If happiness is a choice, so is unhappiness

By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist

A great way to virtually guarantee that you’ll never be happy is to ask yourself regularly and with poignancy, “Am I happy?”

Happy people are so focused outside themselves on the good, beautiful, inspiring, winsome, positive and fun people and endeavors of life that dissecting their own happiness just seems like a waste of time.

No one can really make anybody else happy. Happiness is a choice. And, sad to say, some people are so mired in unhappiness that the only time they approach a sick sort of pseudo-happiness is when they’re spreading their misery around to folks willing to catch it.

I was reminded of this as I was reading Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow.” Jayber is a likeable gent who has for years been the deeply thoughtful — and, I’d say, happy — barber of the little town of Port William, Ky.
As Berry’s story goes, Jayber Crow hadn’t lived in Port William long until he was unfortunate enough to meet one of its most unhappy citizens, Cecelia Overhold. I’ll let Jayber describe her:
“You knew merely by looking at her that Cecelia had a case to make. . . . If she wasn’t the president of the United States, or Mrs. Rockefeller, or at least happy, it was somebody else’s fault, not hers. Her stinger was always out.
“This was generally known, of course. I don’t think she would have had to say anything to publish her thoughts and feelings. . . . Love comprehends the world, though we don’t comprehend it. But hate comes off in slices, clear and whole . . . Cecelia knew how to deliver the killing look and the killing refusal to look. She could give the tiniest little snub that would cause your soul to fester with self-doubt and self-justification and anger. And these were things she could pass along to you because all of them were festering in her.

“Cecelia thought that whatever she already had was no good, by virtue of the fact that she already had it. The things she desired all were things she didn’t have.”

Analyzing Cecelia and her kin could tell us a lot about the roots of unhappiness, but that is fodder for a chapter and not a column. But I can think of a number of wise words from scripture that warn us about adopting this gal’s attitude and thus her unhappiness. Can you?

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at