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How to buy happiness

I have always thought happiness was a state of being. It can be elusive at times but is more often present on days when the sun is shining brightly.

On those days, if it gets too hot, we slather on sunscreen and wear wide-brimmed hats. We may wrap a cold, wet bandanna around our neck or opt for a camping chair under a shady tree. We sigh frequently in a relaxed way and laugh more often.

On those days we’re quite frequently engaged with nature. We are surrounded by smiling friends and family. Maybe there are lawn games — perhaps even a pond for splashing. Comfort food abounds. There will be strawberry shortcake at the end of that kind of happy day. Possibly just the strawberries. Lots of them. And watermelon.

After a less-than-happy, pandemic-focused year, many of us are starting to have more of those bask-in-the-good-life days. You may have enjoyed an entirely happy three-day weekend recently.

How do we keep happiness happening? I have thought about that a lot lately and have come to believe it starts with holding close and cherishing the happy moments when they occur. Affirm their presence. Acknowledge aloud or silently when happiness envelops you. Do it through meditation or prayer if you’re inclined. Do it through poetry.

The poem “Dreams” by Langston Hughes offers a variation on the affirmation strategy. The poet encourages “holding fast to dreams.” The simple rhyme is more often recited by children but has powerful application as we age. In the interpretation of the poem by psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal, author of “Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life,” he suggests “our dreams are “the vital blueprint for our goals and actions.” They should embraced.

Here is yet another approach. I was advised in a recent article by the journalist Ron Lieber that “happiness can bought,” i.e. be derived from “strategic spending.” His premise (one of several) was that we should use the money we have (a lot or a little) to “buy experience instead of stuff.” One example used was purchasing tickets to attend the ceremony for an old friend who was being sworn in as police chief in a faraway city. Another illustration might be purchasing an all-season pass to state parks — maybe doing that in your own state as well as an adjoining one.

And here’s a final idea about sustaining happiness. Give something away. Good will is easy to give. People may not remember what you said (or wrote, for that matter), but they will remember how what you said (or wrote) made them feel.

One woman who was incredibly happy about receiving her “coronavirus jab” is now a monthly donor to UNICEF’s vaccine equity initiative. Another, a writer, “busted into his emergency fund to donate to Feeding America and match his reader’s donations.”

I have an emergency fund, and I am a writer. I could do that. In fact, it makes me happy just to think about the possibility of doing that.

Sharon Johnson is a retired associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.