From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV


Happiness depends upon ourselves.


I stared at the word I had written at the top of my blank sheet of notebook paper: “Happiness.” I was working on a creative-writing assignment my teacher had given the class. We each had to write about a different emotion. That was it, just a slip of paper as we were leaving class. No format at all.

But it wasn’t the lack of structure that was bothering me. It was the word “happiness.” Anything else I could have handled. Jealousy, I knew that one all too well. I could write pages about jealousy. I could write about my older sister and how she got everything first. Or my best friend, Julie, who always got the guys . . . and the lead in the play . . . and straight A’s.

Or pain, I could write novels about pain. Not the kind of pain you get when you break your arm, but the kind that makes your broken heart go into your throat, so that it takes all of your energy and concentration to breathe. The kind of pain that makes you want to scream and sob at the same time. The kind of pain that makes you want to hurt everyone around you because you’re suffering and they’re not, because they can breathe without feeling guilty and hold a normal conversation without breaking down into fits of tears or rage.

But I was supposed to write about happiness. How could I, of all people, write about happiness?

There was a knock at my bedroom door.

“Hey, um, Sarah?” asked a small voice from the hall. “Can I come in?”

“Rachie,” I said to my five-year-old sister, “I’m kinda busy right now. Can you come back later?”

“Um, this is kinda important.”

I sighed. “All right, come in.”

Rachele came in and sat down on my bed. She looked so sweet and cute, swinging her black, patent leather Mary Janes back and forth and looking around my room. Her baby-doll face was framed by her curly, red hair. “Well, um, I caught this butterfly. . . .” she began uncertainly. “And it’s really pretty . . . but I let it go.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, it was my favorite-ist butterfly I ever had.” Rachele wrinkled her forehead and frowned, as if concentrating really hard. “But . . . I had to let it go ‘cause Mommy said it would die. And I was so sad thinking about not having it anymore. But I knew Mommy was right, ‘cause if I were the butterfly I wouldn’t wanna live in a glass jar. And so I let it go.” She turned and looked at me.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Well,” she whispered, leaning towards me as if she were about to share a deep, dark secret. “When I set it free, I was glad to see it go. Does that make me a mean person?”

I smiled. “Of course not, Rachie. You were just happy that the butterfly was free and that it wasn’t imprisoned in the jar. You felt relieved.”

“You mean I’m not mean?” Her face lit up.

“Of course not!” I gave her a hug. “Now you gotta go. I have work to do.”

“What do you have to do?” she asked, frowning.

I glanced at my blank paper. “I have to write about happiness.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” she said and started to leave.

Yeah, real easy, I thought.

“Hey Rachie,” I said before she left.

“What?” she turned around at the door.

“What do you think happiness is?”

She frowned and tapped her foot on the ground for a few seconds before answering. And then she gave me her answer.

“Butterflies,” she said simply. And then she left.

“Butterflies,” I said out loud to myself. I thought about our conversation. She was happy to catch the butterfly and happy to see it go. Maybe she was right. Butterflies bring nothing but happiness. Maybe butterflies aren’t exactly the key to happiness, but maybe there is something to be said about the simple things in life, things that bring joy, like snow or wildflowers or a sunny day or the smell of pumpkin pie. Not clothes or guys or keeping score or getting the lead in the play or even good grades. None of those things in themselves will really make you happy. But the little things, like catching and releasing butterflies, just might.

And with that, I started to write.

Sarah Provencal

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