How to build lasting happiness

All of the posts I’ve been sharing about the Michigan Road lately come from the trip Margaret and I made the day after Christmas. Margaret suggested that trip because she knew that I had become badly depressed after an incredibly hard year of loss and tragedy, and that road trips have always helped me find a little temporary joy.

There are two kinds of happiness, I think. One kind comes from short-lived pleasures, like eating a delicious meal, or sex, or watching a good movie. Or a road trip. Of course, shortly after the pleasure is over, so is the feeling of happiness that it brings.

The other kind comes from doing something valuable in the world. This kind of happiness has a better chance of lasting.

Kurt Garner and I started talking about the Michigan Road in May of 2008. We met through our blogs — both of us were writing about the road, and both of us were researching it online.

Kurt really is the mastermind. Getting the road named an Indiana historic byway was his idea, as was the way we went about doing it. He put together our organizational meeting of interested parties, up in Rochester, ten years ago on Jan. 31. I’m pretty sure it was also his idea to use the byway to drive heritage tourism into its counties, cities, and towns.

But we have been equal co-laborers, with plenty of help from many collaborators. Our work has included having wayfinding signs placed all along the route.

Seeing these signs on our trip was the best antidepressant I could have taken. Encountering them at every major crossroad and at every turn filled me with pleasure — and reminded me that I have indeed done something valuable in the world. Lots of people like following this byway. And we’ve honored this important piece of Indiana’s history. It is deeply satisfying to know we’ve done that.

Here are several of our signs doing their job.

MR Northbound
Southeastern at Washington
Downtown Indianapolis
Northbound Michigan Road, southern Shelby County
Shelby County
MR signs at Kessler/Michigan
Northwest Indianapolis
The Conwell House
Byway sign
Rees Theater, Plymouth

Seeing our signs reminded me of the work it took to get them there. Several of us on our board collaborated to get it done. One board member arranged to have the signs designed and manufactured, and several other of us negotiated with various state and local authorities to have them installed.

I handled Indianapolis, meeting with the Department of Public Works. They were surprisingly happy to work with us. I also worked with a regional office of the Indiana Department of Transportation, where an official let me ride in his state-owned car through two counties so I could point out exactly where we wanted our signs to be placed.

I can’t believe that we have accomplished all of this. We’re just everyday Hoosiers who had some ideas and willingness to work toward them.

Most if not all of us is capable of doing something valuable in the world. It doesn’t have to be something as big as getting a road named a historic byway. It just has to be something that gives you some goals to go after and stretches you. Something that, if you look, you can see the results.

I think you can define “valuable in the world” pretty broadly. You just need to do something you find meaningful. Maybe you love your family well. Maybe you master a skill, such as cabinetmaking or photography. Maybe you give your nonworking time to your church or to a nonprofit. Maybe you rise in the ranks at work. Maybe you get fit or finish school while working full time. It’s up to you.

This kind of happiness lasts. It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel blue — but when you do, you can reflect on the good things you’ve done and be reminded that you have every reason to be happy. Maybe it’ll help you recover faster.

I forgot that as I headed into this road trip. I’m so glad the signs were there to remind me.

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26 thoughts on “How to build lasting happiness

  1. Nancy Stewart says:

    What a wonderful thing,that you came up with this project and followed through to achieve it. Well done. Thank You.

  2. Jim it must have been very rewarding to see those signs along your way. As someone increasingly interested in preservation and historic buildings it’s even more impressive.

    The general message of your post here is very good too. We need to feel we’re contributing to something, making the world a little better in our own way. Thanks for the reminder.

    (PS/ Your blog is another example, something that brings pleasure to many, and often!)

    • It really is rewarding to see those signs. I’m keenly aware that they’re not all up in the right places in Shelby County, and not at all in St. Joseph County, and we need to address that. But otherwise, you can drive the road end to end just by following the signs. That’s pretty cool.

      I do love it that my blog connects with other people. That wasn’t a given when I started it and got maybe seven views on a good day.

  3. Dianne molnar says:

    Jim,as always I so enjoy your writings.we travel to brown county a lot so will look for these signs and I can say I know the young man that helped get those signs up. You always make my world a little better by your talent.

    • Thanks Dianne — look for our signs on Old US 31 in northern Indiana, SR 25 from Rochester to Logansport, SR 29 and US 421 to Indianapolis, and US 421/Old US 421 south of Indianapolis!

  4. That’s a great thing you’ve done Jim, you should be very proud. I love the design of the signs, they really stand out. If I ever get over to your part of the US I’ll make sure I drive it.

  5. susanJOY Hosken says:

    Jim, part of what makes me feel less blue at times with my rapid cycling bipolar is seeing your blog posts and responding and connecting with you and supporting what you are doing. Love what you did with the signs. I had to google “Hoosier” and now I’ve learnt another new fact

    • Susan, I’m sorry you have to deal with those cycles. I’ve had my own mental health issues, so I empathize. A lot of why I get out on the roads and take pictures is because it keeps my mind and mood level.

    • I’m deeply grateful to Margaret for suggesting it and encouraging it! The Michigan Road project has been surprising at every turn, including the time the billboard lobby threatened to sue us. (You can’t put new billboards along a byway, it’s federal statute.)

  6. Getting the designation and the signage was a truly impressive accomplishment and I’m sure it’s helped quite a few travelers. I drove the Michigan Road, using your directions, before the signs were up but really need to do it again now that it’s so easy:-)

    • In a way, the project was a lesson in two things: (1) learning how things work, and (2) learning how to ask.

      When you follow the signs, just know that the ones in Shelby County are all wrong, and there aren’t any in St. Joseph County yet. We are starting to wonder if those two counties will ever be right.

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