Illustration ©Kate Niblick


I feel lousy.

My car is disintegrating, nothing I eat is safe from "LDL-type" cholesterol, and my girlfriend often compares me to various parts of the human anatomy–the ones you can't name in print. My apartment is populated by mutant cockroaches, my cat doesn't love me, and I can't afford Rogaine. Furthermore, I am routinely disappointed by Sex and the City. Is life really worth living?

I distinctly remember being happy once, and not so long ago. Every morning I'd find a new bounce in my step and a new tune in my head. Work was fun. People were interesting. Rock 'n' roll seemed vital and fresh–important, even. And I felt very optimistic about the New World Order.

Now all is in ruins. I've passed my apex and am starting the slow climb downward. No longer do I confidently muse about prospective affairs with Uma Thurman, my impending MacArthur "genius" Grant, or being able to pay off Visa with winnings from the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. No, my greatest victory these days is beating out the meter maid before she can call a tow-truck.

So what to do? Sure, I could turn to therapy, organized religion, or azurite crystals, but I've discovered a different source of help–and I found it at the BP. Yes, inside a squeaky clean British Petroleum gas station, there right next to the cash register, lay my salvation: a rack of tiny tomes entitled "LIFE'S LITTLE TREASURE BOOKS."

You've probably seen or heard of them yourself. They're everywhere. The books first appeared in 1991, with Life's Little Instruction Book. Originally written by Nashville resident H. Jackson Brown Jr. for his son Adam, the book began as a compilation of folksy advice on how to live one's life more fully ("No. 169: Be original.").

Published by Rutledge Hill Press, also in Nashville, the diminutive book became a national number one bestseller–with over 2 million sold–and a franchise. There soon came Life's Little Instruction Book II, and now the aforementioned Life's Little Treasure Books, a four-volume series: On Marriage and Family, On Wisdom, On Success, and–most importantly in my case–On Joy. Each one gives you specific nuggets of insight on how to achieve each title subject.

Well, heck–this is just what I needed! But could dropping off a pizza at the local police station truly bring me the exultation I so yearned for? Or reading a book about beekeeping? Or wearing audacious underwear under the most solemn business attire? I decided to find out.

What follows is an account of my sincere attempt to follow various directives from Life's Little Treasure Book On Joy.


By any measure, this was one good-looking cow. I'm no expert when it comes to bovine beauty, but this was the classic all-American heifer as glamorized by the media, the kind they model cutesy stoneware after: white with black spots, a large healthy udder, and friendly brown eyes. And she was the closest one to the fence. This was the cow for me.

I was out at the University of Tennessee's agricultural station–the closest possible outlet for cows living free and unfettered in their natural habitat, a field. As I hoisted myself over the gate, I paused to wonder about the legality of my actions–Could be I arrested for attempting to fondle a cow? Were there some arcane statutes left on the books from the 1800s, when amoral cow-hugging was more prevalent?

Or should I ask for permission first: "Excuse me, but I was driving by and noticed your many fine cows. Mind if I hug one?" I decided to quickly get in, hug, then get out. If captured by the police, I'd simply explain that I was a rogue cow-tipper with a bad sense of timing. ("You're right, officer–it is too early to tip cows. What was I thinking?")

As I approached #259 (according to her ear tags), I began to realize just how large cows are. These are not easily huggable beasts. Dimly recalling stories of mortal cow tramplings, I carefully eased myself closer. She lifted her head and stared at me.

"Easy now, 259," I said soothingly, raising my hands in the universal gesture of peace (as learned from repeated viewings of Star Trek). She responded by bolting away in a cow-like fashion–which is to say, not quickly.

"C'mon now, 259, I just want to touch ya," I said, following her. "Make me happy, cow."

She stopped and looked back. I crept closer. She trotted further away. Creep, trot, creep trot. This wasn't working. I could not catch the cow, ergo, I could not hug the cow. Remembering the advice of a friend whose cabin had been situated in a cow field, I attempted his never-fail cow-luring technique: I yodeled.

"Yodel-ey-HEE-HOOO!" I cried out, trying my best Swiss Miss warble. "Yodel-ey-HEE-HOOO!"

Behind me, at the ag station, I could see people watching me and pointing. The jig was up. I ran for the car and drove off, defeated—not to mention shamed at revealing my desire for the love that cannot be named. This did not make me very happy.

Next: Waving at schoolchildren!
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