Review of Happiness Surrounds You

by Robin Bonner

It’s Contagious
When Jerry (Jeremy) Lifsey wrote Happiness Surrounds You: The Stamp Booklet Guide to Happiness, he had our happiness in mind. He had already found his—through his stamps and his grandchildren (who contributed essays to the book). A lifelong stamp collector, Lifsey boasts one of the largest private collections in the world. According to Robert E. Lamb, executive director of the American Philatelic Society (1994–2006) and former assistant secretary of state, “To Jerry, every stamp booklet opens the door for his reflective and inquisitive mind to explore new aspects of our world. He shows us how each booklet opens its own avenue to happiness. The reader will find his formula contagious.” I couldn’t agree more. At first, though, I had to be convinced.

When Jerry Lifsey first approached me, smiling, and asked me to review his new book, I was skeptical. Stamp collecting as a guide to happiness? This I gotta see. So, I opened the book. A smile soon crept across my own face, as well. The introduction alone is captivating. A quote from Proverbs (17:22) begins the chapter and lauds the happiness seeker: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” “Everyone seeks happiness,” Jerry argues. “[It] is everywhere. We don’t have to look far, but in the press of everyday responsibilities, we sometimes lose sight of it.” We have the power to create our own happiness—and therefore to help spread it around—but we need help. We need reminders of those happy times. The perfect job for stamps.

To support each case, Lifsey pulls his chapter-opening quotes from just about everywhere: Chaucer, Charles Lindbergh, Norman Cousins, Henny Youngman, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Claude Monet, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Edmund Spenser, Henry David Thoreau, G. K. Chesterton, Susan B. Anthony, and others. He taps into history—human as well as individual. Did you know that happy people run a lower risk of having heart and other diseases? That even bubonic plague sufferers had a better chance at survival if they sought happiness? And many things make us happy: airplanes, art, automobiles, beaches, beer, birds, books, butterflies, carnivals, cats and dogs, charity, chess, the circus, comics, dance . . . well, you get the idea. All of these things are covered quite conveniently in the world of topical stamps—42 in this book, listed in alphabetical order. A regular smorgasbord of happiness.

That Happiness Surrounds You also includes essays by eight of Jerry’s nine grandchildren is just the icing on the cake. The thought of collaborating with one’s grandchildren on a book project—about collecting stamps or anything else—itself brings joy to the heart. If nothing else, it pulls us away from our empty nesting concerns to pay attention: The best things in life are yet to come!

A New Adventure
As I read each chapter, with Jerry’s guidance (and help from the mood-setting quotes), I set off on a new adventure. The stamps evoke imagery, and—you guessed it!—it’s happy stuff. (He’s included more than 200 scans of stamps.) The idea is simple, the benefits great. We make our own happiness, or should be. We need to stop to smell the roses, gaze at the airplanes, cuddle our pets, play chess, take up dance, tell fairy tales, enjoy holidays, eat delicious food, go to movies, play with puppets, collect sea shells, water ski, learn the zodiac—all the while taking in witty quips, interesting facts, and an author’s opinion on all of it. Related stamp booklets in each chapter remind us of what makes us happy. It occurs to me that in handing me his book, Jerry has done me a favor.

To each his own, but my favorite chapters were, predictably, Art, Beaches, Books, Dance, Food and Wine, Sailing, and so on. Often times, Jerry dishes out more reasons for each of these things to bring happiness than I would have named, adding an interesting twist to the internal discussion the ideas were provoking in me. Going through again, I found Airplanes, Beer, Chess, Puppets, Space, and Zodiac equally interesting, especially prompted by Jerry’s narrative on their merits. And, I was amazed to see so many associated stamps! The book opened up new worlds for me. The fact is, it's worth the price for the quotes alone. (Speaking of which, Happiness Surrounds You is available via Amazon.)

Not only does Lifsey explore and promote things that can give us happiness, but he provides backmatter to cover relevant information that does not fit nicely into the chapters. A summary bookends the introduction, in that in it, Jerry emphasizes again the importance of seeking happiness—how it can help you live a longer life, how you can work at it to overcome genetic influences, and how stamps can help. He even takes things one step further and explores the future of happiness seeking.

A glossary defines terms that may not be familiar to the reader. In an annotated bibliography, Jerry divulges his personal reading list by topic and explains how particular publications influenced his writing. Appendix I recounts Lifsey’s various published articles about stamps and stamp collecting (note his previous publication in Empty Nest). Appendix II, “The Ingredients of Happiness in This Book,” clarifies and qualifies how Jerry went about writing the book—how he chose subjects (subjectively!) and reasoned his claims.

Appendix III covers topical book collecting, should a reader wish more information. Appendix IV, “Fun-Filled and Information-Packed Web Sites” is just that, a list of sites geared toward the pursuit of happiness. Finally, the detailed index is also a helpful resource.

If you’re looking for a recipe for happiness, this is it.

Robin C. Bonner is editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see About Us

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