That is, if the check is made out to the State of Vermont.
This is the time of year when I have the mixed blessing of adding up how many sales I’ve had the previous year — Sass Wearable Watercolor sales since 1991, and now, Happiness Paradigm sales. My left brain appreciates having a concrete measure of how much my art and the other happiness products in my store grossed in sales. I like seeing the numbers increase — except for the knowledge that as those numbers go up, so too does my obligation to remit an ever larger sales tax check to the State of Vermont.
Working on this task, I suddenly remembered the stunning devastation of Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Vermonters statewide pulled together in an amazingly cohesive recovery effort — including the state itself which did remarkable work rebuilding the more than 1,000 badly damaged roads in our tiny state.
That made me think about how much I love this state. I am so happy to be a Vermonter. In part, I love this state because it makes me happy. So writing a sales tax check is really a gift from my heart.
Why does living here make me happy? There are many reasons, including the state’s tradition of progressive politics (Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery) and how supportive the state is for artists of all stripes. The stunningly beautiful and user-friendly environment means lots of time exercising outside — hiking, swimming, snow-shoeing, kayaking. The number one reason, though, has to be community.
My husband and I moved to Maple Corner in June 2001 based largely on the impression that this tiny hamlet has an exceptionally strong sense of community — and we haven’t been disappointed. There is almost too much going on here! We share a lot of laughs and a lot of food — which means we’re also well equipped to share a lot of tears. When natural disasters, illness, death, catastrophic fires, or even an ice skating accident occur here, the community swings into action with food, hugs, and whatever else is needed. When trouble knocks on my door, I will not be alone.
Of course, we do our part, too — which leads to further happiness, because it’s more giving from the heart. We regularly march in parades, organize the local meditation group, substitute for the yoga teacher, and willingly get on stage for the annual Fall Foliage Variety Show, including this memorable turn as a turkey singing Gloria Gaynor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pycBonUO_4k
It is no accident that our community, and many, many others in the state, are strong. These days, people choose to move here because they want to invest the energy and the elbow grease into maintaining community. We’ve become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How did such communities evolve in the first place? I’ve often wondered if our harsh winters were a factor. Eric Weiner, author of Geography of Bliss, pointed out in his presentation at the Aspen Festival of Ideas that cold countries are much more likely than tropical paradises to be among the happiest countries in the world. http://www.aifestival.org/session/geography-happiness
Two days ago, I started reading Happiness: What Studies on Twins Show Us About Nature, Nurture, and the Happiness Set Point, a 1999 book by evolutionary psychologist Dr. David Lykken. Lykken notes that “survival became increasingly complex for our ancestors” as they “migrated away from the tropical savannas into colder climates.” Thus, “the practical wisdom and mutual assistance of the group became increasingly important.” Belonging to such a group required “adaptive” behaviors, including, “surprisingly, an innate tendency to look on the bright side and to be happy.” (p. 14) Well how ’bout that?! Sounds good to me!
Whether or not being a member of the Vermont community is currently adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint, I know that giving to my neighbors and giving to my state fills me with a sense of purpose. I am so pleased to be part of something bigger than myself — to be, rather, part of my state. I’m not in the habit of quoting Roman philosophers, but I like this observation from Seneca: “No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself.”
One final observation on my happiness in Vermont: I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to live here. That gratitude itself increases my happiness — a little cherry on top.