Last month, Greatist asked our readers to respond to the prompt: "How do you find happiness?" Entries for the writing contest poured in, and we were overwhelmed by people's willingness to share their personal, heartfelt, and hard-earned thoughts on what it means to be happy. It was difficult, but we narrowed it down to two Finalists and one Winner whose work will appear on Greatist.
Contest Winner Casie Cook is a laughter enthusiast and MFA student at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She loves words, humans, and any combination of the two. You can find her musings at www.createhappy.org or follow her on Twitter @kaceemaree.
My dad used to leave Post-it notes at random on my bedroom door or on the inside of the front door of the house, each one with the same message:
“Have a great day, Kid. Love, Dad.”
I smiled as I peeled them off the doors. He left them for my brother, too. It was just the three of us after my mom left when I was 11 years old. We marched on, arm in figurative arm, so as not to let each other fall in the face of adversity. I do not recall a day without the contagious sound of my dad’s full-bodied laughter. He made the best of everything.
My dad created happiness. He created it for himself, for his kids, and for everyone he shared his life with. He once planted a flower garden as a surprise for an elderly neighbor who he knew could not afford to buy the flowers, let alone crouch down on the ground to plant them. He drove his ex-mother-in-law across three states when her brother was dying because she was afraid to fly and her children would not take the time to drive her. He arranged to have the heating system replaced in one of his colleague’s homes because he and his wife could not afford to fix their heat in the middle of a cold, Minnesota winter.
Those grand kindnesses were supplemented by smaller ones. He helped strangers choose the right materials at Home Depot, he put away shopping carts left unattended in parking lots, he set aside his plans whenever a friend needed help, and he never stopped smiling. He was the kind of guy who danced while flipping burgers and thought nothing of it. He was the kind of guy who affected people, who cared for people with a capacity greater than most.
Life had never been easy on him. His father died of a heart attack when my dad was only three years old. He never even had a chance to play a game of catch with his own dad. His mom was a single mom of four children. My dad was the youngest of the bunch, the one who often got left behind, forgotten. Needless to say, he quickly learned how to fend for himself. He married a dysfunctional alcoholic who ran from the responsibility of parenthood soon after his mom died. After she fled, my dad wore the single father badge proudly. I never felt as if anything was missing in my life, an assumption often made about children of single parents. My dad was all the parent I needed. He devoted his life to us, at times holding two jobs at once so that he could buy us new school clothes while he stitched up his own worn denim jeans.
My dad died almost two and a half years ago at age 52. I was 24 years old at the time and my brother was 21. He spent the last 11 months of his life battling lung cancer, a fight I thought if anyone could win, it would be him. “I love you, too” were the last coherent words he spoke to me. He gave no parting advice, and he didn’t need to. He had shown me how to live, and I wear it on my heart every day. I hold doors open for crowds, ask strangers behind counters how they’re doing, put away stray shopping carts in parking lots, nurture my personal relationships, look after my brother, and make time for artistic pursuits. I create happiness.
Happiness cannot be found. You will not find it waiting behind that next paycheck, sitting at the bottom of your latte cup, or tucked in the pockets of a pair of killer denim jeans. You’ve got to create it — for yourself and the people you share your time with, even those you don’t know.
For more perspectives on happiness, check out our two Finalists' posts:
How to Find Happiness by Being Happy About "Nothing"
How do you find happiness? Tweet us using the hashtag #myhappyis!