Your Happy File
If you want to save the Amazon Rainforest, forget recycling—just eliminate kindergarten.
I’m not kidding! My son comes home each and every day with sixteen pages of doodles, drawings, puzzles, and well, I don’t know. I stopped looking at them after two weeks. And this is just the stuff he brought home! One can only assume that there is an equally large (or larger) pile of papers somewhere in his desk.
Cleaning the backpack out and sorting through the day’s events is my wife’s job. We learned very early on in our scholastic experience that I lacked the necessary intellectual, emotional or visual capacity to do this job well. Where I see blobs of color akin to a Rorschach Test, she sees a piece of modern art. Where I see cotton balls glued to colored construction paper, she sees a piece of my son’s childhood. Where I see what appears to be a seizure with a writing instrument, she sees his very first words. Like I said, my wife has better or different eyesight than I do.
I am glad that my wife wants to save some of the talismans of our boys childhood, but we had to pare it down to what was reasonable. She claimed that she had, and amid my scoffing, she challenged me to do the same.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Your boxes of stuff in the garage. You know, the ones that say “Happy File” on them,” she replied.
WHAT? Was she possibly comparing my son’s puerile doodles to my most important and cherished objects? HOW DARE SHE! The Happy File was sacred—and to be spoken of with such a tone of disgust! Clearly she did not know what she was speaking of. After all, she can’t tell a doodle from a Piccaso.
What started in college as a nine-by-twelve manila envelope had grown into two mammoth boxes spanning a twenty-two-year teaching career. As far as I was concerned, she should count herself lucky, for if it weren’t for the electronic age (scanning and email), these two boxes could easily be four. In fact, these boxes should be amended to say “Happy Files 1990-2002.”
On many occasions I had tried to cull through the contents of these boxes and sort them by year or type, but these attempts were always futile. Regardless of how it started, such moments of energy-filled OCD would eventually have me sitting by the box, re-reading some of its contents and smiling uncontrollably.
At some point early on in my career, I started requiring my student leaders to create a Happy File. I told them that if they were going to be true leaders, they would face some bad days and difficult times, and in order to get through them, they would need something to help see them through. I am not sure if this is true or not, but I just knew that having a place for personal mementoes and relics was something important and was not likely to be taught to them by their parents. Happy Files and piano lessons were things that no one ever regretted when they got older, just that they had stopped. Within a couple of years, the concept had spread to the entire band and the Happy File had taken on a life of its own.
Recently, a former student posted on Facebook that she had required her soon-to-be teenage children to create their own Happy Files. I was touched that she had remembered and valued the concept, and that she believed it to the extent that she was having her children start their own.
The contents of my Happy File are as varied as they are esoteric. Pictures, programs and assorted objects fill my two large boxes. Despite my many attempts to organize them, there’s no rhyme or reason as to their placement. No protocol or procedures rule what makes the box and what doesn’t, just the knowledge that it makes me feel something. It reminds me not of what I do, but why I do it and who I do it for. There is nothing “professional” in it, and it’s not something I would bring to a job interview. Instead, it is something deeply personal, and while it does not validate my career, in part it validates a huge part of my life. It makes me human.
My Happy File is among my most treasured objects and, despite my wife’s challenge, is not likely to be going anywhere soon.
So much for saving the rainforest.
Now it’s your turn. Get a box, envelope or folder on your computer desk top and start creating your own “Happy File.” I promise you will be glad you did.