In April 25, 1960 Peanuts ran one of its most famous strips:
Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books
A year later it was suggested to Schulz to take Lucy's "moment of revelation" (1) and turn it into a book. Schulz was hesitant at first but, after a long day's work, he created all the cameos that would eventually be published in the first Peanuts book Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.
David Michaelis tells the story of the publication of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy:
"Booksellers had never sold a hardcover quite like the offering that Determined Productions shipped to stores in November 1962, only weeks after the United States and the Soviet Union had come to the brink of thermonuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis had just died down, and people were again remembering to shave, when Schulz's small, square volume--complete with mocha-shade dust jacket, shocking-pink endpapers, and brightly colored pages--arrived in bookshops accompanied by a letter that closed, 'It won't change the world but we hope it will make things a little more pleasant for us survivors.'
Peanuts offered no solutions to the world's problems--rather, it made them more visible; neither did Schulz's strip depict, or seek to depict, any final overcoming of life's anguishes. In Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, the familiar Peanuts troupe served only to illustrate, as Schulz explained it, the 'little moments you remember when you stop and think back over your life.'" (2)
The contents of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy was the stuff of life. For example:
...an 'A' on your spelling test.
...finding someone you like at the door.
...sleeping in your own bed.
...getting together with friends.
...climbing a tree.
...a good old fashioned game of hide and seek.
...a bread and butter sandwich folded over.
...walking in the grass in your bare feet.
By December 2 of 1962 Happiness Is a Warm Puppy reached the national best-seller list and remained there for forty-three weeks. A year later Happiness Is a Warm Puppy was the #1 best-selling non-fiction book.
The message of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy converges on the wisdom of Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes. Throughout Ecclesiastes Qoheleth is confronted with the "vanity" and "meaninglessness" of life. The Hebrew word rendered as "vanity" is hevel. Hevel is difficult to translate. Literally, it means "breath." More abstractly, hevel hints at insubstantiality, transitoriness, and ephemerality. Thus, chasing after or trying to capture hevel is absurd, pointless, meaningless, ironic, and a manifestation of human vanity. Or, in the poetry of Qoheleth, it is "chasing after the wind":
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.
But interspersed throughout this depressing message, Qoheleth's wisdom points us to more modest pleasures, ones that are close at hand and often overlooked or taken for granted. Rather than striving in heroic fashion, pursuing enduring wealth, fame, or knowledge, Qoheleth (and Peanuts) suggests should enjoy the simpler things of life: food, drink, and the warmth of companionship:
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.
What does the worker gain from his toil?...I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.
Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.
However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all.
Like Peanuts Qoheleth gives us no final answer. Happiness is not a grand, enduring thing. It is the joy in the moment and is found wherever you can find it. Will all these moments add up to something more substantial? Qoheleth and Peanuts do not, cannot, answer. And neither can I.
But the wisdom of their modest advice still lingers: You have today, enjoy it. Perhaps no one said it better than Robert Louis Stevenson:
The best things in life are nearest:
Breath in your nostrils,
light in your eyes,
flowers at your feet,
duties at your hand,
the path of right just before you.
Then do not grasp at the stars,
but do life's plain,
common work as it comes,
certain that daily duties
and daily bread
are the sweetest things in life.
--End Chapter 6--
If you don't like Stevenson how about the sentiment of Hobbes?
Who knows about tomorrow or death? Regardless, I'm with Hobbes. I'll take it anyway.
And yes, thanks to Kimberly, I'm planning on writing The Theology of Calvin and Hobbes...
(1) p. 337 Schulz and Peanuts
(2) p. 338 Ibid