Bob Dylan On Happiness

happiness balloonsToday, once again we’re going to take a look at that treasure of an emotion, happiness. I’ve written recently on this blog two related posts, “The Desire for Happiness” and “Hope and Happiness as Emotions.”

The topic of happiness is relevant to insults and respect in a variety of ways. For example, if you tell people that your goal of life is to be happy, some may insult you for being shallow and lose a certain amount of respect for you. To Albert Einstein, happiness is perhaps a fitting goal for a herd of cattle. Goals of life that he admired fell under the umbrellas of truth, justice, and beauty.

couch potatoFor some, the goal of happiness conjures up an image of people apparently satisfied with a life of chiefly lying on their couches drinking alcohol, taking pills, and watching as much TV as they can get away with. But I hasten to point out that there are people who say that their goal of life is happiness, and yet when you watch them, they are hardly shallow individuals, and their life activities don’t in any way match that of the image of couch potatoes. To adequately address issues of this type requires more than my initial two blog posts on happiness.

Bob Dylan2In the recent past, I used three of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour shows to further develop ideas about madness, fools, and tears. Those posts were so popular, I thought it would be fun to take a look at his show on happiness to move some ideas about happiness further along. For those of you who would like to hear his delightful and thought provoking show on happiness, it’s available for free on the internet here.

Bob’s Introduction to His Happiness Theme

With a stirring upbeat big band sound in the background, Bob opens his show with the following words:

bob dylan black and white“Welcome everybody to Theme Time Radio Hour. It’s good to see so many familiar faces. I stopped off downstairs, got all the latest gossip from Carl’s Barbershop. I see they slapped on a new coat of paint in the lobby of the old Abernathy Building, and I’m happy to say that the coffee at Sampson’s is as strong as it ever was. Yes indeed-ee-doo, I could not be happier to be with you today. Even more so because today’s theme is something the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence guarantees us the pursuit of, along with life and liberty. You guessed it. Stick around for the next hour where we’ll be playing songs all about happiness. I can’t guarantee that I’m gonna make you happy, but I’m gonna do my darndest.”

Bob then launches into a swinging song by Hot Lips Page, titled “Feelin’ High and Happy.”

HOT LIPS PAGE JAZZBetter slip into your evenin’ clothes,

There’s a dance tonight at Joe’s,

Let’s go, I’m feelin’ high and happy

I’ve reserved a ringside seat for two,

Nothin’ but the best will do,

Let’s go, I’m feelin’ high and happy!

As I listened to this song, I began to wonder what is it about going out to listen and to dance to lively music that often leads to feelings of happiness. Upon reflection, it came to me that typically people have desires to get some exercise and to be with some fun people. As these needs are met we begin to feel happy. And yet, as I thought about this a little more, it occurred to me that whenever I’ve gone out dancing, the songs and music are not only upbeat.  There’s always some bluesy stuff thrown into the mix.

Even the lively “Feelin’ High and Happy” song has a line in it that reveals some troubles:

Hock ShopI just went into hock for everything,

When I do that it’s so we can swing

You know I’m feelin’ high and happy!

Whether the songs of troubles are about money, loss of love, struggles with drugs, or pretty much anything else, they almost always become part of the night of seeking a good time. Why is that?

BB KingI know, for me, the fact that I do have struggles that I’m seeking to overcome makes my life more interesting and meaningful. When I’m reminded of the struggles that I have had to overcome to achieve my desires, I find that it makes the happiness of achieving my desires ever more enjoyable.  In fact, I don’t think we could be happy without the struggles that go along with achieving our desires.

Later in Bob’s Show On Happiness

Shortly after the Hot Lips Page song, Bob plays us a little audio clip of the pharmaceutical industry’s style of trying to sell happiness in the form of a pill:

Today, medical science recognizes that some folks aren’t helped by relaxing exercises. Doctors are now prescribing an anorexic medicine. It makes those who fear they are about to quit, feel like they are ready to begin, bidding their darken spirits goodbye for the calming spirit of a cloudless sky.

Bob’s next song is by the soulful Al Green, “Nothing But Love and Happiness.” It begins,


al greenLove and happiness (yeah)

Something that can make you do wrong

Make you do right

Love and happiness

The lyrics point out that as we seek to fulfill our desire for love there are times when things just don’t always end up on the happiness side of the spectrum. On the other hand, if we do find a love that works the way we might have dreamed was possible, love can make you wanna dance and sing.

In Bob’s next bit, he combines a little humorous quip with a philosophical epigram:

“Everyone you know can make you happy. Some do it by arriving, and some do it by leaving.

Richard Gere told me something the Dali Lama once said, ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’ Hmmmm.”

And then he introduces another song:

“Here’s Jimmie Heap and the Melody Masters, ‘Then I’ll be Happy.'”

The song begins,

Jimmy HeapI wanna go where you go,

Do what you do,

Love when you love,

Then I’ll be happy!

I wanna sigh when you sigh,

Cry when you cry,

Smile when you smile,

Then I’ll be happy!

We get a pretty clear sense in this song that there may be a deeper source of happiness that comes from some types of relationships even if it means sharing some tears from time to time.  It has a kind, pleasantly sweet country feel to it.

Soon, Bob again mixes a little philosophy with humor:

“One way to have a happy home is to practice Feng Shui, which in Chinese means wind and water. These are the things that flow naturally. Feng Shui causes us to focus on the qi, which is the energy of life and is incorporated in every part of our life.

bedroom-feng-shui“The bedroom is considered the most important room of the house and should have qualities of stillness and softness. You should use pleasing textures. entranceThe entrance of the house is also important. This is the transition from the outer world to your domain.

“Feng Shui isn’t just important for humans. The Los Angeles Zoo paid $4500 to a Feng Shui expert to make their monkeys from China feel more at home. I don’t think it was the Feng Shui that made them feel happy. I just think that monkeys just liked the idea that zoo keepers are willing to pay $4500 on them.”

Of the next few songs that Bob plays, the one that made me think most deeply about today’s topic is “Happy” by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins. Some of the lyrics tell us:

JennyThey warn you about killers and thieves and knives
I worry about cancer and living right
But my momma never warned me about my own destructive appetite
Or the pitfalls of control
How it locks you in your grave
Looking for someone to be saved under my restraint
So I could be happy
Oh so happy

The lyrics, I think, remind us that although happiness comes from achieving our goals, some goals, when achieved only make us happy in the short term.  In the end we pay too great a price for the fleeting happiness that comes from “destructive” appetites.  Of course drug addictions are the most well known of these, but trying to force people to be under your control has its pitfalls as well.

As the Show Winds Down

The last song that Bob plays on his happiness show has a little lesson for us.  It’s Happy Trails to You, by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  I really like this verse:

Roy and DaleHappy trails to you
Till we meet again
Some trails are happy ones
Others are blue
It’s the way you ride the trail
That counts
Here’s a happy one for you

JaneKenyonThen Bob leaves us with a poem called “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon. I think that’s a fine way to end today’s post as well. Enjoy the poem, and I hope you visit “From Insults to Respect” again real soon:

There’s just no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your feet

having squandered a fortune far away.


And how can you not forgive?

You make a feast in honor of what

was lost, and take from its place the finest

garment, which you saved for an occasion

you could not imagine, and you weep night and day

to know that you were not abandoned,

that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.


No, happiness is the uncle you never

knew about, who flies a single-engine plane

onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes

into town, and inquires at every door

until he finds you asleep midafternoon

as you so often are during the unmerciful

hours of your despair.


It comes to the monk in his cell.

It comes to the woman sweeping the street

with a birch broom, to the child

whose mother has passed out from drink.

It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing

a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,

and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots

in the night.

                     It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea,

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.






Hope and Happiness as Emotions
Bob Dylan On Luck And Respect

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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