Reexamining “The Small, Happy Life”

In today’s The New York Times David Brooks‘ column, “The Small, Happy Life,” the journalist expresses surprise that a “number of people found their purpose  . . . by pursuing the small, happy life.” Given his journalistic pedigree, I can understand why he may have thought his readers would “dream big; set ambitious goals; try to change the world.”

Lofty ideas and ambitions are what dreams are made of.  And they are to be nurtured.  But sometimes we forget that all life dreams and goals can be ambitious in their own right.   And sometimes we, as a nation, diminish those quiet praiseworthy qualities, such as kindness and generosity, and erroneously place a premium on materialistic and other worldly desires.

Indeed, one’s belief that he or she has a “small font purpose,” doesn’t lessen the impact of the written content.  Each decision written by the essayists and called out by Mr. Brooks has significant implications for our world.  Planting a garden ensures our the continuation of a functional ecosystem and shuns the dictates of Big Agra.  Being a present and loving spouse and parent teaches commitment, communication and patience to the next generation.  And being kind and generous demonstrates humanity and humility.  These individuals may not be a Musk, Zuckerberg, Sandberg or Welch, but their contribution to society is equally as great.

My Mother worked inside the home.  Raising children and supporting her husband, yes.  But she also created crossword puzzles published in many of the same publications as Mr. Brooks’ writings.  To some, her life must seem very small.  But to those who know her, it is larger than life.  She raised four children, one who served in the U.S. Navy, three who graduated from college, one who received a Ph.D., and one who has a law degree.  She taught Sunday school at church, volunteered at our schools, attended our sporting events, and dutifully suffered through our band and choral concerts.  She is an active grandmother to five grandchildren.  She is a caring daughter.  And a loving wife.  I know she would tell you her life has been–and is–a happy one.  And to all those she has touched, nurtured, educated and loved, her life has been anything but small.

The pursuit of happiness is innate.  To some, happiness means an abundance of wealth, popular or professional recognition, or material success.  To others its means love, relationships, and kindness.  To be certain, the pursuit of such goals are not mutually exclusive.  But from my experience, training to win one major race in life leaves little, if any, time to adequately pursue other endeavors.  I know.  I traded a law practice for a commitment to my now-husband.  And I traded consulting work for a child.  Some may say I too live a small, happy life now.  But my life is interwoven with the lives, goals and ambitions of family, friends, acquaintances, former business contacts, former clients, former colleagues, members of my worship community, and neighbors–and can only be described as a big, beautiful, kind, generous life.

I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective.

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