Faye Licari

One Christmas, my best friend gave me a bracelet charm with the inscription “Live happy” on it. I loved the gift immediately. Those two words summed up my life’s goal, and to have a wearable daily reminder was such a treat. Each day, I can find a reason to be happy; some thing or some person or some moment in time can easily bring me an emotional boost. But after spending most of this week reflecting on Steve Carter’s message, I am discovering that living happy is a distraction from the eternal joy that God wants for us.

The first time I heard Pharrell’s song “Happy” was in the gym where I used to box. Class was about to start, and I found myself wiggling and dancing to the beat. As I looked around, I noticed that others were also moving to the music. I think at one point we all started laughing and talking about what a great song it was. But about twenty minutes later, the intensity of the workout was in full swing, and most of us were grunting and grumbling as we worked our way through the grueling morning stations. Happiness no longer filled the room, and I don’t think any of us felt “like a room without a roof.” Even after class ended and the endorphins of our hard work started to kick in, it wasn’t happiness that returned. It was joy. Joy that we had shown up at 5 a.m. Joy that we had pushed ourselves through the pain. Joy that we were now stronger for the work that we had just completed.

A few weeks ago, I had to pour my time, my heart, and my mind into work that left me feeling depleted and discouraged and, quite frankly, unhappy. I longed for something good and I felt a deep need to plant something vibrant in the ground on which our home stands. Amongst the mix of annuals and perennials that I bought was a beautiful red cone flower. It very much resembled the pink cone flower that had thrived in my garden for about a day last year until a family of rabbits feasted upon it. I knew the same fate was certain to befall this year’s purchase unless I took some precautions, so I sprinkled all kinds of rabbit deterrents onto the leaves and soil. For extra good measure, I surrounded the area with chicken wire. Though I’d basically confined my plant to a lifetime behind bars, I felt happy when I looked at the beautiful blooms.

Until last Friday morning.  

I sat down, coffee in hand, and just as I took my first sip I saw the mangled bundle of chicken wire lying three feet away from nibbled green stems—the only remains of my beautiful red plant. Once again, the rabbits had eaten my cone flower. As I headed outside to assess the damage, I noticed a new pink blossom on one of my Hydrangea plants and three new buds on my Daylilies. My new plant had been eaten, but the old plants were blossoming and beautiful. In that moment, the frustration for repeating last year’s mistake dissipated, and joy for the process remained. I had gratitude for the opportunity to have placed each of those thriving plants in the ground with my own two hands and gratitude that I had a space on this Earth to call my garden. As silly as it sounds, I also felt at peace with my garden for nourishing and protecting the plants that are meant to live there. 

But now I wonder, where else have I been planting flowers of happiness instead of enjoying what is already planted and budding and wonderful? I’m guilty of buying clothes that I will never wear instead of throwing on my favorite pair of jeans. I sometimes make plans that cannot fit into my schedule instead of enjoying the spontaneous moments of daily life. I’ve attempted to prepare recipes that use words like Beurre blanc or Mirepoix instead of doing the logical thing and ordering takeout… again (just kidding about that last one).

This morning, my son wanted to play the game Hot/Cold with me. I was hungry and I had a lot of chores I wanted to get done, but I decided to play along. As I got “warmer,” and eventually “hot,” I discovered a folded heart with my name on it. The note inside said, Mom, I love you because you keep me healthy. I would have been happy to have skipped the game of Hot/Cold. I would have been happy to have eaten my breakfast and moved on with my day. I would have been happy to have checked each chore off my to-do list. But thank God I didn’t do any of those things before playing my son’s game. Thank God I didn’t miss it. Pure joy.