It was the summer of 1962 in an upstairs room at the Legion Branch in Morell, PEI. Bill Aylward, Eddie Hawbolt, Garth Blaxland, Fred Blaxland, Albert Baker and I were playing poker.
During a lull in the game, when everybody else had either gone to the washroom or the bar, I asked Al, a seemingly happy lifelong bachelor then in his early 40s, why he never got married. “Well,” he said with uncommon candour, “anybody I ever wanted didn’t want me. And I always figured I’d be happier wanting something I didn’t have than having something I didn’t want.”
Walking home that night I reflected on Al’s statement and realized that it was both simple and profound. Up until then I’d always thought that happiness was a fairly complex emotion. But Al’s comments convinced me that happiness is usually pretty simple, and although we’re all pretty good at yearning for it we’d be far better off spending our time creating it.
When you stop and think about it, the time to be happy is always now, and the place to be happy is always wherever we happen to be. Happiness is not just a destination; it also includes getting there.
One of the best ways to enhance happiness is to avoid people who make us unhappy. Considering that this could include relatives, neighbours and co-workers, this isn’t always easy to do. But it’s important that we spend as little time as possible around such people; and what’s perhaps even more important is that we never waste any time at all thinking about them.
While playing Junior B hockey in Toronto and Senior A hockey in the Maritimes, I discovered another element of being happy. During this seven-year span I was never the number one goalie, I was always a backup. I was often asked if I was unhappy in my role. My answer was always that I was perfectly happy in it; because during those entire seven years, at no time was I the better goalie of the two on the team. What had I discovered? Simply that to be happy we have to be comfortable with our limitations.
My wife, Anne, is the happiest person I’ve ever known; and I think I know why. Anne is happiest when she is making other people happy. It might be our children and their wives, our grandchildren, other relatives, friends and neighbours, her colleagues at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, or even a stranger who needs directions. Watching Anne do this for almost fifty years has convinced me that a sure route to happiness is making other people happy.
I mentioned earlier that I try to avoid being around people who make me unhappy. The other side of that coin is that I’m always happy around people who have a great sense of humour, who are able to see the amusing side of a situation, and who laugh a lot. I believe that truly happy people don’t laugh because they’re happy, but rather are happy because they laugh. I’m blessed to spend three months a year at Lakeside, PEI, a community that abounds with such folks.
Now, my next happiness point may not be subscribed to by most people, but don’t knock it until you try it for at least a couple of weeks. I will go to my grave believing that a happy day begins with a leisurely breakfast.
I was forced into leisurely breakfasts back in the mid-fifties when I boarded with the McBride family in Toronto. It was a rule! Breakfast lasted at least forty-five minutes, included passing sections of the morning paper around, talking about whatever anyone wanted to talk about, and relating amusing anecdotes. Ever since, it’s always taken me at least that much time to have breakfast (even in a restaurant by myself) and it’s not unusual for me to spend more than an hour at it. And on any day when I don’t, happiness is usually late arriving. (Incidentally, I always flatly refused to have a “business” breakfast.)
Here’s another aspect of happiness that I think is important. Have you ever seen a perfectly happy perfectionist? I haven’t, and I’ve been around a lot of perfectionists. Wanting everything to be perfect is a sure recipe for unhappiness. It’s usually expectations that cause frustrations, and frustrations cause unhappiness. Happy people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything.
Don’t look too far and wide for happiness. If we have people to love, something to do, and a goal to look forward to, we should be happy. We need to make sure we always have something in our everyday lives that makes us smile. And we should never look to others to make us happy; it may not happen.
In my seventy-sixth year I’ve added two more happiness rules:
1. Happiness is good health and a selective memory
2. To be truly happy you have to believe in something other than the Internet