Yale is offering a lesson that is so simple, but it can take a lifetime to learn. Psychology and the Good Life is commonly referred to as the happiness class. The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice. In Yale’s more than 300-year history, no class has been more popular. The class is so popular, you can now enroll in an online version for free. This caught my attention, and I wanted to know how a person can master being happy. For this Eye on KELOLAND, I contacted a woman I consider a local expert on happiness.
At the end of each day, ask yourself a simple question. It’s the same question I asked Mary Ann Hallberg.
Brady Mallory: “What’s making you happy today?”
Mary Ann Hallberg: “Oooo. How much time do we have.”
Hallberg didn’t need much time make her list. A trip down memory lane takes her back to a walk down the aisle in 1950, when she married her husband, Eldon. The wedding happened on Friday the 13th, of all days.
“Everybody thought we were asking for trouble, but every Friday the 13th for 58 years, there was a red rose on my kitchen counter.” Hallberg said. “That was, you know, continuous happiness.”
All sorts of things make Hallberg happy. Her family, of course, including her new great granddaughter.
“The happiness Ellie gives my grandma is really cool. Having that three-generation around..” Elizabeth Gotham, Hallberg’s granddaughter and Ellie’s mother, said.
That’s not all.
“Doesn’t hurt to have little props around the house that make you happy,” Hallberg said, referring to her trove of treasures.
The American flag, coffee cups, and a little figurine of a pig are some of her favorite things. The pig reminds her of when she and her brother were kids.
“We’d ride sows in the pig pen,” Hallberg said.
Red cardinals also have a special place in Hallberg’s heart.
“Because after my husband’s death there were red cardinals that came to visit often,” Hallberg said.
If Hallberg’s name rings a bell, that’s because you know she can’t dial back her happiness. So, she dials the phone to share it with the everyone else.
“I do commend you for that and compliment you and wish you the best luck in the world,” Hallberg said, while on the phone.
Hallberg calls people to tell them they’re doing a good job. She calls everyone from garbage collectors to journalists she sees on TV. That’s actually how we met.
“You come on the air and you say, ‘thank you for letting us come into your house and then you say be kind to each other when you sign off. And you know, I like that too, because I’ve told you that,” Hallberg said.
Her positivity is why I wanted to talk with her. We had a conversation about the fundamentals of happiness.
“In today’s world, everybody better take a look at what happiness is,” Hallberg said.
For a country that prides itself on the pursuit of happiness, Americans report not feeling so happy. The World Happiness report ranks countries based on happiness, and in its six years, the United State has never made the top ten list. This year’s report puts us at 18th out of more than 150 countries. That’s good in the big picture, but we’ve dropped four spots from last year and five from 2016. The General Social Survey has measured happiness for 40 years, and Americans felt peak happiness in the ’70s. The American Psychological Association says stress about health care, money, politics, and hate crimes are making us unhappy.
Brady Mallory: “Do you have to work at being happy?”
Hallberg: “Yes, you kind of do. Sure. It’d be easy at times to…ugh..you know. Oh my yes. I think what helps me is thinking of other people, trying to, to do what you can to make them happy or help them.”
Hallberg herself has experienced loss. She’s lost her mom, brother, husband, and recently her son. RuthAnn Venrick says her mom just keeps going even when it’s hard.
“With all this stuff going on, she still smiles and and is happy and truly. I think her mission, her job, she just feels it, it just comes natural is to make other people happy,” RuthAnn Venrick said.
“You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,” Hallberg said “Gratitude is everything.”
Hallberg is right, gratitude is a gateway to happiness. That’s why I keep a gratitude journal, and every night I write a few things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s a good Dolly Parton song, sometimes it’s for my health, sometimes it’s lunch with my mom and dad, and sometimes it’s just a beautiful day. Doing this helps me take inventory of everything I have, instead of worry about everything I don’t have.
“Oh, I’m such a fortunate person. I have had such a good life,” Hallberg said.
That outlook, Hallberg says, has helped her achieve a long life. She’ll be 90 next month.
Brady Mallory: “I can think of friends in their late 20s and early 30s and they think they’re old and their life is over and their best years are behind them. What would you say that?”
Hallberg: “Get a grip.”
Here’s something else to hold on to. Hallberg shows us finding happiness at the end of each day is how we get up and greet the beginning of a new one. All you have to do is answer a simple question.
Brady Mallory: “Complete this sentence. Happiness is…”
Hallberg: “Happiness is… Well, having a red cardinal sing. And a good cup of coffee in the morning in your favorite cup; I love pretty cups. And, oh, family, faith and fellowship.”