I really dig this happiness stuff. I mean, I’m not like all rainbows and cupcakes. I just think the actual study of what makes people happy is important stuff. Sure, it’s going to be easy to satirize because of how many people aren’t even on the map toward realizing happiness. Of course, that’s at least half the point. We could use more of this kind of information. Anyway, a couple of main characters struggle with it in The Director of Happiness, my recent, officially complete now, novel.
I would like to think The Director of Happiness, while it satirizes “happiness” and what people find truly important, also breaks some ground on the subject. There certainly are plenty enough examples in nonfiction on the subject of happiness and positive psychology. And that’s really what got me to thinking about Martin Seligman. Speaking of groundbreakers, Seligman’s penetrating definition and analysis of happiness has long since set the standard. The way he balances empirical research with his analysis and conclusions. Perhaps David Brooks’ The Social Animal is the next step removed from what Seligman is doing. I would say Authentic Happiness has the trappings of seeking bestseller attention, but it’s more about establishing a kind of standard, an authority speaking on the scientific study of happiness, not to mention Seligman continues to write and publish other books, like Flourish, which does seem to have even broader market appeal.
Of course it’s not exactly scientific, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be studied. The same is true of most disciplines when it comes down to it. Anyway, I digress.
Sometimes over the past 18 months or so, since I’ve made the move toward “writing a breakout novel” and running C&R Press, people have asked my wife (who’s title at the Lamp Post Group is Director of Happiness), “Do you think Chad is really happy?” Maybe they’ve misunderstood that happiness is earned. It doesn’t always come easy. Or maybe they’ve misunderstood how Shelley and I are figuring out our calling TOGETHER. I recall my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Barrett (“That’s Barrett with two ‘t’”s!” the cranky old hag said on the first day). What that woman’s cynicism pulled out of me that year is compelling stuff. The point is, in this vulnerable moment of my education, Ms. Barrett taught me to spell an important word, “together.”
“If a boy and a girl want to be together. HE has to-get-her.” I never forgot how to spell the word after that.
Well, does J.J. Fleming “get” Heather Ownby, the Director of Happiness? You’ll have to find out when the novel finally gets to print. In the meantime, it’s pretty clear that happiness itself is hard work. It’s a popular trend, sure, just as my protagonist is a trend hunter. But it’s one of those trends that directs us toward the future (rather than a fad, which will quickly become the past), and Seligman is one of those industry experts that provides the research to back it up.