Jan 05, 2012 0 Share

On Snowmen and the Secret to Happiness


Little girl tying scarf on snowman.
iStockphoto

In culling my closet's contents this holiday season, I've discovered a wealth of memories. I found a book for my brother last week, and today I discovered another childhood treasure: a kindergarten composition, complete with illustrations, that I made when I was five years old. More specifically, I made it on January 10, 1991 … nearly 21 years ago. This yellow, fragile piece of paper features a stick-figure image of me—brown hair, red clothes, big red line signifying a smile. I'm standing next to a snowman, with a white crayon body, three black buttons, a top hat, big arms, and a cheerful face. I've scribbled my name across the top of the image, and written a short essay below. 

The text below the images reads, “Met I Snowman. I wis boold a snow man. I wis hape. Wis I wis hape.” An approximate translation of this cryptic passage might read:  “I met a snowman. I built a snowman. I was happy. I was happy.” 

When I read this now, my first response is laughter—the laughter of recognition, and surprise. That little girl was me. Is me. She built a snowman, and was happy … so happy that she felt the need to repeat herself, just to get the point across. How simple, and yet profound. 

My second response to this piece of paper is to remember a story about Willie as a small boy, one that I don't actually remember, but that I treasure nevertheless. 

To hear my parents tell it, one winter morning they woke to find Willie missing. He wasn't in his bed, he wasn't watching TV, or eating breakfast. He'd vanished. After a few moments of panic and imagining the worst, my mom opened the front door … only to find her “missing” child happily prancing around the front yard in several inches of fresh snow. The kicker:  Willie had apparently remembered to don a tee shirt and snow boots … but he had not felt it necessary to put on underwear or pants before heading out into the frigid winter morning. The lack of these items didn't seem to bother him, however; when my mom found him, he was content, happy, playing in the snow. 

The connecting threads between my composition and Willie's escapade? Play, delight, and happiness. As children, we know that happiness is significant. Why is it that we let ourselves lose this essential knowledge as adults? Why do we let even our holidays become a flurry of things to do, rather than experiences to savor? 

My kindergarten composition has become a touchstone for me, just as the story of Willie running out into the snow is something I love to think of. Both help me to remember what whole-hearted happiness looks and feels like. And thanks to these things, I know something of why we avoid such free-spirited play: It makes us feel vulnerable, and that vulnerability is unnerving. It reminds us that within our adult selves, a child still lives … and that child loves to explore the world and enjoy life. 

Somehow, my childhood misspelling (hape) breaks through my defenses every time I think of it. Hape makes happiness seem like a new concept; it opens my heart to possibilities. It has me asking questions such as: What if we did something each day that was the metaphorical equivalent of building a snowman, of running out into the newly-fallen snow in the early morning? If we did, we just might find happiness waiting for us, right where we left it. 

That's my challenge to you:  Do one thing today that's just for joy, just for fun. There are many ways to do this, just as there are many ways to love. But if you're going outside, do remember to put on pants.