Maria Brophy


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Happiness is a Four-Leaf Clover

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Happiness is TogethernessHappiness consists not in having much, but in being content with little.”  Marguerite Gardiner

There’s a lot of talk about happiness in America.  It seems we are obsessed with finding it, as though it’s difficult to uncover, like a four-leaf clover or a purple unicorn.

There’s an entire industry of books telling you how to “be” happy, or how to “live” happy.  Even Oprah and the Dalai Lama have written advice on the topic.  Because, well, they should know.  They are pretty damn happy.

I asked my 8 year old son what he thinks happiness is.  He’s a bit of a philosopher and sometimes comes up with brilliant insights.  He said, in his matter-of-fact tone:  “It comes from something that makes you happy, but it depends on how you’re wired.  Um, I don’t know the rest…can I have an ice-cream now?”

Is this really the Secret to Happiness, an article on, spurred me to write my own take on the topic.  The author said “people that love what they do and seem happy no matter what, those people are always focusing on what they are grateful for and what’s good in their life.”

It got me thinking: I take it for granted that I’ve figured out how to be happy. There are people who live 70 years and never achieve it.  You could say that I’ve found that four-leaf clover called bliss.  I’m always discovering new things to be excited about.

But let me explain, being happy doesn’t mean that I’m always smiling and never get road rage.  Cause I do.  Just try running a stop sign in front of me and you’ll see this sweet smile turn upside down.

Being happy means being in love with where I am, whom I’m with, what I’m doing, and myself. (Notice that it doesn’t mean Having a lot of Stuff, the perfect home, a nice car.)

Really, it’s a choice.  You can choose to be grumpy or you can choose to be cheerful. I choose to enjoy life as much as possible.  Because it is more fun that way.

But I wasn’t always this way.  I was incredibly angry and miserable for the entire first half of my life.

At the age of sixteen I got very sick for a long time.  My mother finally took me for tests.  After a week of medical bloodletting and cat-scanning, the doctors found nothing wrong.  My mother was relieved.  But I was disappointed because I was hoping that cancer or some other horrible disease would explain why I felt like I was dying.

It wasn’t until years later that I diagnosed what had been wrong with me.  It was depression, which I didn’t figure out at the time because I had always been unhappy, even at the ripe young age of five.  I was used to being miserable.

It’s hard to be content as a child when you live in a house of discourse.  My father’s idea of discipline was to smack me upside the head and call me a dumb-ass.  I moved out of that house of horrors the second I graduated from high school.

I became obsessed with trying to be happy, though I had no idea of what it would feel like.  I just knew that it had to be better than feeling unloved and disconnected.

I dreamed of leaving that little town in Maryland and traveling the world.  The jungles of South America, the surf in Australia, elephants in Sri Lanka – I wanted to experience it all!

But it wasn’t until years later that I would actually start my traveling life.  Instead, I just went on being angry at the world, with a big chip on my shoulder that said “I’m 5’3”, I’m angry and I’ll punch you if I want!”

Sadness was a heavy blanket that covered me everywhere I went, even after I ventured out of small town Maryland and moved to Southern California.

Sure, I had fun like every other twenty year old.  I spent a lot of time in Hollywood at the rock and roll clubs, dancing and drinking and driving when it was still cool to do it.

But, I was sinking deeper into depression all the same.   I would just be driving down the freeway and it would pop into my head that no-one loved me, and I’d break down and cry.

Then one day my older sister, Brenda, gave me a little piece of advice that literally shifted my mind into a different way of being.  It changed everything. She said:

Maria, you are responsible for making yourself happy.  Happiness comes from within.”

I was stunned.  It was the first I’d ever heard of this philosophy.  But the second she said the words, it rang true to me.  And this was where I had my big turning point in life.  I realized that:

  1. I was responsible for my own happiness, not anyone else, and;
  2. Happiness was inside myself, not outside

I made a promise that from that day forward, I’d make myself happy, from within.  I wasn’t sure how to do it, but I was going to figure it out.

Fast forward many years later and I’m one happy girl.  You could say that I have everything I ever wanted.  But that’s not exactly true.  I still don’t have the big beach house on Cristobal Avenue that I’ve been wanting.  I haven’t been to the Maldives yet.  And I have nowhere near the amount of cash that I thought I’d have by this point in my career.

Thankfully, it’s not things that make me happy.  I live a minimalist life, so I don’t have much by way of material things compared to other Orange County, CA locals.  You could say that I am an anomaly here in The O.C.   I drive a 1997 Toyota 4-Runner with a lot of dents in it.  (I have a bad habit of backing into things.)  I’ve lived in the same cozy 2-bedroom house for 11 years.  You won’t find any jeans over $90 in my dresser.

It’s all the other things that bring joy: Peace found through meditating.  The great memories I’ve gathered from traveling the world.  I work for myself.  I’ve got a loving marriage and a healthy son and we live at the beach and I’ve got the freedom to do anything I want.

None of those things I listed are extraordinary.  My husband isn’t totally perfect, but I choose to love him just as he is.  My house is tiny, but I am grateful to have it.  Being self-employed is harder than working for someone else, but I get complete freedom in exchange for the steady paychecks.

Your happiness is equal to the amount of appreciation you feel for what you have.

I wasn’t born this way, as you read above.  Instead, slowly, over time, I designed my life to be exactly what I want it to be.  I figured out what would make me happy, and I made decisions that led me to having it.

Here are some of the decisions I’ve made and steps I’ve taken.  And they are Keys to happiness that anyone can implement:

* Know that You are Responsible for Your own Happiness: No one else cares as much as you do about your life.  Do what makes you happy regardless of what your parents want or your teachers want or your siblings or anyone else.  It’s your life.  And don’t apologize for it.

*Do what you love for a living:  If you do what you love, happiness will follow.  And hopefully money will, too.

*Choose the Right Partner:  This truly will determine 80% of your happiness.  If you aren’t happy most of the time with the dude or chick you’re with, or if they try to change you, or if you feel the need to change them, than you have the wrong person.  Make a switch.

*Live where you love:  It’s crucial to BE where you belong.  If you’re drawn to the mountains, figure out how to live there.  For me, it’s the ocean.  I can’t be grumpy when I’m staring at the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

*Appreciate What You Have:  It’s exciting to strive for new things, more achievements and passionate opportunities.  And at the same time, be happy with what you have while you have it.  You’ve got a lot to be thankful for right now.

*Accept other People for what they are:  Don’t try to change your brother or your lover or your kids.  Just let people be who they are, and work around it.  If someone really bothers you, than break ties or cut back on the time you spend with them.

*Accept yourself: Love yourself no matter how much you screw up.  Make yourself proud by being the person you want to be.  Don’t strive for perfection, but more for doing what’s right.

*Enjoy growing older:  The older I get, the more excited I am because I’m gaining more confidence, knowledge and respect from others.  (Of course, I’m not welcoming the wrinkles- but that’s another story!)

*Cut Negative People Out of Your Life: Slowly, I’ve cut back on the energy stealers, the blood suckers, the negative people who criticize and crush dreams.  There’s no time in life for these people.  Even if they are relatives; cut back on the time you spend with them.

*Love the people in your life:  My friend Bridget always leaves me mushy voice mails.  They usually go like this:  “Hello, beautiful woman!  Just checking in.  I miss you and love you!”  She never fails to make me feel loved and special and wonderful.  I used to feel a little weird hearing it, but I’ve gotten used to it, and now I talk that way, too.

*Arrange Your Life to Do what Brings you Joy:   Did you ever notice that avid surfers, skiers, kayakers, whatever, are always beaming with joy?  There’s a reason they are called “avid” at what they do – it’s because they do it avidly. They’ve arranged their lives to do the sport they love.  Skiers often will get jobs at ski resorts in the winter so they can hit the slopes daily.  Surfers live near the ocean and find jobs in the surf industry so they are around surf.  Take what you love and arrange your life around it.

Being able to explore the world is the most important key to my happiness.  My husband and I both have the travel bug and we’ve designed our lives to be able to travel quite a bit.  We made a commitment years ago that we would take 6-8 weeks each year overseas.  Last year we traveled about 16 weeks out of the year.  Travel is a priority over buying a new car, expensive clothes and other stuff that we don’t need.  As far as our business, well, Drew and I choose to make less money so we can have more adventures, and we just sort of shut down the business while we’re gone, or we incorporate business into our trips.

The freedom to travel is a childhood dream.  And it’s not that hard to do – it’s just a commitment and a priority, and everything else falls into place around that commitment and priority.  Things like our business, our sons’ schooling.  And our decision NOT to follow the status quo of American way of living, which means having lots of STUFF over EXPERIENCE.

You might not want to live my life.  But there’s a life that you do want to live, full of things that you love and enjoy and dream about.

And you have the freedom to design your life for happiness.

We were put on this earth not to have difficult experiences but to enjoy love, peace, hope, faith.  It’s your job to fulfill your happiness so that you can pass that onto your children and others in your life.

I’ve been unhappy, and I’ve been happy, and all I can say is – being happy is much more fun.

xxoo Maria

PS:  Found this on Twitter by @RossTeasley:  SO simple, it’s BRILLIANT:  Roadmap for Happiness

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21 Comments Happiness is a Four-Leaf Clover

  1. Henri

    Ha, road rage, I’d like to see that captured on camera!

    Sometimes I almost believe that there’s this rubber-band effect. I don’t remember who I heard it from, but it goes something like this: the further back in to the darkness you pull the rubber-band, the further into the light it flies.

    Our natural state is happiness. It’s funny how I am the same way. Instead of getting all the things I wanted years ago, I’ve realized that I don’t really need them to be happy, so I am happy now :)

    This was an awesome post. Keep rocking!

  2. Archan Mehta


    This is your best post yet and it moved me to tears: it really did.

    If only I had known you when you were 16…I would have comforted you…and not allowed you to break down and cry…not allowed you to say, “nobody loves me” because guess what? That’s not true at all.

    Whenever you feel sad or blue or angry or any negative emotions, dig deeper into your archives and read the comments section. And just know how much we care for you; just how much you are loved.

    If I had your good looks, why, I would always be happy. In my case, it does not help that bugs bunny stares back at me whenever I look into the mirror while brushing my teeth or cutting myself up (“shaving”).

    I told you we were kindred spirits, you and I: I also fell sick for a long time at 16. And I had to see a doctor. And I suffered from depression for a long time. In my case, however, the solution was to spend my time in the outdoors. I have always been very sporty–rather athletic, although not a jock or a professional athlete. School made me feel really depressed because we had to spend so much time in the classroom, that is, indoor environment. That made me feel cranky.

    Although I was a brilliant student, the only time I found happiness in school was during my favorite class: Physical Training (PT). Some of us are born with K-Intelligence (physical), but are not allowed to express it. I need sweat, blood and tears to be happy, I discovered.
    That’s why today I make it a point to spend as much time outdoors as I can. There’s nothing like fresh air in your lungs and sunshine on your skin to help transcend the “moody blues.” Cheers to you, Maria.

  3. deni

    you are so right, it is a choice. i have worked with marketing and sales people for over 10 years (as technical/creative support) and the ones i observed that got ahead were the ones that had a cheerful attitude. there was one sales guy who was super annoying he had a loud voice and was a pest nagging for things but in the end he always closed the deal and had a smile. it could be 8am and grumbling in your morning coffee and tell him to basically eff off and he would just smile and come back and bring you a croisant. while that might seem a bit numb skulled, an extreme example – the guy was unflappable and it seemed to really work. i wish i could be more like that!

  4. Cecily

    I was really moved by this piece, too, Maria! And I could relate, too. So many people think happiness is this elusive thing and attach it to some ideal: an ideal relationship, an ideal job, an ideal level of wealth. I was angry and depressed in my younger years despite some superficial ‘achievements’ and definitely remember that ‘eureka’ moment when I realized happiness is a choice, a choice between gratitude and resentment. Very powerful! I really enjoyed your insight on this moving and thought-provoking topic. Best, Cecily :)

  5. dog lover

    i just came across your blog today, i dont even remember how. also, your husband makes cool art, anyway:

    i couldn’t agree more. you have to choose to be happy. happiness isn’t stuff, it isn’t a new expensive car, it isn’t a house bigger than your neighbors, happiness is a feeling you get from doing something you enjoy with people whose company you enjoy. i think this is why so many people are miserable in the USA, we have this american cultural quest jammed down our throats to accumulate tons of bigger and better stuff so we can show it off to other people in this endless competition of stuff, rather than focusing on being around good people and having good experiences.

    keep doing what you love. i dont remember who said it, but it’s a good quote: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

  6. Dana Phillips

    What a great post! I am so glad to have found your blog and other pages, you do great work. Your husband and my husband, Richard Phillips, used to work together a million years ago on the beaches here in Myrtle (Atlantic beach actually). It’s so awesome to see Drew living his artist life, he was always sketching, and I remember particularly a caricature he did of one of the guys that worked with them that was hilarious. It’s really inspirational to read about you guys as I am trying to establish my self as a jewelry designer, something that I discovered a few years ago that makes ME happy. I have used it to travel a bit, not overseas yet, but that is a goal! But I have been toying with a few ideas of how to proceed, and your blog has helped point out a few things to me, THANKS!

  7. Archan Mehta


    I was just so inspired by this post–your best one ever–that I just had to stop by for a second time. Your ideas got me thinking, so here goes.( By the way, I hope you find these ideas useful.)

    First, please write a post about your child, your eight year old philosopher. Sounds like a potential genius. We don’t even know his name. And shower your son with tender loving care. Spend more time with him, if you can. Children are the most special people in the world. I tend to feel upset whenever I hear about child abuse.

    Second, let me point out that philosophers have already speculated about the difference between bliss and happiness. Bliss is an inner game, whereas happiness is about the outer game we all play.

    That’s why you and I meditate: we want to achieve a state of bliss consciousness. By contrast, happiness tends to depend on externals, such as owning a Hollywood bungalow, BMW sports car, champagne and caviar dinners, and expensive jewelery (the American Dream). Ah, that can lead to a fool’s paradise, maybe?

    In addition, bliss is about quality of life issues, whereas happiness is about standard of living issues. Think about it.

    You have opted for quality of life– rather than standard of living –and so have I. And many others too. You choose, for example, to “follow your bliss”–in the words of Joseph Campbell–rather than buy expensive toys and compete with Mrs. Jones and Mr. Smith.

    Otherwise, probably you would be living next to Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise by now in Beverly Hills. Instead, you chose to live near the ocean–a truly wise decision, in my humble opinion.( Feel free to disagree with this analysis, by the way.)

    In general, Americans are preoccupied by standard of living issues rather than quality of life issues. That really can create challenges.

    Steve Martin, one of my favorite actors, once remarked that (almost) every person–who lives in the elite parts of LA is a crazy. LOL.

    There’s a lot of unhappiness among the super-rich. They may live in the lap of luxury and have money to burn, but their marriages end in divorce, their children end up breaking the law, and their relationships can become abusive. Think OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, Brittney Spears, etc. They may have other issues as well.

    “All that glitters is not gold.” And becoming rich and famous also comes with a price tag: neither the public nor the paparazzi will ever leave you alone.

    I know I don’t want to be in those shoes. Since I seek bliss, my privacy does matter to me. Evidently, you also would take umbrage if your family life was invaded by perfect strangers too.

    You will find many celebrities checking into rehab clinics or ashrams to find peace of mind. If memory serves, Harrison Ford even owns a ranch or farmhouse in Montana to escape from the madness of Hollywood. Richard Gere, has sought the sage counsel of the Dalai Lama in his quest to find serenity in the midst of his chaotic life. Thus, understanding this distinction is important for all of us. Cheers.

  8. maria Brophy

    Wow, I’m amazed at how so many people enjoyed this article! I’m going to have to write more on the topic of happiness.

    Archan pointed out something I didn’t realize: That Bliss and Happiness are two different things. I’m going to look into that distinction deeper – I’m intrigued!

    Thanks, everyone who commented. I’m so thrilled to have this interaction and connection with all of you!

  9. Katie

    When I (and I often do) describe you and Drew and the life you have made for yourselves, this is what I talk about…Your appreciation for each other, your ability to keep it simple, the gratitude and satisfaction you express for what you have, and the freedom and happiness that your choices allow you. Your joy comes through in your interactions with others. I admire you guys and the choices you make. You wrote it more eloquently than I have ever expressed it so I can just refer people to your blog in the future…I especially loved your honesty in this piece. GREAT writing…Well done!

  10. Dennis T Panzik

    He who is not satisfied with nothing cannot be satisfied with everything.

    He who is not appreciative of the little things cannot appreciate the great things.

    He with whom sufficient is not enough is without virtue.

    For the physical body of man can only live from day to day.
    If we seek to supply ourselves with what we need, there is still time to
    While if we seek to supply ourselves with what we want, the task is without end.

    ~Law of Buddha

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  13. linda

    Fabulous post! I have been doing a bit of research on the topic of happiness… it seems to be the latest rage in the bookshelves and such… but I agree that it’s not something you find – out there – somewhere. I like to think of our lives a journey in building our happiness…bit by bit.

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