Who’s Happy Now? By Hal O’Leary

Who’s Happy Now? By Hal O’Leary

WHO’S HAPPY NOW? By Hal O’Leary in his weekly section Just Hal! Enjoy the reading. It’s worth!

Some years ago at Bethany College, I conducted a freshman seminar called “Introduction to Yourself.” Since each seminar instructor was free to do whatever he or she might choose, you can imagine the wide variety of courses offered. The objective of the newly established program, in recognition that many students entering college were ill-prepared, was to help the students “learn to learn.” My offering actually turned out to be a course in psychology. Having spent most of my prior life in the theatre, I was inspired by Herb Gardner’s play A Thousand Clowns, which characterizes the lives of two most opposite-minded brothers. There was Murray, a typical nonconformist of the 60s, who had acquired the guardianship of the twelve-year-old son of his equally non-conformist sister, who “went out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned.” The brother, Arnold, is as straight-laced as one could possibly imagine. At one point, Arnold, in an attempt to justify himself, insists emphatically to Murray that, whatever Murray may think of his lifestyle, “I am the best possible Arnold Burns.” The line at first became the title of my seminar, to be shortened a couple of years later to “Introduction to Yourself.”

pink light

Pink Light. Photo attribution Anna Langova

One of my objectives for students, besides learning to learn, was learning how to be happy. One of the discussions that arose at some point in the course was that of which is happier, a music lover at the symphony or a cow in a field of clover. Other than a possible bull, the cow is experiencing everything she could possibly hope for. What greater happiness can there be? Stated this way, the students most often, with a possible reflection upon their own potential for unhappiness, would opt in favor of the cow. It was with them that I would differ, in reminding them that humans have a greater capacity for happiness than the cow, and therefore the human would be happier. While the cow is as happy as a cow can be in the sameness of a field of clover, the symphony-goer is happier in the richness and complexity of the music.

All too often, in our misguided value system, we tend to equate happiness with the mere acquisition of material wealth, forgetting that money should be nothing more than a convenience. While paying lip service to the trite phrase, “Money can’t buy happiness,” we nevertheless spend our greatest amount of time and effort in acquiring it. The utterance of the phrase, I believe, is little more than a feeble and hypocritical attempt to conceal the guilt that might accompany an excess attainment of money, for it has often come at the expense of someone else. Then, of course, there is the need to ignore the negative consequences that follow in the wake of money.

These consequences may include something as simple as having no time to look at the flowers. As that great line from the musical comedy, MAME, admonishes, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-o-bitches are starving to death.” But what is so much worse is that the drive for money must inevitably lead to some measure of the mortal sins, greed and envy. To acquire it merely for the sake of possession beyond need may be pleasurable, but here we must distinguish between pleasure and true happiness. Having fun does not equate with happiness. It comes often with the sacrifice of more rewarding pursuits. Greedy acquisition of money, merely to keep up with or surpass the neighbors, makes them, if not hostile, something less than friends with whom to share. While it may be argued that with its acquisition money can be a sense of pride, such pride amounts to little more than the gloating that comes simply from beating the other guy. Then, of course, when we add the undeniable result that we become prisoners of our possessions, living in constant fear of their being stolen or lost, it’s hard to deny the adage, “Money can’t buy happiness.”

But, if this be true, where then can happiness be found? Truth is that most folks, in a refusal to acknowledge the truth of truth, will continue to seek happiness from without, when true happiness can only be found within. As Eleanor Roosevelt once remarked, “Happiness is not a goal, it’s a by-product.” It is found in the exercise of whatever wonderful talents we may have graciously been given. Each of us is uniquely endowed with traits and talents that cry out for expression. It is through this expression that one realizes the potential for self-fulfillment and the subsequent happiness that results in being able to look in the mirror with justifiable pride. I was shocked when working with elementary aged children how many of them, when asked if they liked what they see in the mirror, would reply in the negative. With those children, one of two things had to be true. Either they were afraid that they may be thought of as vain, or indeed that they did not like what they saw. If such were the former, it might be an indication that they have been conditioned to reject an honest assessment of who and what they are, and with it the loss of pride, an indicator of true happiness. As for the latter, the indication was that in judging themselves in relation not to what others actually were but rather to what the others only pretended to be, they couldn’t measure up. Ironically, this assessment leads to a lack of confidence, and a lack of confidence leads to a fear of self-expression, without which a true sense of pride can never be realized.

Thus it was that in the seminar, “learning to learn” had to begin with acquiring a desire to learn, which is lacking in many of today’s students. The desire to learn comes only with a recognition of one’s potential in terms of the unique talents and traits one might possess. Learning to exercise that potential in self-expression is the only path to true happiness.

Who’s happy now? The person who knows his or her own Self. May you now be introduced.


Since time began

The search has been for happiness.

Philosophers and seers,

Psychologists and bards,

Consensus could not find

And we are left to fend and find our own.

Our own?

And therein lies the clue.

For each of us is born unique,

With different tastes and preferences,

With different possibilities,

So if we’re to find our happiness,

We must discover what they are.

I’m minded of Saroyan’s thought:

“It takes a lot of practice

For a man to get to be himself.”

So look to that to make a start.

Discover what your talents are,

And in the exercise thereof,

You’re sure to find a happiness

That truly is your own.

It’s Do and Be, but first,

To do, you’ve got to know yourself.

Then do what you were meant to do.

Do whatever’s right for you,

And make the effort to become

The very best at being you,

The very best that you can be.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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