Way to be Happy
by T. S. Arthur
I have fire-proof perennial enjoyments, called employments.
Always busy and always singing at your work; you are the happiest
man I know. This was said by the customer of an industrious hatter
named Parker, as he entered his shop.
[Illustration: MR. PARKER AND HIS RICH CUSTOMER. Page 126.]
I should not call the world a very happy one, were I the
happiest man it contains, replied the hatter, pausing in his work and
turning his contented-looking face toward the individual who had
addressed him. I think I should gain something by an exchange with
Why do you think so?
You have enough to live upon, and are not compelled to work early
and late, as I am.
I am not so very sure that you would be the gainer. One thing is
certain, I never sing at my work.
Your work? What work have you to do?
Oh, I'm always busy.
Nothing; and I believe it is much harder work than making hats.
I would be very willing to try my hand at that kind of work, if I
could afford it. There would be no danger of my getting tired or
complaining that I had too much to do.
You may think so; but a few weeks' experience would be enough to
drive you back to your shop, glad to find something for your hands to
do and your mind to rest upon.
If you have such a high opinion of labour, Mr. Steele, why don't
you go to work?
I have no motive for doing so.
Is not the desire for happiness a motive of sufficient power? You
think working will make any one happy.
I am not so sure that it will make any one happy, but I believe
that all who are engaged in regular employments are much more contented
than are those who have nothing to do. But no one can be regularly
employed who has not some motive for exertion. A mere desire for
happiness is not the right motive; for, notwithstanding a man, when
reasoning on the subject, may be able to see that, unless he is
employed in doing something useful to his fellows, he cannot be even
contented, yet when he follows out the impulses of his nature, if not
compelled to work, he will seek for relief from the uneasiness he feels
in almost any thing else: especially is he inclined to run into
excitements, instead of turning to the quiet and more satisfying
pursuits of ordinary life.
If I believed as you do, I would go into business at once, said
the hatter. You have the means, and might conduct any business you
chose to commence, with ease and comfort.
I have often thought of doing so; but I have lived an idle life so
long that I am afraid I should soon get tired of business.
No doubt you would, and if you will take my advice, you will let
well enough alone. Enjoy your good fortune and be thankful for it. As
for me, I hope to see the day when I can retire from business and live
easy the remainder of my life.
This was, in fact, the hatter's highest wish, and he was working
industriously with that end in view. He had already saved enough money
to buy a couple of very good houses, the rent from which was five
hundred dollars per annum. As soon as he could accumulate sufficient to
give him a clear income of two thousand dollars, his intention was to
quit business and live like a gentleman all the rest of his days. He
was in a very fair way of accomplishing all he desired in a few years,
and he did accomplish it.
Up to the time of his retiring from business, which he did at the
age of forty-three, Parker has passed through his share of trial and
affliction. One of his children did not do well, and one, his favourite
boy, had died. These events weighed down his spirit for a time, but no
very long period elapsed before he was again singing at his worknot,
it is true, quite so gayly as before, but still with an expression of
contentment. He had, likewise, his share of those minor crosses in life
which fret the spirit, but the impression they made was soon effaced.
In the final act of giving up, he felt a much greater reluctance
than he had supposed would be the case, and very unexpectedly began to
ask himself what he should do all the day, after he had no longer a
shop in which to employ himself. The feeling was but momentary,
however. It was forced back by the idea of living at his ease; of being
able to come and go just as it suited his fancy; to have no care of
business, nor any of its perplexities and anxieties. This thought was
If I were you, I would go into the country and employ myself on a
little farm, said a friend to the hatter. You will find it dull work
in town, with nothing on your hands to do.
The hatter shook his head. No, no, said he, I have no taste for
farming; it is too much trouble. I am tired of work, and want a little
rest during the remainder of my life.
Freedom from labour was the golden idea in his mind, and nothing
else could find an entrance. For a few days after he had fully and
finally got clear from all business, and was, to use his own words, a
free man, he drank of liberty almost to intoxication. Sometimes he
would sit at his window, looking out upon the hurrying crowd, and
marking with pity the care written upon each face; and sometimes he
would walk forth to breathe the free air and see every thing to be seen
that could delight the eye.
Much as the hatter gloried in this freedom and boasted of his
enjoyments, after the first day or two he began to grow weary long
before evening closed in, and then he could not sit and quietly enjoy
the newspaper, as before, for he had already gone over them two or
three times, even to the advertising pages. Sometimes, for relief, he
would walk out again, after tea, and sometimes lounge awhile on the
sofa, and then go to bed an hour earlier than he had been in the habit
of doing. In the morning he had no motive for rising with the sun; no
effort was therefore made to overcome the heaviness felt on awaking;
and he did not rise until the ringing of the breakfast-bell.
The laziness of her husband, as Mrs. Parker did not hesitate so
call it, annoyed his good wife. She did not find things any easiershe
could not retire from business. In fact, the new order of things made
her a great deal more trouble. One-half of her time, as she alleged,
Mr. Parker was under her feet and making her just double work. He had
grown vastly particular, too, about his clothes, and very often
grumbled about the way his food come on the table, what she had never
before known him to do. The hatter's good lady was not very choice of
her words, and, when she chose to speak out, generally did so with
remarkable plainness of speech. The scheme of retiring from business in
the very prime of life she never approved, but as her good man had set
his heart on it for years, she did not say much in opposition. Her
remark to a neighbour showed her passive state of mind: He has earned
his money honestly, and if he thinks he can enjoy it better in this
way, I suppose it is nobody's business.
This was just the ground she stood upon. It was a kind of neutral
ground, but she was not the woman to suffer its invasion. Just so long
as her husband came and went without complaint or interference with
her, all would be suffered to go on smoothly enough; but if he
trespassed upon her old established rights and privileges, he would
I never saw a meal cooked so badly as this, said Mr. Parker,
knitting his brow one rainy day, at the dinner-table.
He had been confined to the house since morning, and had tried in
vain to find some means of passing his time pleasantly.
The colour flew instantly to his wife's face. Perhaps, if you had a
better appetite, you would see no fault in the cooking, she said
Perhaps not, he replied. A good appetite helps bad cooking
There was nothing in this to soothe his wife's temper. She retorted
And honest employment alone will give a good appetite. I wonder how
you could expect to relish your food after lounging about doing nothing
all the morning! I'll be bound that if you had been in your shop
ironing hats or waiting on your customers since breakfast-time, there
would have been no complaint about the dinner.
Mr. Parker was taken all aback. This was speaking out plainly with
a vengeance. Since his retirement from business, his self-estimation
had arisen very high, compared with what it had previously been; he
was, of course, more easily offended. To leave the dinner-table was the
first impulse of offended dignity.
So broad a rupture as this had not occurred between the husband and
wife since the day of their marriagenot that causes equally potent
had not existed, for Mrs. Parker, when any thing excited her, was not
over-choice of her words, and had frequently said more cutting things;
but then her husband was not so easily disturbedhe had not so high an
opinion of himself.
It was still raining heavily, but rain could no longer keep the
latter at home. He went forth and walked aimlessly the streets for an
hour, thinking bitter things against his wife all the while. But this
was very unhappy work, and he was glad to seek relief from it by
calling in upon a brother craftsman, whose shop happened to be in his
way. The hatter was singing at his work as he had used to singhe
never sang at his work now.
This is a very dull day, was the natural remark of Mr. Parker,
after first salutations were over.
Why, yes, it is a little dull, replied the tradesman, speaking in
a tone that said, But it didn't occur to me before.
How is business now? asked Mr. Parker.
Very brisk; I am so busy that, rain or shine, it never seems dull
You haven't as many customers in.
No; but then I get a little ahead in my work, and that is something
gained. Rain or shine, friend Parker, it's all the same to me.
That is, certainly, a very comfortable state of mind to be in. I
find a rainy day hard to get through.
I don't think I would, if I were in your place, said the old
acquaintance. If I could do no better, I would lie down and sleep away
And remain awake half the night in return for it. No; that won't
do. To lie half-asleep and half-awake for three or four hours makes one
The hatter thought this a very strange admission. He did not believe
that, if he could afford to live without work, he would find even rainy
days hang heavy upon his hands.
Why don't you read?
I do read all the newspapersthat is, two or three that I take,
replied Parker; but there is not enough in them for a whole day.
There are plenty of books.
Books! I never read books; I can't get interested in them. They are
too long; it would take me a week to get through even a moderate-sized
book. I would rather go back to the shop again. I understand making a
hat, but as to books, I never did fancy them much.
Parker lounged for a couple of hours in the shop of his friend, and
then turned his face homeward, feeling very uncomfortable.
The dark day was sinking into darker night when he entered his
house. There was no light in the passage nor any in the parlour. As he
groped his way in, he struck against a chair that was out of place, and
hurt himself. The momentary pain caused the fretfulness he felt, on
finding all dark within, to rise into anger. He went back to the
kitchen, grumbling sadly, and there gave the cook a sound rating for
not having lit the lamps earlier. Mrs. Parker heard all, but said
nothing. The cook brought a lamp into the parlour and placed it upon
the table with an indignant air; she then flirted off up-stairs, and
complained to Mrs. Parker that she had never been treated so badly in
her life by any person, and notified her that she should leave the
moment her week was up; that, anyhow, she had nothing to do with the
lampslighting them was the chambermaid's work.
It so happened that Mrs. Parker had sent the chambermaid out, and
this the cook knew very well; but cook was in a bad humour about
something, and didn't choose to do any thing not in the original
contract. She was a good domestic, and had lived with Mrs. Parker for
some years. She had her humours, as every one has, but these had always
been borne with by her mistress. Too many fretting incidents had just
occurred, however, and Mrs. Parker's mind was not so evenly balanced as
usual. Nancy's words and manner provoked her too far, and she replied,
Very well; go in welcome.
Here was a state of affairs tending in no degree to increase the
happiness of the retired tradesman. His wife met him at the
supper-table with knit brows and tightly compressed lips. Not a word
passed during the meal.
After supper, Mr. Parker looked around him for some means of passing
the time. The newspapers were read through; it still rained heavily
without; he could not ask his wife to play a game at backgammon.
Oh dear! he sighed, reclining back upon the sofa, and there he lay
for half an hour, feeling as he had never felt in his life. At nine
o'clock he went to bed, and remained awake for half the night.
Much to his satisfaction, when he opened his eyes on the next
morning, the sun was shining into his window brightly. He would not be
confined to the house so closely for another day.
A few weeks sufficed to exhaust all of Mr. Parker's time-killing
resources. The newspapers, he complained, did not contain any thing of
interest now. Having retired on his money, and set up for something of
a gentleman, he, after a little while, gave up visiting at the shops of
his old fellow-tradesmen. He did not like to be seen on terms of
intimacy with working people! Street-walking did very well at first,
but he tired of that; it was going over and over the same ground. He
would have ridden out and seen the country, but he had never been twice
on horseback in his life, and felt rather afraid of his neck. In fact,
nothing was left to him, but to lounge about the house the greater
portion of his time, and grumble at every thing; this only made matters
worse, for Mrs. Parker would not submit to grumbling without a few
words back that cut like razors.
From a contented man, Mr. Parker became, at the end of six months, a
burden to himself. Little things that did not in the least disturb him
before, now fretted him beyond measure. He had lost the quiet, even
temper of mind that made life so pleasant.
A year after he had given up business he met Mr. Steele for the
first time since his retirement from the shop.
Well, my old friend, said that gentleman to him familiarly, how
is it with you now? I understand you have retired from business.
Oh yes; a year since.
So long? I only heard of it a few weeks ago. I have been absent
from the city. Well, do you find doing nothing any easier than
manufacturing good hats and serving the community like an honest man,
as you did for years? What is your experience worth?
I don't know that it is worth any thing, except to myself; and it
is doubtful whether it isn't too late for even me to profit by it.
How so, my friend? Isn't living on your money so pleasant a way of
getting through the world as you had supposed it to be?
I presume there cannot be a pleasanter way; but we are so
constituted that we are never happy in any position.
Perhaps not positively happy, but we may be content.
I doubt it.
You were once contented.
I beg you pardon; if I had been, I would have remained in
And been a much more contented man than you are now.
I am not sure of that.
I am, then. Why, Parker, when I met you last you had a cheerful air
about you. Whenever I came into your shop, I found you singing as
cheerfully as a bird. But now you do not even smile; your brows have
fallen half an inch lower than they were then. In fact, the whole
expression of your face has changed. I will lay a wager that you have
grown captious, fretful, and disposed to take trouble on interest.
Every thing about you declares this. A year has changed you for the
worse, and me for the better.
How you for the better, Mr. Steele!
I have gone into business.
I hope no misfortune has overtaken you?
I have lost more than half my property, but I trust this will not
prove in the end a misfortune.
Really, Mr. Steele, I am pained to hear that reverses have driven
you to the necessity of going into business.
While I am more than half inclined to say that I am glad of it. I
led for years a useless life, most of the time a burden to myself. I
was a drone in the social hive; I added nothing to the common stock; I
was of no use to any one. But now my labours not only benefit myself,
but the community at large. My mind is interested all the day; I no
longer feel listlessness; the time never hangs heavy upon my hands. I
have, as a German writer has said, 'fire-proof perennial enjoyments,
You speak warmly, Mr. Steele.
It is because I feel warmly on this subject. Long before a large
failure in the city deprived me of at least half of my fortune, I saw
clearly enough that there was but one way to find happiness in this
life, and that was to engage diligently in some useful employment, from
right ends. I shut my eyes to this conviction over and over again, and
acted in accordance with it only when necessity compelled me to do so.
I should have found much more pleasure in the pursuit of business, had
I acted from the higher motive of use to my fellows, which was
presented so clearly to my mind, than I do now, having entered its
walks from something like compulsion.
And you really think yourself happier than you were before, Mr.
I know it, friend Parker.
And you think I would be happier than I am now, if I were to open
my shop again?
I domuch happier. Don't you think the same?
I hardly know what to think. The way I live now is not very
satisfactory. I cannot find enough to keep my mind employed.
And never will, except in some useful business, depend upon it. So
take my advice, and re-open your shop before you are compelled to do
Why do you think I will be compelled to do it?
Because, it is very strongly impressed upon my mind that the laws
of Divine Providence are so arranged that every man's ability to serve
the general good is brought into activity in some way or other, no
matter how selfish he may be, nor how much he may seek to withdraw
himself from the common uses of society. Misfortunes are some of the
means by which many persons are compelled to become usefully employed.
Poverty is another means.
Then you think if I do not go into business again, I am in danger
of losing my property?
I should think you were; but I may be mistaken. Man can never
foresee what will be the operations of Providence. If you should ever
recommence business, however, it ought not to be from this fear. You
should act from a higher and better motive. You should reflect that it
is every man's duty to engage in some business or calling by which the
whole community will be benefited, and, for this reason, and this
alone, resolve that while you have the ability, you will be a working
bee, and not a drone in the hive. It is not only wrong, but a disgrace
for any man to be idle when there is so much to do.
Mr. Parker was surprised to hear his old customer talk in this way:
but surprise was not his only feelinghe was deeply impressed with the
truth of what he had said.
I believe, after all, that you are right, and I am wrong.
Certainly, there is no disguising the fact that my life has become a
real burden to me, and that business would be far preferable to a state
This admission seemed made with some reluctance. It was the first
time he had confessed, even to himself, that he had committed an error
in giving up his shop. The effect of what Mr. Steele had said was a
resolution, after debating the pros and cons for nearly a month, to
recommence business; but before this could take place, the kind of
business must be determined. Since Mr. Parker had ceased to be a hatter
and set up for a gentleman of fortune, his ideas of his own importance
had considerably increased. To come back into his old position,
therefore, could not be thought of. His wife argued for the shop, but
he would not listen to her arguments. His final determination was to
become a grocer, and a grocer he became. No doubt he thought it more
worthy of his dignity to sell rice, sugar, soap, candles, etc., than
hats. Why one should be more honourable or dignified than the other we
do not understand. Perhaps there is a difference, but we must leave
others to define itwe cannot.
A grocer Mr. Parker became instead of a hatter. Of the former
business he was entirely ignorant; of the latter he was perfect master.
But he would be a grocera merchant. He commenced in the retail line,
with the determination, after he got pretty well acquainted with the
business, to become a wholesale dealer. That idea pleased his fancy.
For two years he kept a retail grocery-store, and then sold out, glad
to get rid of it. The loss was about one-third of all he was worth. To
make things worse, there was a great depression in trade, and real
estate fell almost one-half in value. In consequence of this, Mr.
Parker's income from rents, after being forced to sacrifice a very
handsome piece of property to make up the deficit that was called for
in winding up his grocery business, did not give him sufficient to meet
his current family expenses.
There was now no alternative left. The retired hatter was glad to
open a shop once more, and look out for some of his old customers. Mr.
Steele saw his announcement, that he had resumed business at his old
stand and asked for a share of public patronage. About two weeks after
the shop was re-opened, that gentleman called in and ordered a hat. As
he came to the door and was about reaching his hand out to open it, he
heard the hatter's voice singing an old familiar air. A smile was on
the face of Mr. Steele as he entered.
All right again, he said, coming up to the counter and offering
his hand. Singing at your work, as of old! This is better than playing
the gentleman, or even keeping a grocery-store.
Oh, yes, a thousand times better, the hatter replied warmly. I am
now in my right place.
Performing your true use to the community, and happier in doing
I shall be happier, I am sure. I am happier already. My hat-blocks
and irons, and indeed, every thing around me, look like familiar
friends, and give me a smiling welcome. When health fails or age
prevents my working any longer, I will give up my shop, but not a day
sooner. I am cured of retiring from business.