By Lissa Blake
By Lissa Blake

“Is everybody happyyyyyy?”


That question and response trickles into the corners of my mind every now and again, harkening back to childhood vacations with my family and friends. 

My most persistent memory of being asked that question was by my best friend Amy’s dad, David Rosenthal. The Rosenthals and Greiners once had this great idea to take a vacation together -- all seven of us (three of us being between the ages of two and four) -- in the Rosenthal family sedan (a Chevy Impala).

I think we toured some of Wisconsin, including the Wisconsin Dells, Baraboo and parts beyond.  

Thinking about it, I don’t believe anyone does that any more. 

For two families to travel together in this day and age, they would need a van … maybe a bus. They no longer build a sedan big enough to accommodate that type of traveling circus. 

But despite the fact we were crammed into that car like a bunch of sardines, and at times things got a little ugly, we sure had fun. Amy and I still talk about it once in a while in our weekly emails back and forth.

I was recently reminded of what it means to be happy when a young couple from upstate New York arrived at the farm to spend the night. They were newlyweds on their return trip from Colorado, just trying to get a look at the Midwest, where I gathered the wife (a mere 22 years old) had never been. 

“What do people do for a living here?” asked Hannah, as we sat around the kitchen table sipping coffee. 

“Whatever they can,” I said. 

She gave me a puzzled look and asked me what I do, to which I explained I now work full-time at a convenience store in addition to doing some freelance writing for some area newspapers. 

We then talked about area industry, factories, colleges, etc., and the variety of ways someone might find themselves coming to live in a small town in Iowa. 

Maybe their spouses have family here …  Maybe their kids and grandkids live here … Maybe their significant others land a job at Luther, Northeast Iowa Community College or one of the local factories … Maybe they’ve just heard that Iowa is a great place to be. 

Right or wrong, we tell ourselves our quality of life is worth some of the sacrifices we’ve made, and try not to dwell on the fact that many area residents work in a completely different industry/job/vocation than they ever dreamed they might be. 

“People often have to reinvent themselves around here,” I said.  

 The couple pondered this for a moment. Finally, Hannah said, “Well that’s why everybody here seems so happy.” 

I guess I had never really considered that before. 

When I travel to other states, I usually think in terms of people being nice, accommodating, cordial, hospitable or gracious. 

After a lovely dinner at a steak house in Mitchell, S.D. earlier this summer, I commented, “Wow, those were the nicest servers I’ve ever met,” to which my husband answered, “They were really trying, weren’t they?”

They were trying. But were they happy? Hard to say. 

Did they make us feel like that steakhouse was the best place on the planet for the 90 minutes we sat there? You bet they did.   

And I guess that’s what it’s all about. 

There’s no doubt that living in a small town in Iowa has its daily challenges, same as any other place in the world. 

But maybe living in the land of “Fields of Opportunities” – our state motto, by the way – has made many of us learn to roll with the punches and take things as they come.

It’s not like we’re making lemonade out of lemons … that sounds sort of negative. 

It’s more like we try to find some variety of fruit that agrees with us more.   

Out of curiosity, I queried “happiest states” online, and Iowa ranked 8th in the nation. 

That’s not so bad, considering my home state of Illinois didn’t even make the top 20.

So, I guess it’s all relative. And if you don’t like Iowa, you can head to Hawaii, which ranked No. 1, or just north across the border to Minnesota, which came in third.  

To quote the late polymath Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

We must be happy and we show it. 

Way to go, Iowa.