What's the One Thing You Believe Will Bring You Happiness?

If you got what you're asking for, are you certain happiness would follow?

Posted May 25, 2018

Imagine yourself in the Wizard of Oz having been asked to sing right after the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. They belt out songs about how they want a brain, a heart and some courage, respectively. With wit, courage, and heart, you’re suddenly under the spotlight, ready to launch into your own version. Naturally, it begins with the signature phrase “If I only had a …”

Before you think about it too much, decide what word comes next. What is the “it” you believe will make you complete? What is your ineffable “it”?

What object, connection, accomplishment, physical attribute, personality trait, or guarantee would make you feel as though the Wizard had heard your request? If you clicked your ruby slippers together, what’s the one thing that you’d make sure happened to you?

No world peace, I’m afraid, and no halt to climate change. No cure for cancer or bringing dodo birds back from extinction. This one has to be entirely personal even if it might have global implications. Your “it” can be a wish to be a “mathematical genius” allowing you to work on projects leading to treatments for disease or disaster, but you have to want something personally.

Writer Bonnie Jean Feldkamp wants an agent; Dartmouth friend Philip Odence wants an answer; friend from the Erma Bombeck Writers Conference, Amy Hartl Sherman, wants a calmer mind. Desires range from the practical to the fanciful: Facebook friend Martha Hardcastle Guthrie needs “a break in medical care payments, which went to more than $700 a month,” and pal Hope from Connecticut wants a pony but is steeling herself for yet “another year of disappointment.”

I never wanted a pony. But there was one lonely moment in my childhood when I was desperate for an unsuitable plastic parrot. 

When we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island, I left all my friends behind, as if packed in a box we forgot to bring with us. When I was about seven, during a long silent walk with my equally solitary mother, I became fixated on a plastic parrot sitting askew on a branch in the window arrangement of a florist’s shop.

This was no toy. Blood red and army green, fitted with marbles for eyes, it stood about three feet tall and was made of some tough, scratched and unforgiving material. No doubt it had been passed from flower-shop to flower-shop for years.

But I’d convinced myself in some fantastical manner that if I owned that thing, I’d never be lonesome again. If I could only have that huge, awful and ugly thing in my room, my life would suddenly be rich and wonderful. It would be as if I had a friend to whom I could always tell my secrets.

For two weeks, I did extra household chores. I counted all the change in my bank. I walked the neighbor’s dachshund even when it wanted to stay inside.

I don’t know how I finally convinced my shy mother to talk to the man behind the counter but I do remember his reply. After a long pause, he said, “Ma’am, that bird is for display only.” And I remember that he looked at both of us as if we were nuts.

I started to cry. “Please, I have five dollars.” That was a lot of cash and the guy was no fool. Mom and I went home with the plastic parrot.

And my life did not change.

That’s the tricky part about wishing to alter one’s life with a sudden bolt from the blue — a note from a talent-agent, a spot on “Jeopardy!” or a prize to guarantee your space on every literary map.

You remain you — and the plastic parrot of success turns out to be a prop, and a pretty shabby one at that, as you realize once you get it home. You probably overpaid and you might have talked yourself into believing it would magically transform your universe.

Like Dorothy, many of us already possess what we need to be content and just don’t know it. But for those who are financially insecure, who worry about their health and who never found true friends, the need for security, safety and community are real.