My mom is a transplant from Indiana. She was discovered by my father when he attended Purdue University in Lafayette. They fell in love, married, and returned to Utah to raise their family. So every few years Mom and Dad packed all nine of us, plus luggage, into a station wagon and headed eastward to visit her folks.

Those 22-hour journeys, driven by a man who believed in bathroom breaks only when the majority needed them, were a test in patience for every soul onboard. We were squished. After the first 20 minutes, we were bored. There was always a babe in arms in the front seat with Mom (these were pre-carseat, even pre-seatbelt days). And Dad was determined to get us there with only one hotel stay somewhere along the way because we couldn’t afford two. It was grueling.

But Mom knew the power of positive thinking. She knew her attitude directly influenced the level of whining and shoving and grumbling going on in the backseats. She maintained a consistently upbeat attitude which likely cost her a great deal of energy and determination. She also knew the value of reminding us why we were stuck, shoulder-to-shoulder, in the car in the first place. So every now and then she’d sing out, “Is everybody happy?” It made us pause, assess, and usually realize that in spite of someone’s elbow in our ribs, we actually were.

Standing here with our feet planted at the beginning of our 2019 journey seems like a good time for us as a human family to ask the question, “Is everybody happy?” Or, to muddy it up slightly, is there enough that we should be?

Oh, yeah. We have many more reasons to be happy than unhappy in 2019.

Going back to basics, we’re starting this new year still riding along on this 4.5 billion-year-old earth. This chunk of rock has gone through a lot; you can tell that just by looking at her. But our mothership still hauls her children along through empty space, despite earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis and melting glaciers. She’s destined to remain beneath our feet for at least another 5 million years. So it’s safe to assume we get to spend 2019 on her tough hide.

Speaking of things astral, the sun will pop up above the horizon every single morning in 2019. Like clockwork, it will be there, 93 million miles away, giving off light and heat so our planet, delicately balanced on a 23-degree tilt, can stay alive — so we can stay alive. If nothing else in our lives feels consistent, at least the sun’s morning arrival should make us happy.

The people around us are a reason to be happy. Quite often they’re also a reason to be unhappy. But despite the many times we mutter under our breath, “Why can’t I just live on an island,” we’d be miserable without each other.

Speaking of that, we can also generate happiness through others by positively influencing them. Strangely, it’s impossible to do that without improving your own existence. The easiest way to put that to the test is to smile at a stranger. OK, maybe a few strangers, because some of them are going to wonder what you’re up to and stare back uncomfortably. But sooner or later, someone’s going to smile back. You can’t say that doesn’t make a difference.

We are absolutely buried in opportunities to learn new stuff every single day of 2019. While Google isn’t (and shouldn’t) be the one true source of information, it can be counted on to spew out information at an endless rate. Then there’s the inexhaustible Alexa on the shelf. And our phones. And our books. And oh yeah, the library. And university classes. And each other. The one thing we learn faster than anything else is how much we don’t know. Yet.

Along with developing our mental selves, we have every chance to improve our physical selves. It requires a more extensive exercise routine than a daily push up from the bed and a sprint to the bathroom. But it’s in our hands (and arms and legs and heads).

2019 isn’t going to be perfect — we know that. But we have endless reasons to eagerly welcome in this new year. And to appreciate those reasons with an occasional Mom-like assessment: “Is everybody happy?”

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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