“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” ― Abraham Lincoln

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” ― Charles M. Schulz

“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.” ― George Burns

We all know how it is.

You work like a dog at a job you don’t like, yet you can never seem to get ahead. You’ve got debt up to your eyeballs and there’s no end in sight. The economy depresses you almost as much as the grotesque revelations on the nightly news.

Your kids rarely visit and won’t listen to you when they do. You’re growing older by the minute and your glory days have long passed. All those youthful dreams that once filled your head and heart have flown away like swift birds never to be captured.

It’s hard to be happy sometimes, isn’t it?

A recent national poll showed that only 33% of Americans reported that they are genuinely happy, an all-time low for the country. A separate poll showed that things are a little better in Maine, which was found to be the fourth happiest state in the nation. Still, with only a third of us claiming happiness, you have to wonder what’s behind the grim downtown.

Some blame the rise of digital media and the constant bombardment of unhappy news, political bickering and the lives of others showcased in ways that make our own look dismal.

Some say growing unhappiness is linked to an increase in rates of depression, obesity and drug use, yet there are no firm answers. Maybe as a people, we’ve simply become harder to please. Maybe our thresholds for happiness have become so unrealistic, it’s next to impossible to achieve.

So, who can possibly maintain happiness with all of that going on? Well, many of our readers, as it turns out.

No matter who they are – young or old, rich or poor – the people who live, work and play among us seem to find all sorts of ways to stay happy.

When we asked our readers “What makes you happy?” more than 100 of you responded. Some wrote in with a single word, some pontificated at length, and more than a few sent along photos featuring the source of their chronic bliss.

Our poll was nowhere near as scientific as those by Gallup, Harris and others, but we did learn a few things. Chief among them is that family, leisure time and pets above all keep our readers happy and sane in a world that doesn’t necessarily foster those things.

Nearly three dozen of those who responded insist that the simple pleasure of leisure activity is the secret to keeping your head on straight with a smile upon its face.

“Every summer I like to sit on my porch in the morning, drinking my coffee, do the crossword puzzle and watch the birds on my bird feeders,” says Jennifer McNally, of Lewiston. “It is a break from my crazy days during the school year. Not super exotic or exciting. But I love it!”

“Good old fashion dirt,” says Laurie Charest, of Auburn. “My gardens make me happy, sane. And fall, when I reap the benefits.”

“Friday nights at the New Oxford Dragway,” says Jessie Chartier, of Freeport. “And my kids.”

Keith Pray, of Lewiston, sent in one word: “Vacation.”

Bob Rowe, of Raymond, passed along a photo of a race car with the message, “This is happiness.”

John Frechette, of Auburn, sent in a picture of himself in a hockey uniform, gliding down the ice with stick in hand. “My happy place,” he writes.

“Gin and tonics,” declares Janet Fitzpatrick, formerly of Turner, now living in Vermont. “Made with top-shelf gin and fancy-pants tonic.”

“What makes me happy?” writes Tim Lajoie, of Lewiston. “A quiet space and a good book. That’s my idea of heaven.”

Of course, leisure can be as exotic as a faraway vacation or as simple as morning coffee on the deck. For our readers, it was usually somewhere in between.

“The solitude of wading in the water, casting to feeding fish,” writes Daniel Tanguay, of Lewiston. “Trout, bass, striped bass, pike . . . it doesn’t matter. Just being at one with my fly rod and the fish, with not another thought or care in the world.”

“Sitting by a campfire with my friends,” says Jennifer Martel, of Lewiston. “Insta-happy.”

For some, leisure time isn’t a true source of happiness unless family is there, too. And that’s just right because in our poll, leisure and family easily topped the list of things most likely to bring about enduring joy.

“My daughter!” writes Stacey McGoff, of Carmel. “I never dreamed I could love somebody so deeply. Sounds sappy, I know, but even at her age – 20 – she is my everything.”

“Moments when my husband and I are able to spend with all our children,” writes Samantha Schneider Ouellette, of Lewiston.

“First and foremost,” writes Nancy Gagne Breau, of Lewiston, “having all the time in the world to enjoy my grandchildren.”

A woman named Betty called to say that she’s happy because her mother is about to turn 99.

Amanda Bray, of New Auburn, sent in a picture of her 9-year-old son, Bradford.

And while family was clearly among the top generators of happiness on our list, don’t underestimate the love people have for their pets, and for animals in general. Of the photos we received in response to our query, pet photos outnumbered family photos by a wide margin. And not just dogs and cats, either.

“My goats,” writes Lisa Howard, of Lewiston, who sent along a photo of two young goats gazing happily into the camera.

Debra Milazzo-Shannon, of Buckfield, sent in a photo of a handsome German shepherd.

“After two significant head injuries and anxiety while driving or riding in a car, therapy was no longer working,” she writes. “But this did. She and I are in training and I am now focused on making her a therapy dog for me and others.”

“Jericho makes me smile,” says Jeanne Gagne, of Greene. Jericho being a fluffy white American Eskimo dog, of which she sent along a photo.

Eric Kaiser, of Auburn, passed along a photo of a dog with its snout almost pressed against the camera lens. “Baylee,” he wrote, describing a source of joy in just two syllables.

For many, the ultimate combination is pets and family all together, if you really want to turn that frown upside down.

“Sitting on my couch with my cats and husband while drinking a nice glass of wine and watching a good show on the TV,” says Erica Edwards, of South Woodstock.

Lisa Sherwood sent in a photo of three dogs, writing: “Plus all my grandkids – around 23 of them.”

“They are the source of my happiness,” writes Kimberly Leonard Brenton, of Ellsworth, of her pets and family. “It wouldn’t be the same without my cats, my teenage daughter and my husband – most of the time.”

As a category of happiness, nature itself didn’t do too shabbily on our list either, being mentioned nearly as often as pets.

“Taking a walk in the woods of Maine and being able to hear nature and not city noise,” says Cynthia Marquis Parent, of Poland. “And seeing wildlife.”

“The ocean, camping and discovering new beautiful places,” writes Cynthia Schafer, of Lisbon.

Others simply sent along photos of the natural wonders that make them happy: a sunset here, a snow-covered landscape there — and a picture of a pepperoni pizza on the beach to get food into the mix.

A. Noyes Lawrence, of Lisbon Falls, finds all kinds of things to be happy about. In his quest for joy, he reaches to almost every category we created, including leisure, family, food and nature.

Lawrence’s list of things that make him happy? “Living in Maine, autumn leaves, Fryeburg Fair, watching Tom Brady and the Patriots, beautiful sunsets, Bob Marley, fly fishing on a small pond near Rangeley, riding the back roads, haddock chowder at the Chickadee, caring for my flower garden, dandelion greens and fiddleheads, early-morning walk on Lisbon’s beautiful trail, marriage of 67 years, 10 great grandchildren, having the SJ delivered for 63 years, memories of Eloise Jordan’s and Arthur Staples’ wonderful articles, watching Lisbon schools sports, family, friends and neighbors, the Moxie Festival, a cold Moxie on a hot day.”

For some, good health is enough. For others, happiness is derived through the act of making others happy. Roughly 10% of the people who responded to our query listed some form of philanthropy as the source of their greatest contentment.

“I started a business when my daughter was 2 years old in February 2016,” writes Laura Catevenis, of Lewiston. “We were extremely poor beforehand. Now we are very fortunate to be well off. Nothing makes me happier than seeing a problem someone is having and being able to fix it by gifting them money. I never thought after living on welfare that I would be able to send people random money to help ease their burden.”

Kristin Short, of South Paris, founded Short Folks Hope Foundation, a cancer support group, in 2012.

“What makes us happy?” writes Short, herself a 9-year breast cancer survivor. “Empowering, encouraging and celebrating cancer warriors, and inspiring and providing opportunities for youth to be creative, compassionate members of our communities. We love bringing smiles to kids with life-threatening illnesses with visits to respite camps like Camp Sunshine of Sebago Lake with our furry ambassador Lagoona the Dutch Angel Dragon and our Supers For Hope characters. We love fostering hope for cancer warriors with our Hope Bear Project, The Vivian St. Onge Memorial Rickshaw Team at the annual Dempsey Challenge cycling event and Wishes For Hope. We love helping youth to become involved in charitable efforts and witnessing how their kindness and support impacts others in need. Bringing happiness to others is what makes us happy.”

Marianne Veilleux, of Auburn, likewise finds herself filling with happiness when she sees it in others.

“Seeing someone do something unexpected for someone else,” she writes. “It could be buying someone’s coffee, or helping paint a house. Any random act of kindness.”

“What makes me happy the most,” writes Bill Redmund, of Auburn, “is when I walk into work at a local day program for persons with different levels of disabilities and they make me feel like a rock star entered the room with all the good mornings, hellos and ‘Hi Billlllls,’ along with hugs and handshakes. It makes your heart beat just a little bit harder and I feel so, so good. These people think I do so much for them. Well, they give just as much back in return.”

Happiness is so important to Americans as a concept, it was written prominently in our Declaration of Independence nearly 250 years ago. What’s important to note, though is that the document doesn’t promise happiness outright. It merely vows to protect the right of every man, woman and child to find what makes them happy and to pursue that with ardor.

“I think every person is responsible for their own happiness,” says Stefaney Goupille, of Auburn. “Mindset, self-care and rewarding acts of kindness are a few ways in which you can get there.”

That’s something to think about whether your most sublime joy derives from your family, from something as vast as the ocean or something as humble as a piping hot pizza with three meats and cheese that will scald your chin.

The latter being something that would make Michael R. Edgecomb Jr. very happy indeed.

“George’s Pizza,” is all he wrote in response to our query.

And the polls would have you believe that happiness is hard to find . . .

John Frechette, of Auburn, glides up the ice. Hockey, he says, makes him happy. Submitted

The Suzuki DR650, a dual sport motorcycle, makes writer Mark LaFlamme deliriously happy.

Debra Milazzo-Shannon, of Buckfield, says of her German Shepherd Shadow Rose: “After two significant head injuries and anxiety while driving or riding in a car, therapy was no longer working. But this did.” Submitted

Jamie Pitcher, of Poland, wades into the ocean, which never fails to make her happy. Submitted

A sunset outside her Auburn home makes Judith L. Vardarmis happy. Submitted

What makes Gil Rivera happy? His motorcycle. “And guns,” he says. “Lot’s of guns.” Submitted

Jeane Jandreau, of Lewiston, is happy in the snow. Obviously. Submitted

Eric Kaiser’s dog, Baylee, makes him happy. The dog looks pretty happy, himself. Submitted

Pizza on the beach? Now that’s happiness. The photo was sent in by Diane Maurais, of French Polynesia. Submitted


Jerico, an American Eskimo, makes Jeanne Gagne, of Greene, very happy. Submitted

Lisa Howard, of Lewiston, is happy when her goats are happy. Submitted


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