The Cambrian

Kathe Tanner: Happiness not a pursuit

Kathe Tanner writes for The Cambrian.
Kathe Tanner writes for The Cambrian.

One of the least tangible, most difficult things I’ve tried to explain to my offspring was happiness. Children, up to the age of 30 or so, tend to think of happiness as always being capitalized, italicized, outlined in neon and attached to a “Wham!”

Explaining that it ain’t necessarily so takes flash cards, graphics, charts, videos and at least two Valium.

No, my children, happiness doesn’t always come in big packages, labeled “first driver’s license,” “first car,” “graduation,” “romance,” “wedding,” “vacation,” “bigger salary” or even “paid-up VISA bill.”

Happiness is more than gigantic, flag-flying, life-changing, even stressful joys. It’s the little itty-bitty fleeting happinesses in between that keep us going through all the oatmeal that passes for everyday life these days.

Trust me; I’m your mother. Happiness is:

• Going to the dentist with a toothache and finding out you don’t have a cavity, just an overactive imagination.

• Getting a letter from someone you already owe a letter to, but they can’t count.

• Getting a birthday package you didn’t expect, or a mail-order package you did. It’s even getting a bill in the mail, but you’ve already paid it.

• Getting a phone call from your kid, and he/she doesn’t need more money, but just wanted to say hello.

However, happiness was not the phone call from our youngest son informing me he is going skydiving the next day. Next time, child, call me the day after.

Happiness is realizing your favorite food is low-fat, high-fiber and cheap. Closely related to that is finding out that cream cheese has fewer calories than butter (that is, assuming you like cream cheese).

It’s finding the missing pieces to your favorite sewing-pattern tucked inside the pattern envelope for your baby’s jumpsuit. Bonus? Your baby is now 23, and the pattern still fits you.

Happiness is seeing the red flag on a parking meter and a card on your windshield … but it’s just a flyer advertising somebody’s charity spaghetti dinner and you don’t even have to go.

Or driving a motor home and finding two consecutive parking meters with time left on them. However, odds on that one are too obscure to be calculated by any existing computer.

Speaking of which, happiness is sitting down at a computer and realizing you know what to do with it. The same holds true for a drill press, a digital camera, a crock-pot, a vacuum cleaner…or an airplane cockpit, if you want to be flamboyant about it.

Happiness is seeing a police car in your rear-view mirror and you’re doing 5 mph under the speed limit. And your license plates are current.

Real happiness is 5 miles later, when the black-and-white has pulled over the jackass who passed you a while back, doing 90 on a two-lane road with double solid yellow lines and traffic in both lanes. Payback’s hell, pal.

Happiness is going out to dinner at a restaurant you haven’t tried before, and having it wonderful. Happiness crossed with equal doses of blind faith and utter stupidity is taking your guests out to a restaurant you haven’t tried before, and lucking out even when you don’t deserve it.

Happiness is playing catch with a dog who will give the ball back. It’s an enthusiastic hello from a dog who hasn’t just slurped his way through an enormous drink of water. It’s also knowing for sure that the dog on your lap hasn’t been playing seek-and-find in the poison-oak patch.

Happiness is having a new hummingbird feeder that the hummingbirds can figure out. It’s also knowing there’s absolutely no way the cat on the ground —who is licking her chops hopefully—could even begin to sneak up on a hummingbird, even if she could figure out a route to the feeder that wouldn’t be kamikaze kitty cat hari-kari.

You know what? It only took me about 15 minutes to list all these, and there are lots more where they came from.

Now that’s happiness.

This column first ran in the Sept. 4, 1986, Cambrian. It seemed time to run it again. We could all use an extra dose of happiness these days.

E-mail Kathe Tanner at ktanner@thetribunenews. co m. Read more “Slices” at