Somewhere Under the Rainbow. Photo by Scott Berstein

What makes people happy? Abe Lincoln was quoted 50 years after he died for implying that happiness is what people get when they set their minds to being happy. A century later Pharrell Williams invited us to “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.” That’s being meta-happy, you experience happiness when you think you’re happy, and that makes people near you happy too.

Nautilus Stained Glass by Barbara Dawson Makes Me Happy

For past 86 years, Harvard researchers have been studying what makes adults happy. Being happy requires a lot of verbs, making it more of an action than a disposition. The Harvard crew discovered that happy adults are highly aware of what it takes to be happy. They are constantly choosing to be happy with whatever they do. This seems to be a commitment to embracing the the best and worst of times with minimal guidance from Charles Dickens.

As we reunite with kith and kin after months of social distancing, I hear more positive things about the lockdown than negative aspects of being in a room with the leaky roof.  One friend, married for over 40 years said she came to really appreciate her husband and treasures the way they made it through a pandemic together. Another stated the lockdown freed her from social anxiety. She felt peace and comfort during the time she simply tended to her home. People seem to be reconstructing their memories of 2020 to shape stories about the creative endeavors they took on and new things learned, like total household weekly need for toilet paper.

Tending to our closest relationships makes us happy. Clap along if you know how good it feels to strengthen ties with the people who matter most in your life. Nobody needs a Harvard lecture to appreciate the value of true friendship and having a place within a family circle. After a year and a half of only seeing me on a flat screen my youngest grandkids think grandparents are much like Flat Stanley. Clap along if you think happiness, is the truth.

The third ingredient of happiness may be the hardest to feel that it’s what you want to do. It’s taking care of yourself physically, financially, and emotionally. Happy people, young and older, sense time is limited. A friend advised me to separate my emotional connection from our home, sell it for top dollar, wait two years for the market to collapse, and then buy a really nice place on the water. I declined, citing I only have a finite number of “two years” left and want to be happy in a place shared by wonderful neighbors. Personal, family, and my small local community well-being have taken priority over financial gain. Happy people choose how and with whom they spend time with. Clap your hands if you know what happiness is to you.

Mark Twain reflected that some of the worst times in his life never happened. Happiness is not about forgetting that bad times are hell. We can’t always do or have what we want.  In general, I consider myself a very happy person. It’s what I want to be. I don’t go as far as Thoreau did by sucking the marrow out of the bone of life, but I tend to take big bites. Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.

Happiness is a pair of new Top Siders.
They Fit Me.

Read again and sing along,

It is the Dusk of My Age of Aquarius

Courtesy of FB NTB local photographer – thank you.

It is the Dusk of My Age of Aquarius

I clamored into the 70’s in Boston with flowing tresses, great tickets, college roommates and a date to see the play Hair. At the finale the cast invited us to dance on stage, The Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. I rocked and rolled into the dawn of my 20’s – eager to take on a world filled with “trust and understanding.” My heart was open to the future – 50 years later my date and I dance and sail the stars together as a crew of 14. The sunshine went straight into my soul.

Recently, a guy on our dock confidentially shared paternal concern about his daughter’s future. He asked me, not as a sailor but as an educator, what advice could I offer a 17 year old about charting life pathways given she “just wants to help people.” That’s a tough question even for an “Aquarian” who’d plotted a career through teaching in a rural high school, labyrinths within Ivory Towers, tiny desks in classrooms, and family learning centers. Though not a cognoscenti in humanities, here’s what I’ve learned about helping people from 50 years emerged in the Age of Aquarius.

Dear Passionate Yet Undecided Youth,

Many jobs and careers help people. Plumbers who fix the toilets help us as do engineers that design civic centers and sound systems. People who serve icy cold Frosties at sports events, those who bring our dinners to a table, code Apps, bring medicine to the poor, clean water, preserve resources, clean our communities, protect the environment, and those who adhere to callings to bring food to the hungry, solace to the troubled, equity to the disenfranchised, peace to warring factions– all help us survive, endure, thrive, prosper, and become ever a better village to raise our children, grow old together and bury our loved ones.

So do youth who scoop ice cream on summer evenings and help us remember simpler times while gathering with friends and family for sweet licks.  And, people who lend money, and forgive rental late fees, yes, it’s not a level playing field, but they help people reach their dreams – even at a cost. Helping is a very difficult term to describe in today’s world. The most effective way to begin to make things better is to be kind. That’s not simple either, but try.

So, lower your anxiety about what is helping people until you understand how all of us connect on shallow and deep levels. Don’t just be a random forgotten key in the junk drawer. Remember you are the only key that will open the gateway to your future and once you realize there are a lot of keys in the drawer you’ll figure out there are many locks beyond the drawer. Communicate with other keys.

Listen – not only to what people say but also what you hear when nobody is talking. You don’t need a stethoscope or a degree to perceive what’s most important.

Being a passive observer has great power – good and bad. Not taking action against a wrong is as powerful as wielding the brutal forces that create great harm. Not to act is to do. Risk is always part of change for better and for good – but remember it has a flip side too. Beliefs need no facts to be accepted as true. Scientific statements need proof and so what’s true today might not be tomorrow. Research changes facts. Adapt.

You can’t just wish to be brave or courageous. Both are interlocked with a sense of being an agent for something that benefits others in ways measured by character, civility, reason, and humility. Being brave demands testing your competence and confidence. But all of this is limited to specific contexts. A good lifeguard at the community pool isn’t necessarily someone who fights for social justice. Being brave blasts through all of this. Yet, it is a possible you.

Be your best. Live your dreams. And most of all – be kind – it is the most helpful disposition in life.

Best, (it comes after figuring out whether something is good and whether that’s helpful to anyone but yourself)



Last weekend, my granddaughter’s dance recital answered that caring dad’s question, “she wants to help people”. A single hour in the audience raised my awareness about the power of dance and music to help us connect disparate factions within the rhythm of life. Those who create music, dance, streaming videos, TikToks, comfy crafts, novels, journalism, matchmakers, parenting strategies, food pantries, updates from interplanetary explorations, videos from human failings, ice cream on trucks, guitar solos, books, plays, vaccines, haircuts, takeout food, product deliveries, babies, cancer cures, fitness coaching, farm to market, and on and on – all  help people us to understand that life is complicated and dependent on networks of people willing to negotiate an understanding of what helps, and what’s good – for some, but never all. If done with a sense of decency, most of whatever a 17 year old decides to pursue as a life pathway can help people. Except of course, decisions that destroy self and others.

I’m ending this stream with a promise made in my 1969 yearbook, “to make a sad song better.” Hey, Jude, many of us take songs we believe are sad because we have a different perspective and so, making “them” better becomes about us helping ourselves rather than others. Few among us are altruistic – those who care about others first and self somewhere down the pecking order – that’s not a bad thing. Fifty years later, it seems nothing I can say about reliance, competence, and confidence will resonate with all of my friends and associates. Nah, nah, nah, nananahnah.

Wisdom has always been co-opted by the context of time and community. I’m entering my personal dusk of the Age of Aquarius. I’m a tad rusty about Aquarius and don’t care whether the moon is in the seventh house or not. I am ambivalent as to whether or not Jupiter is aligned with Mars because Rover is there sending me daily photos.  I’ve lived through the 60s and my 60s – it’s time for some cool changes.

I danced on the stage of Hair to let the sun shine in. I’m greeting my 70’s tomorrow with a heart that’s still open to feeling it. Here’s to us, Jude.

Jeri, Class of 69 turns 70, 6/4/2021.And Mick Jagger, as you know, It’s NOT such a drag growing old –

Point Judith Light – After the sun goes down – FB friend photo post