By Ken Hegan for The National Post
I’m fixing my flaws by following self-help gurus, books, and spas in the world’s most gorgeous, inspiring locations. This week: a freezing cold Toronto dog park!
My life just got really crappy, really fast.
In short: I’m suddenly single and kinda numb from the heart up.
On the bright side, when I look in the mirror I don’t see an emotional train wreck.
Exhibit A) Haven’t grown a ratty lumberjack beard
Exhibit B) Haven’t started a fight club
Exhibit C) I don’t wake up drunk on a park bench then yell at children (it’s still too cold for that)
But even though I feel okay today, I’m fully aware that depression could be in the mail.
So I’m getting proactive. This week I’m following happiness advice from The Secret Society of Happy People. They have a top secret website which only people with access to the Internet can see.
Formed in 1998 by a Texan named Pamela Gail, the club’s mission is “to provide a missing voice” for joyous wannabes, encourage the expression of happiness, and discourage “parade raining” by “people who don’t want to hear your happy news.”
Great. So I scoured their website for clues on being happy. Judging by their photos:
Happiness is… Caucasian teenagers lying on the ground with their heads in a circle.
Happiness is … gay men paddling a canoe with their dog.
Happiness is… cartoon happy faces wearing cool sunglasses and shit-eating grins.
The website lists happy thoughts, books, and poems, plus ’31 Types of Happiness’ that includes something called “Satisfication.” [sic]
To further satisficate me, the website offers cheery quotations. They’re like the self-affirmations written on Post-It Notes that office losers stick to their computer screens. My favourite quotation, “In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back,” is from that notoriously chipper comic strip character Charlie Brown — probably just before he hung himself on the swing set.
The Happy People have an online radio station that plays “toe tapping tunes” like Don Henley’s All She Wants to Do is Dance. Which is a nice poppy song … until you listen to the lyrics and realize it’s a bitter rant about insipid Americans who partied while their government slaughtered Central Americans in bloody foreign coups, wars, and torturous dictatorships. So, on the whole, not so happy.
The Happy People recommend watching feel-food films like Little Miss Sunshine. Which is about a dysfunctional family with a suicidal son and a cranky grampa who dies from a heroin overdose. Hmm. These Happy People are starting to depress me.
Turns out this is their annual Hunt for Happiness Week. All week, they recommend I “become childlike,” “ride a carousel,” and “visit the children’s library and reread your old favourites.”
Which sounds ridiculously lame. But anything to keep me away from the booze, pills, and park bench screaming. So I did it: I went to the kids’ library, sat on a tiny chair, and read Frog Went A-Courtin’. It’s an uplifting classic about interspecies mating between a mouse and a frog that — SPOILER ALERT — ends with the happy newlyweds sailing to France, which we know because the frog tells us and, also, now he’s wearing a beret.
And you know what? Frog Went A-Courtin’ made me smile. I felt good for five whole minutes — until a mom glared at me for being the only adult without a kid. Grumpy parade rainer. So I trudged to the playground to ride the carousel. But city workers removed all the carousels because too many kids were getting maimed.
Undaunted, the Happy People posted printable ‘I-Spy coupons’ that read:
I-Spied you experiencing a happy moment.
May you have many more.
You’re supposed to print these coupons then hand them to strangers. Which sounds like the perfect way to start a fight club. Punching bag: me.
But what my gurus say, goes. I walked up to three giggling stoners in the park and handed them my I-Spy coupons. The stoners looked at me as if I’d asked their permission to roofie them and drag them into a van. The shorter one said, “Um, how long have you been watching us, you freak?”
I’m starting to understand why this Society is a secret.
Maybe ‘You go, girl!’ websites aren’t the path to happiness after all. I mean, I felt okay before this experiment but these happy tips are bringing me down. Sorry, Happy People. I tried, and I tried. But I can’t get no satisfication.
That night, my best friend Jim took me out for beers. He looked me in the eye, then said, “Buddy, your sister and I are worried about you. Because if my marriage fell apart, I’d be passed out in a ditch cradling a bottle of Jack Daniels. How come you’re handling this so well? Why aren’t you staggering into airports with explosives strapped to your chest?”
I was shocked. Told him I didn’t realize I was doing well at all. He said, “You’re not moaning in a fetal ball. You’re cooking for the first time ever. You’re bathing instead of wallowing in your filth. Plus you’re not bitter like Todd.”
Everyone knows The Todd Incident. A cautionary tale if ever there was one. When his Spanish girlfriend left him for another Spaniard, Todd went ballistic. For starters, he took all their wine and travel books and found every page that had the word ‘Spain’ on it. Then he ripped those pages out and sent her the shredded books.
I paused. Sipped my beer, then told Jim, “Well, here’s the thing: I figure I can be bitter for years, then get well. Or I can choose to be happy right now. Either way, I’ll feel the same amount of loss.”
He smiled and said, “Maybe that’s your secret power. Most of us don’t realize we have a choice.”
I know this much, and I bet the Happy People know it too: humans are remarkably resilient. I believe we can survive anything…even scary things like marriage breakups and head-on collisions. So far, I’ve lived through both.
The trick is to do what drunks do when they’re flung from their vehicle:
Relax. Enjoy the view. And tuck and roll, baby, tuck and roll.
— Ken Hegan