Happiness is a choice


My dad always had an affinity for some of the older, sillier songs, and Roger Miller was a favorite of his. The song “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” was among Dad’s favorites, and I can remember him singing it rather often. 

As a kid, I always thought the song was just silly nonsense and gibberish. 

Then one day a few years ago, while working at my computer, the song came on the music streaming app I was listening to. 

I stopped and listened, thinking about my dad. 

I began to understand the true meaning of the song — probably what made my dad embrace it.

If you have never heard the song and its nonsensical lyrics, it cautions you about things you cannot do: roller skating in a buffalo herd, showering in a parakeet cage, swimming in a baseball glove, changing film with a kid on your back, driving around with a tiger in your car, or fishing in a watermelon patch. 

Miller was probably correct about most of those. Maybe you could have changed film with a kid on your back — look at all the moms we see running farms with their littles strapped to their backs! And in the movie, The Hangover, they did indeed drive — not very successfully — with a tiger in their car. And if the rain here in Wisconsin continues, you might well be able to fish in a watermelon patch. 

But throughout the song, there was one thing Miller was insistent about in the refrain: you can choose happiness if you make up your mind to do so. He encouraged that choice by saying, “All you gotta do is put your mind to it, knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.”

With the jaunty tune and whimsical, repetitive lyrics, it might be easy to miss that deeper meaning. 

There are lots of things in life you have no control over, things that you might not be able to do or accomplish. I’m not sure there is another profession that is more the case than dairy farming. Dairy farmers are at the mercy of the weather, markets and others determining the value of the product they produce, rising input costs, the geopolitical manifestations of trade issues, virulent disease affecting cattle ... the list could go on and on. 

All those things bring stress, discontent and maybe even helplessness to our lives. But we can take control of ourselves and our own choices. One of those choices we can make is to choose happiness, regardless of the material situations we might find ourselves in. 

More often than not, I think happiness can be an elusive thing. We get bogged down in those things we cannot control. Last summer we begged for rain; this year we beg for more than 48 hours of dry weather. We get mired down by corn seed still sitting in a bag in the shed while a lake is forming in the fields, a bumper crop of hay standing in the field that we cannot harvest, our best cow going down with milk fever.                                                                                                                         

We let ourselves get wrapped up in the details, the trivialities of everyday life. We forget to stop and smell the roses, forgetting to take time to revel in the glory of an early summer sunrise, enjoy the rough tongue of a newborn calf on our fingers.      

As life seems to get more hectic and jam-packed as the years go by, I admit I sometimes lose sight of the forest because of the many trees and get mired down in the inconsequential details or problems of life. I end up with a glass-half-full outlook, borrowing trouble before it comes. I doubt I am alone in that propensity to become overwhelmed with the chaos of life.                                                                                               

But I try to keep in mind that, as Miller admonishes us, we can indeed seek out happiness by choice. All we have to do is put our mind to it, to make that conscious choice. Just knuckle down, buckle down and do it, do it, do it.     


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