Today is both Happiness Happens Day and International Cat Day: a nice pairing – for me, at least. I love cats. First a brief look at Happiness Happens Day (which I am not thrilled about). Happiness Happens Day was promulgated by the Secret Society of Happy People in 1999. The Society originally declared August 8th as Admit You’re Happy Day. The idea was inspired by an event that happened the previous year on that date: the first member joined the Society. The Society was founded in August 1998 in Irving, Texas, by Pamela Gail Johnson. In December 1998, the Society gained widespread attention when it challenged advice columnist Ann Landers for discouraging people from writing happy holiday newsletters enclosed with their holiday cards. In a letter to Landers, Johnson demanded an apology “to the millions of people you made feel bad for wanting to share their happy news.” The Society’s campaign persuaded Landers to change her advice on holiday letters, one of the rare occasions the columnist had a change of heart. Within the next few years the Society grew, being supported by thousands of fans from more than 34 countries.
Pamela Gail Johnson founded the Secret Society of Happy People with the main idea of creating a “safe place” where people could share their happy moments, without being discouraged. Since 1998 she has been managing the Society by writing posts, writing a newsletter, updating social media information, and answering fan questions on her blog Ask Pamela Gail: Where Happiness Meets Reality. The blog gives people advice on handling their unhappy moments and learning lessons from them. The column is posted weekly. Pamela is also the author of The Secret Society of Happy People’s Thirty-One Types of Happiness Guide released in November 2012 and Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People.
While I understand the original point of the Society and of having a “special” day, I also see numerous problems. If you know my other blog, you will know that happiness comes up once in a while – e.g. http://www.passionintellectpersistence.com/are-you-happy/ In that post I pointed out that the problem begins with definitions. Clearly Johnson knows all the things I am about to say, but I want to be clear. This is because happiness is fundamentally important to me, but I am not talking about superficial happiness, I am talking about profound happiness. I have written a book on my notion of deep happiness because the discovery of what makes me deeply happy (as well as deeply unhappy) was a vital turning point in my life. Lots of things make us momentarily happy, but that seems trivial to me. My pursuit in life is deep happiness, and I now know the things that make me deeply happy. Generally speaking, I have no particular need to share my happiness with others, although I understand the difficulties one can encounter in doing so. Let me tell you a story.
In March 1991 my wife discovered that she was pregnant. We had wanted children for about 10 years, but it wasn’t happening. We didn’t want to do all the fertility stuff, but we held out hope. Once in a while we thought we were successful, but the tests were always negative. After a number of years, we carried on with our lives, assuming we were not going to ever have children. Then, in 1991, my wife missed a couple of periods and started feeling sick in the mornings, so went to our family doctor for a pregnancy test. Yup – she was pregnant. We were ecstatic. That Sunday we went to a Quaker meeting that we had been attending for some time, and mentioned when we arrived that my wife was pregnant. One of the regular members told us not to say anything about it because another longtime member had been trying to get pregnant and had been told she was infertile. So, we had to suppress our happiness because it would make someone else sad.
This may well fit into Johnson’s definition of “raining on my parade.” In any event, we never returned to that meeting. The member who told us to be silent about our joy was in the wrong – period. Making us aware of the sensitivity of another member would have been fine. But it was our choice what to do about our happiness, not someone else’s choice for us. The inherent difficulty is that you are always in danger of hurting someone with the nature of your joy. I don’t see the need for a “safe space” however. I do see the need for sensitivity all around. My old church in New York used to have a blue Christmas service for people who were sad at that time of year because they were alone, or lost a loved one around Christmas, or some such. On Mother’s Day they gave flowers to every woman, not just to mothers.
Social media have confused the issue a great deal, because some people when they post holiday photos, baby pictures, and the like, are not so much being happy as being narcissistic (certainly, not all – by any means – but some). People who do that routinely get cut from my friend list. Not interested. I put my “happy” photos up all the time, and friends can do with them what they like. If they looooooooooooooove them: fine; if they ignore them: fine. It’s not my problem what other people make of my happiness.
Recently I asked, “What makes you happy?” on Facebook, and in the middle of a thread an ex-girlfriend popped up with a one-word expletive and deleted me. I have no idea what that was all about. I hit some nerve or other. Not my problem.
Cats make me happy. To be clear, they do not make me deeply happy the way that cooking or writing do, but they are definitely a positive in my life. I have had cats in my house from the time I was a small boy until I left the US 10 years ago. I can’t have pets and travel. But, for at least 50 years there were cats around my house. Cats and I get along, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because I know about their secret plot to conquer the world, and they feel the need to appease me.
First, let me say that cats have all manner of different personalities. Some are really smart, some are royally stupid; some are friendly, some are not. They run the gamut. They do all seem to know unerringly whether someone visiting is afraid of cats or allergic to them. They will invariably cuddle up to them or jump on their laps. But if you like cats and try to please them when you visit a house with cats, they will probably ignore you. Often when visitors came to my house, my cats would hide.
I like the fact that cats, unlike dogs, are largely self sufficient. They don’t need to be walked daily (or whenever nature calls), and they are happy to be left alone for long periods. My last cat – Indigo – always waited for me at the kitchen window when I went to work, or on holiday, but as soon as I was home, she ran off and did something. After a long absence she might nuzzle my head a few times, but then she would give me a little bite and run away. We understood each other. When my wife died she crept under the covers and slept beside my leg every night.
I used to be a big fan of cat memes although my interest has waned in recent years. Here’s a few recent favs:
International Cat Day was created in 2002 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Stray cats, and the abuse of cats can be a major problem in some regions. Where I live in Phnom Penh, cats seem to do all right even though they live on the streets and no one “owns” them. They are not feral, although they are not really friendly either. They just go about and do their own thing. I have two fairly regular visitors: a ginger tom at the front door and a tortoiseshell tom at the back door (by the kitchen). Ginger tom used to sleep on my balcony at night, and would sit in my lap if I sat out there. Tortoiseshell tom is very skittish, and runs if I get close. That’s normal for these cats, although right now we have an explosion of kittens on the street, and they are pretty friendly.
Animal shelters are always looking for people to adopt cats. All the cats I have ever had have come from shelters. You get what you get, although by holding a shelter animal for a little while you can get a fairly good idea what to expect.
I suggest you make a dish to celebrate today that a cat would like. Cats are best served by feeding them nutritious diets that are made specifically for cats – and with their particular ages in mind. But once in a great while you can give them a treat – something you would like too. Have a meal together !!! My wife and I were always aware of “round butter syndrome.” If we inadvertently left a stick of butter out uncovered and walked away, when we returned the corners would be rounded where the cats had been licking on it. It’s not good for the cats, and round butter is not sanitary, so I don’t suggest that as an option. Here is a great video for you on cooking for cats. The recipe works for humans as well.