Just Watching – March 2018

The long standing goal of Rich and Charlie Resources has been to support and encourage parents, pastors and Christian leaders.  That’s important.  Nearing 89 years of age I need all the encouragement I can get whether as a marriage partner (Audie and I just celebrated our 65th anniversary), a parent (we have four married children, 19 grandchildren by birth and marriage and 15 great-grandchildren), a retired pastor (is there such a thing?) and as a garden variety Christian I do the best I can at living a full Christian life at a time hauntingly alike the one which Abe Lincoln called “a stormy present”.  Alike or not one thing is for sure – it’s not the world I boarded in 1929 as the stock market was collapsing and the clouds of WWII were forming.

It strikes me as strange that together with what’s left of our waning Silent Generation (born between 1925 and1944, the smallest of the 20th century) we are being asked from a lot of our world’s corners, “Are you happy?” 

As I work toward answering that question consider how “happy” has recently been recurring:   

  • Six weeks ago we were greeting others with, “Happy New Year”. What do people expect one to look like? 
  • A couple weeks ago Audie and I were carded, called and e-mailed, “Happy 65th Anniversary”. Or, what?
  • Then of course last week we shared cards, candy, flowers and other gifts saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day”. How might that be defined?

The five letter word h-a-p-p-y has been hanging today’s world a lot whether in the opening line of FDR’s 1930s theme song, “Happy days are here again…”, or TV’s more recent “Happy Days” sitcoms, or as the name given one of Snow White’s lovable dwarfs. 

And, off course there’s that pan-generational top 10 tune, “Happy Birthday To You.”  There seems to be many other times or places where happy wedges its way into our life including Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence where at Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion one of the our inalienable rights was changed from “pursuit of money” to “the pursuit of _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.” 

What put me on this happy-kick was two 2018 magazine mentions citing it as a current concern and my curiosity about its meaning and how it found its way into the English language. 

The first magazine mention that I spotted was a full page Special Report of the January 12 edition of The Week featuring opinions and scientific studies about what makes people happy.  They cited positive elements like close relations with family and friends, good health, involvement in creative work and a succession of smaller scale positive experiences.  Money can enhance happiness but after making $75,000 a year more money doesn’t matter as much.  The biggest boost of the way money relates to happiness comes from spending money on others, “…the closer you are to the recipient the happier you’ll be.”

One fascinating ramification that studies surfaced was that happiness declines as we move into the middle years bottoming out a 40 and then steadily rising as we age toward and then through our 70s.  Why?  One suggestion is that as people age their life goals shift from looking for new experiences to relishing existing relationships. 

That same thought was reinforced by a James Leland book that was briefly reviewed in magazine #2, the January AARP Magazine.  Entitled, “Happiness is a Choice You Make” it was seen as a “…uplifting and wise book (that) details the year Leland spent with six people 85 and older.”  The author said that experience raised his spirits like none other adding that, “I expected the year to bring great changes in them.  I didn’t expect it to change me.”  I’ve ordered a copy of that book.  If it’s as good as I think it is I’ll report on it you.

All of which brings me back to my quest for source and root meaning of happy.  It’s an Anglicization of a Norse word that meant “being safe”, “having good fortune” or “being lucky”.  Those meanings make sense of a 16th century saying, “Happy as a clam at high tide.”  Buried in the sea’s bed deep under lots of water that clam is safe, blessed with good fortune and very lucky. 

The dominant current view of happy as meaning joyful or giddy came along a lot later maybe the result of feeling protected and well cared for.  But today’s popular sense of what happy means doesn’t seem to last very long.

Now a question Leland’s book makes us face even before we read it: “Is happiness a choice we make or more likely a matter of chance?”

As I get older, happy is a word I think about a lot and work at wanting to experience every day.  If I don’t do that for me, who will?

What do you think?