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John R. Eggers: Memorial Day helps us define happiness

I have some bad news and some good, good news.

The bad news is, unless I am mistaken, no one in this area won the half billion-dollar lottery. The good news is no one in this area won the half billion-dollar lottery.

Most of us would agree that money cannot buy happiness. So, if you were looking to win the lottery in order to be happy, you won’t have to worry about it. However, if someone were to have an experiment just to test out the hypothesis, I would be willing to serve in the experimental group.

We all seek happiness in many ways. Some read books and find all kinds of happiness. Some find happiness in just sitting and watching the birds at the feeder. Others find happiness in having the children around, going to breakfast with friends, seeing a good movie and even, would you believe, landing a walleye.

All of those are excellent ways, and I have to admit, all of those ways bring me happiness.

Memorial Day is a good day to think about happiness. In spite of the shooting of the rifles in the cemeteries, I think of Memorial Day as a quiet day. For me it’s a day of reflection. I reflect on past Memorial Day parades where I marched with the band and Boy Scouts and stopped at a bridge to throw flowers into a creek. In more recent times, I think about afternoon picnics, watching a little baseball, putting flowers on graves, grilling some burgers and sitting with my family. All of those things mean happiness to me.

The reason why we celebrate Memorial Day has to do with another kind of happiness, a more challenging type, a happiness that cannot be obtained without sacrifice.

All of those soldiers who represent our country, past and present, have a lesson to teach us. We would not be a prosperous, safe and free country without learning it. They taught us four things: dissatisfaction, courage, conviction and foresight.

First, they taught us about dissatisfaction. Throughout history, great things have been created and wars have been fought because people have been dissatisfied with how things were.

The Civil War was fought because people believed that everyone was created equal. Many did not feel the same way, and we fought a war because of it.

Thomas Edison was so dissatisfied with life that he had more than 1,000 inventions to correct his dissatisfactions.

He didn’t enjoy going into his home and then having to light a kerosene lamp. “I would rather flick a switch,” he said. As a result, we have light bulbs.

Right here in Bemidji, a group of people formed Bemidji Leads because they saw some dissatisfaction and felt we could do better. Bemidji is better off because of Bemidji Leads.

One measure of happiness begins with finding dissatisfaction.

For me, I always return to what George Bernard Shaw said: “Some people see things as they are and say why, others see things as they should be and say, why not?” I guess I am a “why not” kind of person. Our government, including our military, is a “why not” kind of government — at least they try to be.

It takes courage to be a “why not” person as you search for happiness. It takes courage because it’s so easy to say, “I think I will let somebody else do it. Why bother. I would be just wasting my time.”

How many times have you and I uttered those refrains? It takes courage to keep moving forward. Again, our military men and women know all about moving forward and courage. We did it at Gettysburg, in the Philippines and in Baghdad, and, I might add, in Boston. It takes courage to find true happiness.

Champion surfer Laird Hamilton, the pioneer of tow-in surfing (a jet ski tows you in to the Big 50 waves) said, “I know that if I scare myself once a day, I’m a better person.”

You know you are on the right track when you are scared just a little bit.

Dissatisfaction, courage, all of the world’s great people possessed these two qualities plus a third one — conviction.

All of us are dissatisfied about something. All of us can muster up a little bit of courage to deal with it, but do we have the conviction to stick with it? That’s where you might say “the rubber hits the road.”

How many times have you and I started a diet? How many times have you and I started an exercise program? How many times have you and I recognized a need, began to fulfill it and then gave up?

Some obvious people come to mind when we talk about conviction. There’s Abe Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. There is Martin Luther King, Jr. and his work for civil rights. There is Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal that helped so many Americans find work.

We know about conviction. All of us who have a high school and/or college diploma had to show some conviction to get it. It wasn’t easy, was it? But you did it. You had conviction. Sometimes you were a little frightened.

Dissatisfaction, courage, conviction, what else can those military men and women teach us on Memorial Day?

The great people in the world had another thing in common. They had foresight. They all could see the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. They could see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could envision what it would be like if they could eliminate the dissatisfaction that started them on their journey in the first place.

Without foresight, it doesn’t make a difference what way you go because you will never get there. Foresight gives you direction. It’s what Edison saw before he invented the light bulb. It’s what Lincoln saw before he introduced the notion that all people should be free. It’s what Truman saw before he had to make the most difficult decision ever made by one individual, to drop the atom bomb.

Dissatisfaction, courage, conviction and foresight led our men and women in uniform to create our country where we all have the opportunity to find true and lasting happiness. We are reminded of this every year when we honor them on Memorial Day.

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.