In Hot Pursuit of Happiness

One of the many joys here at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range is the weekly meeting of Swamp Talk, a discussion group whose members for the most part have not fully adapted themselves to life behind the gate house at Pancho Villas, our nearby “Over 55” community. Every Friday morning, we push a few tables together, set out a couple of pots of coffee, and leave them pretty much alone.

I join them whenever I can, and I am really looking forward to this week’s topic: “How can we redesign the way we live?”

I’m curious to see what varieties of utopia arise from this discussion, and of course I am working on my own, reviewing some old ideas that I’ve stored somewhere in the cobwebby back room of my mind, remembering past workshops and novel-writing attempts.

For Swamp Talk, this topic arose from a discussion on energy sources, specifically natural gas. (Is it really clean? Or is it just another scam? I’m a little skeptical since most of the information I could find came from the natural gas companies and their thinly veiled lobbyists.) Now that I’ve had a little time to mull it over, though, I am looking at the challenge from another perspective.

What design for the way we live would generate the most happiness? Last year I read The Geography of Bliss, which was, simply put, great fun. Imagine a curmudgeon setting out to explore the countries said to be the tops in happiness. Take it from there.

My mother always told me, “Happiness isn’t everything,” and I have been pondering that for years. I think she meant to say “personal happiness” or “your own damn happiness” but she went for the full sweep. Maybe God felt that way, too, when he smote Sodom and Gomorrah. Were those people truly evil, or were they just having too much fun? The pictures in my Sunday School comics were difficult to interpret. If there were both evil-doers and victims, shouldn’t God have saved the victims?

Anyway, Sodom and Gomorrah are not my model for a perfect world since I don’t stay up late at night, and I don’t drink, except on vacation and during hurricanes.

My question for all you all today is: “What if we redesigned the way we live making our top criteria the highest possible happiness for the largest number of people?”

What would we get? Is that ever the top of the list for urban planners? I don’t know, but I suspect they go for more mundane goals such as ease of transportation, optimal land use, access to health care, lifelong education, and art in the parks.

I think I’ll have all that in my redesigned world, too, but as means to an end, and the end will be . . . happiness.

Already, I’m looking at you, my dear friends, here at the Slice of Heaven 24-Hour Pie Shop and Driving Range, and I’ve got to say, for the most part you seem to be a fairly happy crew, except of course for Pretty Boy Boyd, but he would not be happy anywhere except possibly floating face down in a vat of Guinness.

The question is, how do we export our level of satisfaction out to the rest of the world? What do we have right here that makes us happy?

My first observation is that we have community. The layout is a little quirky. We no central command center unless you count the bar over at the Swing Barn. We live in a variety of dwellings and situations, ranging from my modest turquoise conch cottage to Su Ten’s top-of-the-line double wide to the villas at Pancho Villas and, of course, the Clown Castle, and The Morning Guy’s current abode at Stepford South. I’m not really sure where your second-cousin Darnell is living these days, but I sure hope he’s moved out of my car. I may need to drive to the Village one day this week.

So, yes! Community. We have it. We care for each other, and we look out for each other. We think of ourselves as “us” and the rest of the world is “them.” We are right, and they are wrong. Yes! Say it out loud. It feels good, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure if that’s an essential part of happiness, but the sense of rightness does help.

What else do we have here?  Meaningful employment, whether it’s baking pies, restocking the soda machine, tracking the iguanas, being the first one to pick up the microphone on Karaoke night.

We have universal health care, at least for minor emergencies. Nurse Crotchett made sure we all had our flu shots, we get plenty of exercise hitting golf balls and walking over to the Swing Barn or out to the phone booth by the highway. If any one is feeling a little sluggish, Sue Ten will offer to give him or her a little power boost from a potato clock, just for fun.

We are in harmony with nature, and a maybe just a little bit scared of it when we hear the bull gators call out. We understand that the home we have chosen tends to descend into chaos during hurricane season, and we do what we can to discourage further development of the swamp. We especially enjoy it when visiting engineers and government consultants come by for some pie and coffee.

As much as we love our traditions, we also love to try out something new whenever possible. Even now, Joe Sparkle Junior is hatching a scheme for faster pie delivery to the Swing Barn. So far, it involves a lot of cable and pulleys, and I’m not sure he’s fully thought it out, but I admire his initiative.

We don’t worry too much about law-enforcement since we all keep a pretty good watch on each other. The Morning Guy has drawn up plans for some solar panels, mainly to keep the lights on so we can still use the driving range at night when the storms knock out the power lines. We don’t really need much in the way of transportation since there are so few places we’d rather be.

Maybe the key to Utopia isn’t designing to produce happiness after all. Maybe it’s designing to bring out the best in the people who already live there.

Let me know what you think. What would my world look like if YOU ruled it?

2 comments

  1. tenenbaum.susan says:

    It’s a good thing we don’t have to worry about law enforcement, what with Logan on the lazy susan. And specially for me, because I’ve become a thief. Despite my desire for a perfect community, there are some lusts that can’t be defined, much less satisfied, and I have one.

    Yes, I’ve begun stealing. Since Logan (‘s body below his neck) left me, there’s an emptiness that can’t really be satisfied, except once in a while…I find myself looking for something, and in the looking and the taking of that something, I have a few minutes of completion. Then, and sometimes also when I’m dancing at the dance barn. Or I might forget about things while leaning across the counter, plate in hand, calling out for another slice key-lime-lemon meringue.

    I would never take anything of value, or steal from friends, and in fact I don’t want anything I can use: I would never, for instance, steal from Ideal Clothes and Housewares. I sometimes steal from Home Depot – a gasket for my tap, or a stainless-steel screw like the kind Logan used to use for his hang-glider. If I were a better wife, I’d rig up something so I could harness his head to his wings once in a while. I’d let him fly, and see him smile again. Mostly I steal from Publix. Not for me. I’m too chicken to actually grab up a Tofurky or a wheel of cheese. But I steal. A yeast packet. A tiny box of trick birthday candles. Once I stole a 4-ounce container of candied fruit. I bring these things to the pie shop and mix them in with the regular stock of supplies.

    So, am I contributing to a better community? I’m not Robin Hood; I know this isn’t a good thing. And now that Bjean knows, will she think I’m adding to eternal happiness by keeping costs down (a tad)? Or will she fire me? Banish me from the pie shop? Or will I be exiled from this closer-than-average-to-perfect community as a lawbreaker in a place which, but for my transgression, is crime-free?

    But Logan is Logan, and the hole in me hasn’t been filled since I lost most of him. If not here, in this safe place, where will I go to try to fill the emptiness? Am I spiraling ever downward into an abyss of perversion? Am I experimenting with a gateway crime – one that leads to ever grander thefts, like going from stealing seed packets to hijacking an American Harvester tractor? Will it lead to involvement with organized crime, bribery, maybe even murder in the dark recesses of another, less perfect, city?

    Can I have a wedge of cheddar with my apple pie?

  2. Bjean says:

    Just remember: Apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze. Sadly, given the condition of your husband, that proverb probably has more meaning for you than it does to most people. As for your descent into petty crime, all I can say is “Thief is such a nasty word.” Sorry you’ve gone all klepto on me, but if that fills the void, where’s the harm? Bailing you out of jail from time to time is still going to be cheaper than paying for your shrink, if memory serves me well.

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