Photograph by Chris Ahrens
Aussie/American surfer and fitness guru Cameron Trickey rides closer to the curl of an emotional endless summer than most.
The only time I was ever really happy was as a boy, surfing the waves at Malibu.
— John Paul Getty
While there is no straight road to happiness, I learned early on what would not lead there. My grandfather, Jose, first taught me that lesson. He laughed at everything from bug spray to funerals as if all the sadness circuits in his brain had been blown when the train ran him over and left that deep dent in his forehead. It was either that or the shots of tequila he regularly took directly from the bottle that led to the headwaters of his joy.
Jillian Bourdon says, “When I go on a road trip, I usually go alone and don’t plan much of anything. The last time I had no definite destination, and only an idea of where I wanted to end up."
Photograph by Steve Gibbs, Circa 71 Media
Lesson two occurred a few years later while I was poring over a copy of Life Magazine with my father. He was a working-class, happy man, laughing as he often did while pausing at a full-page photo of a grey-faced, grey-haired man in a grey suit. “That’s John Paul Getty, the richest man in the world,” he said, without a tinge of jealousy. In my child’s mind, I reasoned that my dad had a grey suit that looked exactly like Getty’s, but that Dad was laughing while J.P. was frowning. As he would do all his life, my old man imparted wisdom without using words. From him, I learned that money does not buy happiness.
For the rest of my life, I’ve remained convinced that happiness was not found in excessive amounts of money or any other material substance. I have found happiness, lost it, and found it again in unexpected places.
Now for a little joy-sucking science from Healthline.com: “Happiness occurs with the release of dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters in the brain.” Okay, but if the release of chemical compounds were all there was to it, pills would do the job, and healthy living would turn our heads into perfect happy-faces. Instead, we sometimes witness miserable people who eat right and exercise while their blissful neighbors regularly digest Bonanza reruns while inhaling cigarettes and beer.
While happiness is not one of the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable rights, its pursuit is. It was important enough for our nation’s founders to list it just behind life and liberty. How hip of them to consider the quest for happiness a basic American right!
But happiness is currently out of fashion. Smart people grimace while dummies grin ignorantly. The smart ones realize the world is horrible, and they wear their misery like crowns. Their miens seem to say, “If you only knew what I know, you too would be pissed off.”
Still, some bright people see the world as it is, and yet manage to kick all those sleepy endorphins (such a happy word) into action.
A Trickey cure for sadness
Aussie/American surfer and fitness guru Cameron Trickey who lives and works in Carlsbad, rides closer to the curl of an emotional endless summer than most. It may appear happiness comes easily for him with his film noir good looks, open Australian passport, beautiful wife, and employment as a fitness guru, a job he would probably do for nothing. Even the Trickey family dog is happy, and at times it seems the entire clan is rehearsing for a Disney musical and about to break into song at any moment. Trickey’s positive mental state is challenged, however, by the enduring pain he first incurred during his pro sports career in Australian Rules Football, and the double-edged sword of raising two teenaged boys. Through it all, he remains positive and friendly, to the point where his wife, Stacy says, “My husband has never met a stranger in his life.”
Trainer Cam Trickey (left) with highly rated heavyweight boxer, Trent Rawlins in Trickey’s home gym.
“People say, ‘Act your age,’” Trickey says, “but if you didn’t know your age, you would probably act years younger. You wouldn’t worry about looking silly or being considered a bit whacked. Don’t let anyone rob you of that happiness. A great laugh is a natural high, but, sadly, I don’t hear as much outrageous laughter as I used to.
“Another thing that leads to happiness is what I call ‘divine appointments.’ All day long I run into people in need of emotional assistance. Spending time with them can pull them out of a slump, while giving them and me great joy. If you think about it, you probably encounter the same sorts of opportunities daily in your own life. You know how you’ll be thinking of someone and they suddenly appear? When that happens, pay attention, act on it, and watch what unfolds. We may only have a couple hundred months left in our lives on earth, so why not live them in happiness?”
If nothing else works, Trickey might turn to Beavis & Butthead reruns or some other equally silly pursuit to fill up the joy tank. According to him, “I don’t see any reason why we as adults can’t enjoy the same happiness we did as kids. Why do we have to be so serious about everything? But you need to know where to look for happiness. The greatest laughter can come from the dumbest sources, so don’t ignore it. It’s medicine for our heads and hearts. And, if you genuinely care for mankind, you will want to share some of that joy and happiness with them. When you do, you’ll receive it back. Music, a phone call to a friend, or looking at an old photograph can trigger spontaneous happiness through the memories of good times you’ve shared with various people.
“For the most part, happiness is a choice. That’s not to say you will always be happy, but when you’re in a rut, try something different to break you free. There will always be circumstances that can bring you down, but you can usually bust out of them with a little creative effort. I’m not suggesting being reckless. Reckless abandon can lead to severe injury or even death.”
Having split his 54 years between the U.S. and Australia, Trickey considers Australians to have an edge in the happiness department. According to him, “I think Australians are a little more carefree with their ‘no worries, mate’ attitude. For the most part, Aussies work to live, not live to work.”
Trickey is a highly sought-after fitness and wellness trainer. “Seeing people grow into better versions of themselves brings me great joy,” he says. “People can go through some dark periods, and maybe you’re in their life to let them know they will again experience joy and happiness while helping them get through that tough time.
“Nobody has the right to take your happiness from you, and I sometimes worry about kids who are being robbed of happiness by being told that the only way they can be happy is to go against the system, to find something wrong with traditions that have been in place for centuries and knock it all down. Blaming others is actually a way of stealing your happiness. Frustration, violence, retaliation, and intimidation are poisonous. Conversely, exercise, friendship, watching and playing sports, music, getting in the ocean after a long day all contribute to happiness. But sometimes, happiness is as unexpected as someone farting in a church. Then, everybody laughs.
“Bringing people together is a big high for me. It’s about being content with what we have. Getting a new truck, house, boat—that’s all good, but happiness comes from being grateful for what you have.”
Smile, it no broke your face
So said a Hawaiian T-shirt popular in the mid-’90s. Hawaii-born-and-raised Akoni Apana is a picture of happiness whose wisdom has earned him the nickname, “the Hawaiian Yoda.” He is a self-taught wellness practitioner who has incorporated Shiatsu and Lomi Lomi into his own method he calls Hawaiian Power Flow. His clients claim relief from maladies ranging from back pain to asthma.
Akoni Apana works on legendary surfer, Joe Roper.
Entering Apana’s office in Del Mar, I feel a sense of peace and joy accentuated by the Hawaiian music playing softly in the background. “Hawaiian music is happy music,” he says, “and I play it, or the Hawaiian chants that help empower the Hawaiian culture, 24 hours a day. I see a lot of patients from all walks of life and I find that many of them are unhappy because they are seeking, and don’t know what they want or need. I help them if they ask for my help. I try to teach them to observe without becoming attached, and to let go. A man recently cut in front of me when I was in line to get gas. I honked at him, but he just went ahead like he was privileged. I filled up, let it go, and drove away happy while he was angry after having trouble with his credit cards. Instant Karma! People like that have issues in the body that are making them upset with life. They have pain somewhere.
“I watch the news every day and see the possibility of a civil war coming. It doesn’t have to be, but regardless of what happens, I continue on my mission to help and to serve people. When I die, my mission is complete. That’s why I’m not afraid.
“I don’t practice any religion, and I don’t have a name for my spirituality. I simply call it contentment. I first learned the healing work I do by observing how engines work, when I was a Navy mechanic for nearly 20 years. I found that the body is similar and is like a series of hydraulic pumps. I listen to my own body and it keeps me content while I do everything in moderation. If I get a cold sore, I know I’m having too much sugar or acid, and I back off. When it’s all clear, I go back to my moderation. But I’m not strict in my diet; sometimes you need comfort food to level out your stress.
“Growing up in Hawaii, I rarely heard a Hawaiian say they wanted to own a lot of things. Part of the Hawaiian culture is humility, and they know they don’t need a lot to be happy. Maybe that’s why they live longer.
“I teach by example. If I try to make someone do something they don’t want to do, it takes away their identity. That’s identity theft. We have to appreciate what we have at the moment and when the moment has passed, let others remain in their identity. I tell my clients who are going through difficulties that it’s temporary. The next day they’re usually out of pain. People can create drama out of nothing, and if you get into it, they will have to win. If you walk away, they forget what they are arguing about. I have everything I need and I’m grateful for it every day. Because of that, I go beyond happiness to contentment. Happiness can come and go, but when you’re content and you know you have everything, you’re happy all the time. I maintain my contentment, people see that, and they want to be content too. It’s beyond earthly comprehension.
“Recently, I applied for a grant to help people who can’t afford my services. I didn’t get the grant, but instead received unemployment and used that as my grant money. Now, I can help people who need me despite them not being able to pay. Another thing that can help people become happy is not to pay attention to their age. Age is just a number.
“A lot of people fly from the Mainland, get a hotel room, and spend thousands in Hawaii to learn Ho’oponopono. It means conflict resolution, and all it is is letting go of the conflict. If someone is angry and can’t be influenced by my actions, I walk away and let somebody else put up the fight. I’ve learned that whenever conflict comes into your life, go around it if you can, or resolve it as soon as possible.
“Everybody has a mission, and when we pass away, our mission is complete. My mission is to improve the quality of life in every way possible. But you can’t be happy when your blood is restricted. Stress and anxiety are conditions of blood restriction. When I help someone by getting them out of their problems, it gives me great contentment. I don’t feel any difference between when I’m working and when I’m not working. My work is my mission and my hobby. I don’t play sports, because if I get hurt, who’s going to fix me?”
Solo road trips
Jillian Bourdon is a teacher of philosophy, psychology, and yoga at the Grauer School on El Camino Real north of Manchester Avenue in Encinitas, and she may be the happiest person I’ve ever met. She finds happiness in places where most people fail to look, sometimes on solo road trips, in learning something new, or simply in the less adventurous, often ironic tidbits life presents daily. Says Jillian, “Our last name is Bourdon, and I only recently found out that it means bumblebee. Just thinking about that makes me happy. Another thing from my upbringing is that I was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. That’s where Lizzie Borden was from. Our last name is spelled differently from hers, but it’s pronounced the same, and my middle name is Elizabeth, which can be shorted to Lizzy. So, my parents named me after an axe murderer.”
Jillian Bourdon pursues joy on land and sea.
Photograph by Chris Ahrens
After a hearty laugh, Bourdon continues, “When I go on a road trip, I usually go alone and don’t plan much of anything. The last time, I had no definite destination, and only an idea of where I wanted to end up. I practiced manifesting, saying things out loud like, ‘I’m gonna find a campground this evening.’ When I did, I ended up at a site at just the time I wanted to arrive there. When I first arrived, a German man approached me and started talking, which was great because the first thing I try to do when I get to a new place is make an ally so I feel safe. Once I had a buddy, I had everything I needed.
“When I set out, all I knew was that I wanted to end up somewhere near Mount Shasta. I had a book that listed 2300 campgrounds, and I would open it, point to a place, and see if I ended up there around a certain time. Living that way makes every day a mystery — what am I going to eat, who am I going to meet, where will I end up? While that has led to great happiness, I don’t think I could live that way full time. Being on the road alone, you don’t protect yourself from the pain and discomfort like you normally would; you’re just kind of open and raw.
“Having an idea of what you think happiness is can actually get in the way of happiness. Happiness is what happens, and I think there’s a relationship between the words happiness and happen. I think happiness is what’s left when you strip away all expectations. That’s not always the case, but I think it creates conditions that can lead to happiness. Other conditions leading to happiness for me are good relationships, doing things for friends, having a nice work/life balance where there’s ample extra time, and having hobbies.
“I remember being really happy when my roommate and I got a free piano on Craiglist. During covid, I’ve been practicing blues scales on it. But moving a piano is not that fun. My roommate’s boyfriend is a trained pianist, and after we put the piano on a trailer, we rode around Ocean Beach with him playing it, and that made all of us and some other people watching really happy!” As she says this, her voice cracks with an expression of happiness.
“Good food can create the condition for happiness. Food that is light and leaves no trace. Again, it’s a clearing away of excess that leaves only happiness. I think there’s some difference between happiness and joy. Happiness kind of infers a transient state, where joy does not. Can you be happy when you’re sad? I don’t know, but I think you can have joy and sadness at the same time since joy is more of a backdrop for other emotions.
“I reread ‘Song of Myself’ by Walt Whitman often. I think of it as a holy book. Whitman says if he dies, he will do it with joy; if it happens then or 10 years from then, he will be equally happy. I have heard that everyone has a set point of happiness and they adjust to their circumstances. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and I’ve made an effort to increase my happiness set point. For example, I once had a job with a great group of co-workers. We loved each other so much and had such good times together that I would leave work so happy that I was uncomfortable. I remember trying to go to sleep at night, and not liking the feeling, but telling myself it was okay to feel that happy. I don’t know where that came from, but it was like my wires needed to be upgraded to handle more energy. Now I can handle it, and I don’t need to sabotage my happiness. That’s why I like the idea of happiness being a shedding thing, not an adding on thing.”