If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy

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By Nancy Kennedy


Maybe you’ve heard the Southern saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

It’s one of my favorite sayings. First of all, I like saying ain’t. (It makes me happy.)

Second, since I truly want others to be happy, it’s good to know the way to achieve that is to make myself happy first. For the good of mankind, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

I have a long history of trying to make myself happy, long before I even had thoughts of being a mama. I well remember one time in particular when I was in junior high and decided a surprise party for my birthday would make me happy beyond words.

Several months before my birthday, I started dropping hints to my friends, including passing notes in class to my best friend Cheryl Peterson that said: “Only 43 days until Nancy’s birthday. Plan her surprise party NOW.”

I also let everyone know my favorite cake flavor (coconut or spice cake) and gifts of choice (Beatles records or Yardley Slicker lip gloss). I was relentless with my surprise birthday party campaign.

Being a junior high drama student, I even practiced my Emmy-winning reaction performance. (“A surprise party? For me?”)

Maybe my friends loved me or maybe I wore them down with all my “hinting.” Maybe even back in 8th grade God had mercy on my happiness-seeking soul. Whatever the reason, on the Saturday before my birthday I walked into my house and, as per my instructions, all my friends leaped out and yelled, “Surprise!”

Of course I feigned surprise (after all, I had been practicing my mad junior high drama skills), but of course I wasn’t surprised.

Not only wasn’t I surprised, but the party didn’t make me as ecstatically happy as I had supposed it would.

We still had a good party. We dumped Kentucky Fried Chicken gravy on a neighbor’s driveway, rang the doorbell and then when the neighbors came outside, Garrett Parkinson pretended to throw up and we all ran away. We tossed each other in the pool with our clothes on and played records, but it didn’t make me happy beyond words.

King Solomon experienced the same thing, minus the KFC fake vomit gravy prank. He had it all — money, power, sex, honor, lots of stuff. Anything you or I have on our wish list, he had, yet he still wasn’t happy.

He wrote, “I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also proved meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:1). He tried fine wine and impressive building projects, planted vineyards and gardens, owned slaves and herds and flocks, amassed fortunes and harems and became greater than anyone alive.

He denied himself nothing, refused his heart no pleasure or desire. However, when he had done it all he surveyed his life and came to the conclusion that it had all been “chasing the wind.”

In other words, what a rip off. But not really. Not ultimately.

God has made the universe work in such a way that whenever you or I chase after the thing or things that we think will make us happy beyond words, once we get them, there’s usually still a void. There’s still an unscratched itch.

The irony is, as I’ve discovered, I’m happiest when I’m not pursuing my own happiness or well being, but pursuing the well being of someone else. I suspect that’s true of you, too.

This past Christmas my husband and I did not exchange gifts but instead bought a slew of toys and clothes for a 4-year-old girl we’ve never met, and my husband was so happy I thought he would burst. (Seeing that made me happy.)

A few weeks ago my pastor reminded us that the happiest person who ever lived was Jesus who, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.”

“His joy was you,” the pastor said.

Jesus also told his followers, “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?” (Luke 9:24-25).

Another Bible translation says, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?

Being reminded of that made me happy beyond words and a little more willing and even eager to give up my “if Mama ain’t happy” way of doing life.

What makes you happy?

 Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.