Stumbling Into Happiness

Want to talk politics? Me neither. I’d rather talk about a happy guy. I’ll call him Gino. He manages a wine store in Denver, which I occasionally visit, purely for journalistic reasons. I asked him this week whether he’s really as happy as he seems to be, and if so, why?

He admitted — acknowledged, as we say in the trade — that he is a happy guy.

“I guess I was born that way,” he said, laughing.

Why do you think that is? I asked. Genetics? Luck of the draw?

“I don’t know if that’s it,” he said.

So what is it?

“Well,” he said, “I try to keep myself out of situations that might make me miserable.”

Good advice. So, tell me about a situation that made you miserable.

Turned out that he’d wanted to be a fireman. And he was. He went to the firefighting school, graduated at the top of his class and got a job as a firefighter. Did well at it, too. Got promoted to engineer in year one.

“What I didn’t like was the camaraderie,” he said.

You didn’t like the camaraderie?

Most of his co-workers were older white guys. He was the minority guy, young, rarin’ to go. He never got along with those guys.

Their fire district was expanding fast, as Colorado’s population exploded. The district brought in more old white guys, from other districts, as captains, lieutenants. “So there was no way up for me,” he said.

Then he had some good luck, disguised as bad luck. He was injured on a fire and sent to physical therapy. The deep tissue massages and other rehab work did him a lot of good, he said, so he quit his job, took classes and became a certified massage therapist.

Gino unrolled the story of his life this week as a string of women — only women — entered and left his store, buying wine, beer and booze for Thanksgiving.

Remember, I’m telling you all this because Gino is a happy man, and I think all of us — me, for sure — want to be happy men, or women.

He kept getting fired from his rehab jobs because he played bass in a rock and roll band and they were doing pretty well — not well enough to make a living at it, but enough to go on the road now and then, for a week or two. And miss his day gig, for a week or two.

So Gino kept knocking around, playing rock and roll, and when he was 25, or thereabouts, he found himself working at a wine shop in Boulder. Boulder, he assured me, had seven master sommeliers at the time. Becoming a master sommelier is a rigorous process. Boulder’s seven gave it probably the highest number of sommeliers per capita in the nation, with the possible exception of Las Vegas.

So Gino found himself hanging out after hours, drinking wine and shooting the merde with master sommeliers. He became a sommelier himself. Now he’s managing that wine shop.

In other words, Gino sort of wandered around for years, then fell into happiness. It helps, he said, that he hardly ever sees or hears from his boss. Maybe six phone calls in two years.

Long answer short: Gino likes what he does and knows what he’s doing. He’s got a good boss — in that the boss doesn’t try to be a boss. He hired Gino, trusts him, and lets him alone.

I’m 30 years older than Gino — one generation — but our life tracks have a lot in common. I knocked around for a long time from one job to another before I got my first staff job at a newspaper when I was 37. I took a 60 percent pay cut from being a public schoolteacher to become a reporter, and my wife thought I was crazy. But it was a good move.

My mom, who grew up in the Great Depression, told me: Get a job you like and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Now for the Old Guy Advice Part. It seems to me that young people today are being directed, way too early on, into choosing a “career path.” Into “planning for retirement,” when they’re 25. Maybe that’s smart, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s strapping themselves into a straitjacket — for what? Security?

Let me tell you, Young People, there’s no such thing as security. And if there were, why would you want it, when you’re young?

Knock around for a while. Take chances. Quit your job if your boss sucks, and tell him why he sucks — tell everyone.

Let me say it again: There is no security on this Earth. But there is happiness, for some, if only for a moment. Maybe that’s what you should plan for.

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