May 2017

Line in the Sand: What is true happiness?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

We’re here to talk about The Key to Happiness ™ this month, and the way I see it, it’s about time we did. I’m sick and tired of everyone taking the long road to happiness, quietly pursuing a better life for themselves and their family, doing what they can to help others and developing their own pathways to fulfilment, however they define it, along the way.

What kind of life is that? People should be looking for quick and easy answers, taking hollow shortcuts across the path to personal happiness. In short, they should seek out one singular easy-to-follow step to attain true bliss.

And what’s more, they should be paying me fistfuls of dirty, dirty money to show them the way. It’s how countless self-help authors have made their fortunes, and frankly I want in on it.

The problem is my name. If you’ve ever Googled me (hi, ex-girlfriends!) you’ll know that I’m depressingly low on the Internet’s hierarchy of Barry Kaufmans. There is Scott Barry Kaufman, some kind of psychologist and podcaster who had to be a jerk and use his middle name. Then you get Barry Kaufman, the CEO and founder of a real estate development group in Delray Beach, Florida. Then Barry Kaufman, attorney at law in Jacksonville.
And then, finally, you’ll land on Barry Neal Kaufman, author of Happiness is a Choice. Now I’ve studied up on his work (I read the description on Amazon), and frankly I think I can write a better book on happiness than any other Barry Kaufman in Google’s cache.

Among the terrible advice in this false Barry Kaufman’s book (according to the description on Amazon) you’ll find such misguided suggestions as:

Make happiness the priority: As opposed to the rest of the time when you’re placing a premium on apathy and hatred.

Accept your personal authenticity: I just told you how I’m not even the most authentic person with my name. Personal authenticity is an illusion. In a world of infinite variety and almost certain repetition, you must embrace your blandness.

Disregard regrets about the past: Oh sure, that’s all. Just mentally condition yourself to gloss over that one time you made an off-hand comment at a party that turned out to be super offensive; just stop thinking about it over and over and over again, torturing yourself with the memory of it. You know, this is really starting to sound like work. I came here for shortcuts.

So clearly this Barry Neal Kaufman wouldn’t know happiness if it came up to him and fed him slow-smoked barbecue while rubbing his shoulders as his team won the Super Bowl through the power of friendship. I can do better.

The problem is, this world’s probably only big enough for one Barry Kaufman who writes obscenely lucrative self-help books offering questionable advice. So, I’ll just have to settle for sharing my secret wisdom with you folks here.

The key to happiness is to look at it like running. Like running, the more you do it, the better you get at it and the less of a struggle it becomes to get yourself out there running (or so I’m told—personally I avoid running, but I can’t turn down a good simile).

It’s not something that comes naturally, but you can train yourself to get better at it. And even experienced runners, the ones whose quads look like bundles of steel cable wrapped in rice paper, will tell you that the actual running never gets any easier. You just get better at getting yourself there.

In this way, happiness is like running. And like running, you look nuts if you do it all the time. You ever see a grown adult who runs everywhere? All the time? No, of course not. You see someone running around at the office, for example, you assume there’s something wrong.

It’s the same if you see someone who’s happy all the time. Maybe they’re just a happy person; maybe their smile is the lid to a deep well of sadness. You want to believe the former, but you can’t help but think the latter.

You know who does run everywhere, though? Little kids. The same tiny creatures who are perpetually happy. So maybe that’s the key: If you want to be truly happy, be under the age of eight.

After that you start building up a mental bank of stupid things you’ve said at parties, and the world starts to wonder why you’re running around so happy all the time. Everyone, including yourself, expects you to be unhappy at least part of the time. If not, most of the time. As you grow up, you just kind of learn to follow suit.

So, if you’re a kid, you have nothing to worry about. But If you’re above the age of eight, you’ll just have to buy my forthcoming book, Happiness Beyond Age Eight Is Like Running (Or So I’m Told). Just make sure you’re buying it from the right Barry Kaufman. 

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson

Just after Christmas, I bought myself a gratitude journal. I’ve written in it 44 times in 2017, and each time, I listed four to 10 things that I was grateful for that day. That means that in 99 days, roughly 300 things have made me feel gratitude and moved me to record it. Sometimes those things were as simple as, “a walk,” or “coming home to a clean house,” and others were a little more specific, “Calm when I am upset. A kind voice. Kind words. Solutions.” Going back and reading my entries, I realized that I have no idea what happened on January 27 that had me so upset that I penned those words.

I bought the journal because the cover cracked me up. It read, “Okay fine, I’m grateful! A journal to catapult me from my default position of griping and negativity to the long-resisted stance of counting my blessings, because it turns out that focusing on the positive actually might be better for my mind, body, spirit and in no small part because unhappiness is the gap between expectations and reality. So, even though this whole gratitude things feels like a bandwagon on the woo-woo train, the fact is, deep down, I’m ready to start looking at the roses rather than the thorns, and if you absolutely force me to admit it, I will say that, in all actuality, I do have so very much to be grateful for.”

Part of me was jealous that I wasn’t the author of that fine piece of prose on the cover, because let’s be honest, that is some damn skillful writing. I cracked up, nevertheless, because it was true. While I consider my “default position” to be sarcasm and humor, I certainly employ those skills (are they skills or coping mechanisms?) when I feel beaten down and can’t quite find the light. It helps (or not) that I have friends (who shall remain nameless to protect the sassy) with the same default position, so when life has kicked me in the behind, it is easy to call and get the sarcastic support that I am looking for. I also have friends (Allen and Susan) who urge me to count my blessings, think positive, stand tall like a pineapple (perhaps the best quote ever), be warm and inviting, smile, put on lipstick, grab a drink, and make great memories. Forget the bad. Focus on the good.

So, this month when Barry asked, “What’s the secret to eternal happiness? If you were a guru on a mountaintop, what would be your one thing you tell everyone?”

The answer came to me so clearly. It was simple: you. You are the secret to your eternal happiness, because you choose what and who makes you happy, and you choose to surround yourself with those people, those things, those experiences that make you smile. Living that truth though, is the challenge. Because it is all the other stuff that gets in the way and can make living your happiness just as difficult as summiting that mountaintop that, if I were a guru, I would be sitting upon.

A high school friend shared a quote today, “Don’t worry about the people who hurt or hate you; worry about the people who love you, because that is where your happiness is.” Timely I thought, as I pondered this column and my happiness.

I feel like every month, one question spawns more questions. And, I wrestled with this one for a while, because I wanted to be true. When I page through my journal, I realize that everything I am grateful for can be summed up easily: the people closest to me, my dog, being outside, having success, surprising myself, and having fun experiences. If I were to make a list of the things that don’t bring me happiness, it would all be things I can’t control: what other people think, what other people do, and how that impacts me.

So, where I landed is here. My happiness is found when I am me, and when I choose to be the better person and not let the actions of others bother me. When that doesn’t work? Tequila. 

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article