Wag More, Bark Less
Happiness is a dog named Fritz
By Brian Faulkner
Illustration by Harry Blair
My next door neighbor has a dog down the street. It’s not his dog, but the pup hasn’t figured that out. So, every time my friend approaches the house where the little guy lives, the thing starts to bark and shimmy and shake until Gordon gets there and scratches the dog’s neck. It’s quite the sight, all that love, which makes me think that maybe Charles Schulz was right about happiness being a warm puppy.
“Why not get yourself a dog like that?” I quiz my neighbor. “No need,” he says. “Fritz and I are happy with things the way they are.”
This isn’t an essay about dogs, although it does seem to be drifting that way — I could tell you about one dog I met who had been taught to smile on command or another who could back up on request, both to great merriment. So it may be that dogs and happiness come from the same place. The light in my youngest brother’s eyes when I brought a puppy home in a box one summer’s day in 1965 could almost make me think so.
We can do things that might lead to happiness, but there’s no guarantee that happiness will appear. But then, just when we finally think we’ve got a grip on it, happiness, slides away and hides out in life’s tall grass until it’s ready to show up again.
“Happiness ain’t a thing in itself,” declares a Mark Twain character who’s trying to figure what heaven might be like. “It’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.”
“It just seems that if you hang on for a while longer, there is always something bright right around the corner,” observed Schulz, who strung both happiness and heartache through his comic strips like multicolored ribbons. You may remember Charlie Brown each autumn, ready to kick the football Lucy is holding upright for him, eager to let fly with it but knowing that she probably will snatch the ball away just as he gets there. We know what’s going to happen, but in our story — the one in our hearts, Lucy holds fast and Charlie Brown sends the ball sailing. We’re all Charlie Browns, and disappointments thread their way through our lives like insistent melodies. The trick lies in learning to let whatever happiness may come our way just happen.
I enjoy poking around in vintage stores like The Red Collection, where from time to time I’m delighted to find old pictures with a bit of happiness still clinging to them, memories long separated from their people. One of the happiest pictures I’ve ever seen — anywhere — was shot by Matthew Lewis Jr., a Pulitzer-winning news photographer known mostly for his civil rights era work: two little girls swinging together — one black child, one white, soaring through the sky and having the time of their young lives. Anybody who claims that “happiness ain’t what it’s cracked up to be” should see that picture.
Sometimes happiness simply surprises, like the time I covered a news story for a radio station. A rather robust lady had fallen through her outhouse seat into the mire below. It took a winch to crank her out, and as her considerable bulk emerged from the darkness, she showered her audience with laughter. What a joy! It’s refreshing to see people happy despite their circumstance, people who know they are blessed and who bless us in return. It could be someone working in their garden and holding up a handful of fresh-pulled weeds in a wave as you pass by. Or Fritz, waiting up the road for my neighbor to come scratch his neck.
Despite scientific research that says happiness ain’t so hot because happy people are more likely to be “influenced by stereotypes” and have other discouraging traits, I for one am all for it — happiness, that is. My suggestion is to take the risk that things won’t turn out perfectly, jump on the happiness train and let it take you down the tracks. Let your spirits rise. Float off in the air, like a balloon that’s escaped from a child’s birthday party, exulting in the moment with no worry about where the wind may take you . . . if anywhere. Breathe in the fresh, breathe out the foul. Divest yourself of the things that gnaw at you, that bring you down, if just for a moment.
Then, as Mark Twain puts it, in no time at all you’ll be “happy as a dog with two tails.” OH
Brian Faulkner says he’s happiest when writing, which he’s done more or less successfully all his life, including a series of Emmy award–winning public television programs, the occasional essay and a children’s story now and then. He lives in Lewisville, which he claims is close enough for Greensboro to claim as kin.