Harvesting Happiness

I read a news article recently about how memories actually make imprints, or grooves, on the brain. As time passes, these grooves become deeper and deeper furrows. Interestingly, one of the definitions for furrow, according to Dictionary.com, is this:

Noun: a long narrow trench made in the ground by a plow, esp. for planting seeds or for irrigation.

As I read this definition and really pondered it, this verse came to mind:

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” — Mark 4:26-29 (ESV)

And this one, also from the Gospels:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” — Matthew 13:1-9 (ESV)

A lot of time is spent in the Bible talking about seeds, planting, irrigating, and harvesting. In some ways, the Bible reminds me of the earliest version of the Farmer’s Almanac, because farming is such a prevalent theme from beginning to end.

I came across this blog entry this morning. It explores the idea of happiness as an experienced phenomenon versus a remembered one. One noteworthy point the author makes is that, often, people will remember trying experiences fondly, but will recall happy memories with sadness. Interestingly, the post was written by a man who lived with his wife and two children on a Norwegian Arctic island for a year. I particularly liked this passage:

It was said that anyone who’s ever lived in the Sahara for sometime invariably remember the experience as the best in their lives. I cannot imagine that living in terrible heat, dryness, sand storms brings happiness in the present tense. But I also believe that people who experience it will in fact remember it fondly. Conversely, we can all think of things we did that made us happy there and then, but our memory of that experience is painful. And most the happiness or misery experienced don’t register at all in our memories.

The Arctic is not quite the same as the Sahara, but the two share common characteristics: both are isolated, both boast extreme temperatures and less-than-ideal conditions, and both are places few people would voluntarily live. Still, there must be something to the idea that people who have experienced either extreme would recall their time spent there with fondness… and even happiness. The individual components of the experience might have been trying, but when put together as a composite picture, the hardships seem to dissipate, often leaving primarily fond memories behind.

And it seems to be true. I had my appendix out the summer before fifth grade. My mind is awash with memories of the necklace my brother brought me, the ice cream they let me have, and the laugh of my roommate, a five-year-old girl who had open heart surgery. And then I recall five years of crippling depression that threw me in a ditch and threatened to bury me alive. What I remember most about that time was snuggling my babies on the couch and driving through the surrounding neighborhoods in the fall and winter looking at decorations with a pumpkin spice latte in my hand. Maybe this is why childbirth reigns supreme as the most profound experience I have ever had; the agony of it has all but dissipated, and I am left with three beautiful, daily reminders that the rewards far outweigh the pain.

I’ve never been a farmer, but my great-grandfather was one. A tobacco farmer. I don’t imagine he enjoyed planting rows of tobacco seeds and the subsequent harvesting of them, but when it was harvest time, I imagine the satisfaction he felt at producing a successful crop was not small. After all, it kept food on his family’s table. It sustained them. Somehow, the resulting harvest was enough to compensate for the countless hours of labor he invested.

Seeds of remembrance are planted in the furrows of my mind every day, whether I realize it or not. Too often, though, I choose to cultivate only the good ones, and when I attempt to let the others become strangled by the weeds, I experience frustration and dissatisfaction. What if I chose to cultivate all of them, good and bad? What difference would that make, I wonder, in the resulting harvest?

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3 Responses to Harvesting Happiness

  1. A recent experience that reminds me of your blog is my 7 week jury duty stint last year. During those 7 weeks, I felt like a zombie. Day after day of mind numbing testimony…every night I would come home and just crash in front of the TV. I truly didn’t have the mental energy to do much of anything else. Looking back now that a year has passed, while I can recall the catatonic state I was in, I think more fondly of my fellow jurors whom I befriended and some of the “inside jokes” that resulted from the trial. My memory seems to have adjusted itself to recall the happier events of that time.

  2. lperdue73 says:

    You totally get it!!! I think this phenomenon is definitely for a reason, and it seems to be a blessing for enduring trials. I can’t wrap my mind around how wonderful memories can come out of mind-numbing experiences — it can only be God’s grace and provision. I love you!

  3. Pingback: Extremities | Living Upward

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