Les Miserables

By JT Ellison

Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for self and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.

  Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics (Translated by W. D. Ross)

I was coming out of the grocery store today and the woman carrying my bags asked me how I was. Now, before you start thinking I’m hopelessly lazy or have morphed into Paris Hilton, I was at Publix, it’s part of their service, I still have a half-cast, it was a stunningly gorgeous Tennessee day and she wanted to get outside, I was just an excuse. (Nicely justified, J.T.)

ANYWAY… she asked me how I was, and I said, "Fabulous!" Because I was. Like I mentioned, it was a beautiful day, I’d hit my word count, I’d chosen well for dinner and grocery shopping equals bliss in my mind. To be perfectly honest, I’m a generally satisfied soul, so most days I can answer honestly that I am, indeed, quite well. I mean, truly, how could I not be? I’m pursuing my dream. I’m one of the luckiest women on the planet. I have a spouse who is terrific, my parents and family are a huge support, my friends are lovely, my books are fun to write, I eat well, exercise as often as I can, have a nice roof over my head, am relatively free of defect and am not morally bankrupt. What more does a girl need? Skinny jeans aside, of course.

So my kind grocery carter asks me how I am, I reply in a most chipper manner that I’m fabulous, and she nearly dropped my bags. She actually stopped mid-stride for a moment, then got a huge smile on her face. "I don’t hear that very often," she said. "Usually when I ask people how they are, they tell me about something horrible that’s going on in their life."

Considering a situation not twenty minutes earlier. I had a hard time getting the attention of the young girl behind the bread counter. She was in a complete daze. If she were a writer, I’d know she was plotting a particularly juicy scene, but I can’t make that assumption, not just yet. So I finally got her attention, and she laughed. Not in a humorous way, but with soft, chagrined embarrassment. She apologized. "My mother gives me these ADHD pills and they just put me in a daze. I have some bad thoughts sometimes, and I just get lost in my head trying to sort them out."

She went on to wrap up my Tuscan garlic loaf, apologizing again. I told her to stop apologizing, A., and B. write it down. I told her that’s how all great writers start. They get lost in their heads and can’t make head or tails of their thoughts, so they begin writing them down. The thoughts become stories and your head will be less full of bad things. And I saw that my words struck a chord with her. She was thinking about how to do that when I walked away, and I gave her a thumbs-up. I’ll see her again, I’m sure (it is my favorite loaf of bread, after all.) It would be cool to hear that the remedy helped in some microscopic way.

Couple that with the check out girl being surprised at my happiness leaving the store and I realized just how much negativity we’re surrounded by. Day in and day out, people complain. Little things, big things, life altering things, and things that just don’t matter, all build into this verbal stew of complaints. When is the last time someone asked how you were and you said fine, then qualified it with a complaint? It astounds me, truly it does, to hear how dissatisfied so many people are with their lives. I wonder how many are stuck, and how many thrive on dissatisfaction and don’t do anything to change their lives toward happiness.

To hear people tell it, as a writer I should be a morbid depressive, forever unhappy with the state of my life, my writing, my publisher’s treatment of me, my books, my lack of appropriate money, my reviews and channeling this unhappiness onto the page. I just can’t make it work that way. My glass if half to three-quarters full, thank you very much. Sorry. I can’t do anything about that. It’s just me. It’s not that I’m a newbie and haven’t been beaten down by the industry yet. I am genuinely happy to be pursuing a career that I love. I’m a karma girl, big time. Aristotelian. I believe that my attitude and my actions dictate the course of my life. I try to do good things, and when I do something nice for someone else, it makes me feel good. My happiness is gauged not by my accomplishments, but my basic satisfaction with myself and how I treat those around me.

So, with this ideal in mind, did you do something nice for someone else this week?

Wine of the Week — We need a magnum of Dom Perignon today, because


My dear friend Tasha Alexander has made a fantastic two book deal, moving her exceptional Lady Ashton series to St. Martin’s Minotaur in a pre-empt. Nice! I can’t tell you the joy this brings to me and to her fans! Watch out New York Times, your next bestseller is on her way!!!

Tasha is at the Great Lakes Booksellers Association this weekend in Schaumburg, so if you’re attending, go see her speak and read from A POISONED SEASON.

In more fun news, Tasha’s most recent adventure hit the shelves this week!

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the companion novel to Cate Blanchett’s new movie. Tasha was commissioned to write the novel this past winter, and it is vastly diverting!

Bravo, Tash!!!!

13 thoughts on “Les Miserables

  1. Will Bereswill

    As a matter of fact, I did. Sisters In Crime, St. Louis Chapter is holding a REALLY cool event from Nov. 1 to 4, called Forensics University. The faculty is fabulous. But, I volunteered to coordinate the shooting event (yes, shooting guns of all types at a range). I know on the surface that it doesn’t sound like much, but I’m only in town, actucally in the country for 9 days before the event. So wish me luck.

    In case you’re interested, http://www.sistersincrime.org/ForensicU/schedule.html

  2. Christa Miller

    Great post, J.T. In general this is how I try to live my life as well. Though it gets harder when people start throwing things at you for no apparent reason! I recently had a problem with my MIL where she said some really nasty things to me (totally out of character). We worked it out, and agreed to give each other a break, but during the week that was going on? I caught myself on several occasions ready to dish more out to some stranger. 🙁

    I try to remember that others have this kind of thing happen too, sometimes on a regular basis. It really does screw with your perceptions. Makes me want to try harder – I have apologized for being snippy with total strangers – but it’s so easy to resent other people for not “giving you a break” when you feel like you “deserve” one.

    It’s hard, too, to change your life for the better when social conventions go against your instinct. I haven’t gotten along with my parents for many years, and I still struggle with whether it’s really the right thing to limit contact with them to the extent that I do. I think it is – I’m happier for it – but they are, after all, my parents.

    That was the long way of saying I try to give other people the benefit of the doubt about their lives, even when I’m at my crappiest!

  3. Louise Ure

    OK, I admit it. I’m the one who says “Oh, I’m fine I guess, given how bad things could really be.” It has something to do with not bragging … not calling down the gods of bad luck to notice me.

    And yes, I did something nice for someone this week. I made my dentist rich.

  4. JDRhoades

    Ta-SHA! Ta-SHA! Ta-SHA!

    And I have a variety of responses to the “how are you?” inquiry.

    “Bloody but unbowed.”

    “I can’t complain. Well, I can, but nobody listens.”

    but usually, it’s “I’m well. Hope you are.”

    My favorite is from a magistrate who retired a couple of years ago:

    “Buddy, how are you?”

    “You really want to know or are you just being polite?”

    “Ummm…just being polite.”

    “Then I’m fine, thanks.”

  5. billie

    JT, I have a similar philosophy. Although I’m one who will confront bad behavior out and about in the world when I feel it’s unfair or unnecessary, I always make the same effort and put the same/more energy into going out of my way to thank people for being pleasant/competent.

    I helped an older, shorter lady in the grocery store this week reach a bottle of vanilla extract. We joked about how high they shelve things and had a laugh.

    I feel like some champagne – it’s been a busy week but all my clients are making major progress, my children outdid themselves pitching in while my husband was out of the state on business, the horses and cats and corgyn are full of energy with the cooler weather. And tomorrow we’re getting in a big load of hay and then going to visit our miniature donkey (not weaned yet so we go visit until he comes in January). Add to that good comments in writing group this week and I can honestly say that life is not just good, but fabulous. 🙂

    An extra toast to Tasha for her great news!

  6. pari

    J.T.,Thanks for this uplifting post. Actually, I’m one of those generally content souls, too. I spend a lot of time each day thanking God (universe, power that is, chance . . . whatever) for my many, many blessings.

    As a parent, I get opportunities daily to be nice, to make a good and happy difference in someone’s life. Beyond that, I’ve had a bunch of lovely things happen just this morning and have made a couple of people laugh. So, yeah, I’m pretty happy.

    Of course, I’m also mercurial. Most of my storms pass quickly.

    CONGRATS TO TASHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!What wonderful news.

    CONGRATS TO KEN BRUEN for the BARRY!!!!!!!!!!What a great day this is.

  7. Tom

    Bruen won a berry, you say? You’d think they could afford to give him a whole damn bush!

    A friend of ours cultivates his attitude of gratitude – and he has reason, since he has died twice. He has the best response to “How are you?” that I’ve ever heard. “If I were any better,” John says, “I’d be twins.”

  8. Carol Baier

    I’m also a karma girl, J.T. One of my favorite anecdotes concerns the quaker, George Fox. As I recall the story, in the 1600s gentlemen always carried a sword. Somewhere along Fox’s spiritual path, he stopped carrying his. A desciple was berating himself that he had tried to do the same, but losing his status was too painful. Fox gently replied, “Carry thy sword until thy can no longer carry it.”

    When confronted with a situation or person I don’t like, I try to remember that we’re all carrying swords. Forgiveness is a form of happiness, I think.

  9. JT Ellison

    Wha-hoo for Ken!!! That is fabulous and well-deserved news.

    Carol, nice to see you here! And you’re so right, we all carry our own swords. Excellent example, I’m adding that to my list.

    Tom, I was watching a movie the other night and that was the line. I love it. And bless your friend!

    Pari, your lightness of spirit always translates! You’re such a fun mom!

    Billie, I am not surprised. Your Billie-ness spreads cheer all throughout the internet.

    Dusty, after the week you’ve had, I am thrilled to see you’ve retained your sense of humor.

    Louise, that surprises me. I alway see you with that naughty smile, the quick joke. I know every time I talk to you I walk away with a smile.

    Christa, thank you for sharing. It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone out there ; )

    Will, the event will be all the better for your participation. Good on ya! Have fun!


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