Charles: What makes us happy?

There are bees in my backyard. They are pollinating the wildflowers along my fence, the ones I planted a couple of months ago in hopes of seeing something beautiful growing in the mostly asphalt postage stamp that is our private refuge. I also wanted the growth to discourage my foolish dog from jumping along the fence, barking at the neighbors every time they come out to drag their trash barrels out to the curb. That mission hasn’t been accomplished yet. But the bees are here — and they make me happy.

Bees are essential to our entire ecosystem. And they’re rapidly disappearing. So seeing their return, even in my postage-stamp yard, is my own little sign of hope.

Because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope and/or happiness lately.

Ask yourself, as I’ve been asking myself a lot lately — What makes you happy these days?

We’re all incredibly fatigued, with the 24-hour news cycle of bad and worsening news, the chaos of our elected leadership, with stagnant wages and higher costs even as we hear of the stock market surging (which means nothing if you don’t own stock, amirite?), by layoffs and plant closures despite the “good economy,” and by the general frustration with the reality show that has become our lives.

And we’re not just fatigued or frustrated, we’re pretty damn angry too.

Everybody else in the world just ticks us off.

A guy runs a red light. Another guy honks at him. The first guy gets out of his car. So does the second guy, who then (reportedly) is attacked. Did this encounter even need to happen?

We have suddenly decided that every nasty, mean, hateful thought must go out to the universe, via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or raised middle finger in a public place. But this isn’t the fault of social media. This is the result of us ignoring the adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” and instead following the new trend of “Disengage brain, open mouth, insert foot.”

But there are a few rays of hope out there despite the tiki torches and middle fingers.

Some people are little rays of hope all on their own. And here I have to give a shout out to Erin O’Malley, one of the DJs on Mix 104.1. I’ve listened to her for years, and she always sounds like she’s smiling and on the verge of laughter. When she told her story about her son’s struggles during the radio station’s telethon for Boston Children’s Hospital, I just cried (though in full disclosure, I’m a huge crybaby, and all these stories make me cry). Now this brave woman — whose trademark is posting feel-good stories on her page — is going through treatment for breast cancer. She’s posting her progress, wearing her Wonder Woman costume during her chemotherapy, and still sounding as if she’s always smiling. Hearing her makes me happy.

And I wouldn’t want to live in a world that didn’t have Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. She is easily one of the most insightful interviewers I’ve ever heard. There are subjects I’ve had no interest in whatsoever — different music types I don’t subscribe to, books about things I couldn’t care less about — that she makes so intriguing and interesting, just by her doing her homework and asking the right questions, that I’ve bought music and books I never would have even known existed. And she’s respectful, yet persistent with her interviewees.

The documentary about Fred Rogers is a healing balm for those of us fatigued with the seemingly endless vulgar discourse. And it’s a reminder to look for the helpers in the face of chaos.

When we’re screaming at each other, trolling each other, or studiously avoiding painful, controversial topics with friends and acquaintances we don’t want to offend, we’re fatiguing ourselves. And we’ve given up on seeking happiness.

Last weekend my husband and I went to see The Book of Mormon. A night out with the beau is always fun, and the musical is hilarious — and topnotch. Yet it was making fun of another group of people. My husband said as we were leaving, “I wonder how this played in Utah.”

Gee, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re only in on a joke if you’re not the joke.

If we’re lucky, our happiness doesn’t rely on making someone else feel small. Our families, even when they’re loud, crazy, dysfunctional, can make us happy. If we’re lucky. Our satisfaction with our jobs can make us feel happier, or at least cause less stress.

I’m no longer satisfied with being a little less fatigued, depressed, and angry. There’s plenty of time for action and outrage (don’t boo, vote people), but I’m also going to seek out more happiness. It’s the only way we’re going to make it through the daunting days ahead.

So before the fall comes and sends them on their way, I’m going to go water my flowers, and celebrate my bees.


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