

“Fred” would not have been surprised. Not only did he believe the best things in life are free, he believed they come to us only when we stop chasing them.

“When this life ends and we meet our Maker,” he said, “God is going to ask just two questions.”

Did you have a good time? And How did you treat your brother?

Did you take time to appreciate and enjoy my creation, all the beautiful things I prepared for you?

Flowers in a meadow.


A child’s laughter.

Bird song.



And did you see your brother as I see him? Did you try, at least, to share his burdens and help him along his way?

Did you love your neighbor as yourself?

If you did, you have pleased me. You allowed the happiness I planned for you from the beginning to find you, and surprise you with joy.

At least, that’s the way “Fred” saw it.

I always knew how “Fred” felt about things, not because of what he said, but because of what he did.

How he was.

“Fred” never tried to force his beliefs on me, but he had learned a few things about life, and he believed he had to share what he knew.

One of the things he knew is that happiness is a choice we make. We can pursue happiness until we grow weary, or we can stop striving and allow it to find us.

Happiness is optional.





About stan

Author of eight novels featuring the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshal Merlin Fanshaw, Stan Lynde is a fourth-generation native Montanan and the creator, author, and artist of two highly acclaimed syndicated cartoon strips, Rick O'Shay and Latigo. He lives in Cuenca, Ecuador, with his wife, Lynda.
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