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Judy Spooner: Finding happiness

My first-grade teacher wrote, "Judy is a very happy child," on my first report card.

So, there it is. I try to discover the best in people and find something to make me happy every day. I get a double hit when I can make someone else happy.

Happiness is all around you every day. You have to be a person who notices it, however.

I was at the St. Paul Park summer recreation program last week while the kids were holding a car wash. You might not believe a child would be delighted to have someone empty a bucket of cold hose water on her head, but Erin Smested squealed with delight.

I thought about how happy I was to hear children laughing.

Later that day, I was forced by circumstances I couldn't control to be in the company of someone for two hours who is at the opposite end of my spectrum. She spends 24-7 living in the darkness of her mind.

All her sentences begin with "I can't," "I won't" and "I don't like."

Even in a situation where she was successful, she didn't enjoy the moment. She complained, and, boy could she complain, that it was not her best effort.

The reason she didn't enjoy her success was obvious. She won out over three other people, including me. By finding fault with her accomplishment, she proved to herself that, even when she is flawed, she is better than anyone else.

The darkness of it all was hard to shake off.

When I got home, I called a friend who knows this woman well. I told her about my encounter. She made me laugh about how predictable this woman is and how much she enjoys making others feel small and insignificant. She reassured me I didn't have to accept that. No one should be reduced to the level of bacteria by anyone, she told me.

While pondering this, I sought information on the Internet about happiness.

Happy people, according to Martin Seligman, author of "Authentic Happiness," surround themselves with friends and family, forgive easily and lose themselves in daily activities.

"That's right!" I said to myself. "When I felt terrible, I got help from a friend."

I believe that's why people find hope, happiness and satisfaction when they join churches. The act of faith, by nature, is hopeful when people acknowledge a power higher than themselves.

Happy people spend the least time alone, Seligman said. They also pursue intimacy with others and want to improve themselves though personal growth.

Twice a year, Community Education offers "Gentle Saturday," which is a day full of classes on various topics and includes lunch. Most of the people I've met there are positive and fun to be with, so I agree with Seligman.

People who are happy enjoy small pleasures, according to University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson. They also find joy in giving to others.

I recalled memories of the kids at the car wash and the darkness started to lighten.

"Someone's going to get wet," I had said to a girl. "I know," she said with a smile of anticipation.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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