Saturday, June 25, 2011

Happiness


Don't let them fool you.


I’ve been away from the blog a bit lately. But now, on a little break from gardening in the heat, I’m inspired to put down just a few quick words. Gardening often does that for me.

The other day, or maybe it was last year, I was waiting at a stop light behind a minivan when I looked down and noticed a bumper sticker. It read:

Happiness is being Latvian.

In all the decades of seeking knowledge, seeking the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect relationship, all as potential paths to that ultimate state of happiness, it never occurred to me that I was so utterly, existentially screwed.
Damn.

I don’t know whether to despair, or just exhale and chill out. I can stop trying so damned hard, because Latvian I ain’t. Nor, sadly, will I ever be.

It did get me wondering, though, what those Latvians have that I don’t.
Well, there’s 159 species of non-marine mollusks, for starters. That’s right (if you believe Wikipedia), 159. Count ‘em and weep, my friends—I know I did. There’s also the wild boars and wolves, charismatic fauna if ever there was, which I also haven’t got.
Like sleep? One of Latvia’s national trees is the Linden, also known as Tilia Cordata, the leaves from which make a calming, sleep inducing tea. OK, but I can get that at Fairway market. I don’t have to be Latvian. For that matter, I can probably get the wild boar there, too, if I show up on the right day. Ah, Fairway. Now there’s a bumber sticker I can believe in: “Happiness is Fairway Market”.

But just when I thought all was lost due to my perpetual state of . . . non . . . Lativianness, there was another car with another bumper sticker, proclaiming with great confidence, “Happiness is a Golden Retriever”.

It is?
I’m confused. It didn’t say “Happiness is having a Golden Retriever”, it said “is a Golden Retriever”. How does that work? Does this mean I should skip the lint roller when I come home from a soiree at Chateau Granola, where hiking boots are formal-wear and the beasts are part of the family? Should I not be so ungratefully dismissive when Happiness tries to hump my leg or drools on my lap at their dinner table? Should I not hold my nose or wretch when Happiness gets wet while mindlessly chasing squirrels in the rain and stinks to high heaven? I don’t think I’m buying this. But nor am I buying the “Happiness is a Collie’s Smile” (yes, I really saw that one) or “Happiness is my Schnauzer”. In my world, happiness precludes the presence of any canine life form over the age of about three months. Sorry to the happy dog-lovers out there. Rest secure in the knowledge that it’s my loss.

I’ve seen "Happiness is Being a Bube" (which I, not fluent in Yiddish, first pronounced “boob”, and thought, “Yeah. Maybe that’s it.”). Of course, Bube or Bubbe is a Jewish grandmother.

Happiness is a Great Dane.
Happiness is a Pug.
Happiness is a warm gun.
A bumpersticker web page I saw had both “Happiness is a belt fed weapon” AND “a warm tortilla”.
I suppose one could have both. Sure, why not. However, maybe it’s the whole Buddhism thing, but I can’t help feeling that a truly happy person would have no desire or need of weapons. The tortilla part I’ll buy, though. The unhappy soul might say, “That’s all you’ve got? A tortilla? Where are the beans, the salsa, the guacamole?”. To the happy person, though, it’s all “Oh, Yum! Tortillas! Ooh, and they’re warm. Great. Thanks!”.

I recently saw a t-shirt that said, “Happiness is being with my cousins.” My reaction was simply to wonder if the person was from Appalachia, and who the hell their cousins are. Depending on the answer, that shirt could go from sweet to downright creepy in an instant (oh, right, like you weren’t thinking the same thing. Please).
Another website sold a t-shirt that read “Happiness is a journey”. Wow. Who knew a cotton/polyester blend could go so deep. Maybe it’s a journey to your cousins’ house . . . in Appalachia. If it is, I don’t want to know.

The most common among the happiness bumper stickers I’ve seen go something like this:
Happiness is being a grandparent.
Being a mom.
Being a civil war re-enactor (which, if you think about it, is a lot happier than having been simply one of the “enactors”).
Being a senior citizen.
Being Swedish.
Being Irish.
Being Italian.

See the common thread here? It took me a while to notice, but I think they’ve each, at least in part, stumbled upon something.
Happiness is being.

No frills. Nothing more. Just being.
Now that I can do.


Maybe.





[post script: After reading the above post, a friend of mine from West Virginia, semi-tongue-in-cheek, thanked me for reinforcing Appalachian stereotypes. Point taken. And really, I do have interest in and respect for the unique traditions of Appalachia, quite apart from the alleged ones that inform the stereotypes. I especially admire the music and crafts of the region. So, I'll just say that, along the lines of what the satirical newspaper The Onion suggests--"Stereotypes are a real time-saver"--stereotypes also form a pretty useful comedic infrastructure. The trick is to recognize that it's a device, a shorthand for making a joke. And there are certain ones I will never use even in that case. Appalachia hasn't yet made that list, I'm afraid, but I could perhaps be persuaded. I would never suggest my blog is for the easily offended, either. But sorry, Appalachia. For what it's worth, I hear Vermont's Northeast Kingdom is gaining on you, so maybe that'll take some of the heat off in coming years. Maybe hiring a PR person would help?]