Is it selfish to be happy?

I once had a conversation with artist/author Jerry Wennstrom that I’ll never forget. I had recently created my card deck, Mixed Emotions, but wasn’t really sure what to do next.

“When will I have met my obligation to the Universe?” I asked Jerry. “Have I already met it by creating Mixed Emotions, or won’t it be met until every single copy in the warehouse is sold?”

“Maybe,” Jerry said, “Your obligation to the Universe is to be happy.”

Isn’t it funny how the biggest epiphanies you’ll ever experience are also the simplest?

I didn’t feel like I had much choice in creating Mixed Emotions. Sometimes you have an idea and sometimes an idea has you. Mixed Emotions was definitely an idea that had me. I felt like I was hand-picked to bring it into being. I enjoyed creating it, but once it was published, I had no idea what to do.

Like many creative people, I didn’t have much experience in business. I also unexpectedly found myself separated from the father of my 12-month old son. Our divorce was final three days after my father died, and a few weeks later, the first few cases of Mixed Emotions arrived from the printer. It was onto this fertile soil that Jerry dropped his seed–the idea that my happiness might just be a worthy and legitimate thing to pursue.

I was not raised to believe that my happiness mattered much. It was the happiness I could give others, especially my mother, that mattered. But, to be fair, how am I doing as a parent? Am I teaching Adrian that nothing is more important than his own happiness? After all, he would’ve been happy if I’d let him skip school yesterday and I said no.

As the creator of a deck of cards, I’ve collected quite a few sets of cards over time. One of my decks is by Esther and Jerry Hicks, and is called The Teachings of Abraham Well-Being Cards. My favorite card sits in a holder above my sink and says simply this:

My happiness is my greatest gift to others

Thanks to Jerry Wennstrom, that is now the motto that I live my life by. And if I can somehow get that across to my son, I will consider myself a success as a parent.


Kris Wiltse’s illustration for the “Happy” card from the Mixed Emotions deck.