Happy places can be anywhere. One of my oldest friends claims as hers the shores of an ancient lake in New Hampshire, where she has returned to throughout life, since childhood.
Happy Place (noun) — A destination, location, [or] world ... anywhere you feel the most at home and yourself. It is where you can have fun, smile, laugh, and get excited. — urbandictionary.com
Here’s an interesting experiment. The next time you find yourself day dreaming or tuning out at a boring meeting, perhaps doodling on a notebook page, as the minutes wile away, where do you “go?” Where does your mind wander and end up? What do you draw?
My go-to doodle sketch has been the same for 42 years. A lone white birch cross on a grass-covered hill, surrounded by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, puffy white clouds framing that drawing. That’s my go-to daydreaming destination, too. My happy place. I know that phrase sounds kind of “earthy crunchy,” even cliché, but we all have some happy place, or should. Some real place in the world, some place in our memories, some part of the world where our souls sing and spirits relax. A one of a kind space where we truly feel at home in the world. A place to retreat to, recharge, just have fun.
Where is your happy place?
My place is at summer camp, one week away I have enjoyed for most of the past four decades-plus worth of summers. The wooden cross I always unconsciously draw marks the spot, where at 15 years old, I made lifelong friends, and “met” God for the first time. The spot where I watched the sun set in shades of pink and yellow, where one night I witnessed the shimmering aura of the Northern Lights. A spot where the creaking sound of cabin screen doors opening and closing is the soundtrack of summer.
It’s simple to understand why this place is so special, so blessed for me. In my life full of changes and moves and victories and defeats, camp is always there for me. It’s dependable, as faithful as the return of the seasons each year. It’s the sweet memories I associate with this happy place: diving into an ice-cold pond on a sultry and sweaty July day; making sticky ‘smores over a crackling fire; having seven days each year when I actually turn off my cell phone and don’t crack open my computer. It’s spending precious time with folks close to me in life, laughing and playing and creating community out of a group of kids who have never met before. On day one all are nervous and unsure. By the last day, most campers don’t want to leave.
You might say our happy places are akin to a bit of heaven on earth, spiritual, sacred even. They are holy in the sense that when we arrive at our happy place, we get to be our most true selves. That’s a hope our the Creator has for each and every one of us. To know a safe place somewhere. A space to let down our guard, breathe, pay attention and enjoy life in the deepest sense, with no distractions.
Happy places can be anywhere. One of my oldest friends claims as hers the shores of an ancient lake in New Hampshire, where she has returned to throughout life, since childhood. Another friend loves her cabin in the shady woods of Vermont, in the shadow of the Green Mountains. My neighbor doesn’t have to travel far for his happy place: it’s in the green and verdant garden he plants in his backyard every year come spring. Happiness for him is hands deep into the soil, and fresh grown veggies to share with the neighborhood. Some happy places are actually mobile: think of a sailboat or a bicycle or a yearly road trip in the car to places unknown. Happy places are always personal, unique, our own. No one else gets to name a certain place “happy” but you or me.
My prayer and hope for all of us then, at this mid-point of summer, is that we’ve either already made a pilgrimage to, or are excited to go back to, our happy place. The ocean or a river. In a camper crossing the country or staying in a five-star hotel. How about the hammock in the backyard or a tent crammed full with family and friends? At a time in this world when there is more than enough unhappiness to go around, we may need to seek out happiness and our happy place now more than ever.
The real gift of these happy places is that they stay with us, like an old friend. As the author Alexandra Stoddard says, “When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.” So even though every year I am sad to leave summer camp, I know that place will be with me for 51 weeks, or a few years, or until the next time I get to go there. And I can always draw a simple picture on a scrap of paper when I need to return. Just one birch cross on a hill and I am there.
So here’s to a happy summer and to our happy places! May we all find our way to that corner of Creation.
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).