In thinking about 2020, about the calendar page that infamously turned this time last year, Paige Figi puts it best: “A struggle for many in many different ways.”
Herself and her family included. They fell ill in America’s early weeks of the pandemic. And they lost a loved one: a daughter and sister whose life touched countless others in Colorado Springs and far beyond.
And yet for Figi, it was a year of “appreciation,” she says. A year that made her reflect.
Perhaps we can all relate to that.
In the darkest times, how do we find happiness? What is happiness? How do we keep our spirits lifted? What’s the secret?
Those are some of the questions we asked Figi, along with other community leaders, artists and everyday people who’ve thought deeply on the topic. We asked in hopes of gaining perspective for the year ahead.
Explorer, leading advocate for medical access to cannabis, mother of Charlotte Figi, worldwide inspiration who died April 7, 2020, at the age of 13
Charlotte Figi sits with her mother Paige Figi at Fox Run Regional Park in Colorado Springs, June 5, 2012.
• Because I was so sad when Charlotte died, I was really chasing down my favorite things. Like climbing and just, you know, putting my health at risk. Those sorts of things I started chasing down.
Then I started to realize, I don’t need to do that. … I realized my greatest happiness is in the quieter moments. Spending time with my kids, sitting down and reading a book. I can go ride my dirt bike and feel those things, but there are many other ways.
• I’m a quieter, slower version of myself now. I’m more present. Reflecting back on my kid’s life … She was very present. She had these moments of clarity. Because she was special, because she had brain damage, she was really able to slow things down and make you stop and smell the roses. And I’m very thankful for that. I’m trying to make sure that stays with me, the things that she taught me.
• One silly thing that makes me happy is my big, comfy prairie dresses. All my friends, we’ll get together on a Zoom call, and we all have to wear our prairie dresses. If you’ve never worn a big, fluffy dress and just worn that all day, you’re missing out.
• When we were sick last March, people were bringing meals to our door, and I’m like, ‘You guys, I’m fine. I’m fine, this is crazy.’ But it was actually really nice, and it made me pause and realize, I do need this. I do need my friends. I do need that outreach. So I’m gonna do that for other people.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers speaks to the crowd before the grand opening of the new dining hall and kitchen at the Springs Rescue Mission on West Las Vegas Street on Sept. 17, 2020. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Gazette)
• You’ve heard the expression, “success is not a destination, it’s a journey.” I think the same thing about happiness. You realize that it’s not something you go out and chase, it’s not something you go out and buy. It’s a byproduct of the meaningful, purposeful activities you engage in.
• I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three ingredients to happiness. One, someone to love. Two, something meaningful to do. And three, something to look forward to.
• One of the things that makes me incredibly happy right now is just spending time with my two little 4-year-old grandchildren. It’s that childhood innocence, where they just embrace everything in life. It gives you a real remarkable feeling to see them learn things.
• I enjoy walking. I think you derive an awful lot of pleasure from ambulating through the world at 3 mph.
• 2019-2020 has been difficult for me and my family. We lost a son-in-law whom we loved greatly to a tragic car accident. I think one of the important things in life is that you prepare yourself for life’s inevitable trauma. And if you do it right, it helps you emerge from those traumas and keep focused on the things that do bring you happiness: someone to love, something meaningful to do, and something to hope for.
Ashley Cornelius, director of Poetry 719, program manager for RISE in Denver
Ashley Cornelius performs her spoken word poetry at Mercury Cafe in Denver. Courtesy Ashley Cornelius
• Working in Massachusetts for an all girls-camp. I was the poetry teacher. The summer of 2016 was a huge developmental part of who I am. I was around lots of women, queer women, women of color who introduced me to activism and intersectional feminism. It was a turning point to who I am now.
• One of the happiest moments of the last year was my birthday in April, right after the stay at home order. I was in a new job. I hadn’t seen anyone. I was having a big pity party because my birthday is very important. (My partner planned) my first Zoom event. All these people from across the state coming together. It was so fun and such a happy point.
• When I’m unhappy, I am more poetically creative. When I’m happy, I’m more creative in mediums I’m not used to. If I really want to write a poem, it’s when I’m upset or angry or frustrated.
• (As a child) I had an Easy-Bake Oven and I’d do weird science experiments in it. I wouldn’t actually cook in it. The ability to be weird and test things out and explore.
Rabbi at Temple Beit Torah, educator, artist
Rabbi Iah Pillsbury offers worshippers challah bread after a service at Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs.
• It’s seeing the bothness. Both the amazing, beautiful wonder, and the hardship and challenge. Judaism is all about acknowledging both. Happiness and joy make the heart ache harder, and the heartache makes the joy sweeter, and we’re always moving between one and the other.
• This (past) year, I feel like it’s been the little things. My wife and I go hiking every week. And seeing how the light in my apartment changes in the seasons. And we have a lot more house plants. And I started baking challa every week, which I hadn’t done in a long time. I was like, Oh, when we’re back in person (at the temple), we have a kitchen downstairs, and we’ll make challah on Fridays, and it’ll be a chill get-together.
• A purring cat to me is the image of happiness and peace and safety. … Cats are doing exactly what they want to be doing when they’re doing it.
• I think the biggest threat to happiness as a society is a scarcity mindset. Feeling like if one group gets something, then the others don’t. How do we build a world for everybody, for all equity? … It’s recognizing that we all benefit when one person does.
• So many more of us share values than don’t. Appreciating each other for the awesomeness we are. That’s what it all comes down to.
Owner of Distillery 291
Michael Myers the founder of Distillery 291.
• For me, happiness is to get art out every day.
• It goes back to my boys. Them graduating college and what they’re doing now and how creative they are in their endeavors, which is amazing to me. To get a photograph from one of my sons of bagels he made from scratch. Bigger picture, for me, is seeing creativity grow around the people I’m around.
• When I’m on a hike or on a drive, it allows my brain to be clear. I just let my brain wander. I just let it go into places wherever it can and I push it there because that makes me happy.
• I think happiness is being comfortable with who you are and where you are. It feels like elation. Lightness. Fresh air. That fresh, clean, spring air, no matter if you’re near the ocean or the mountains.
• For me, if you’re not happy, you have the power to change. And it’s not easy. I changed my career path drastically at 46 years old. If you’re not happy, you gotta change what’s making you not happy.
• Trials and tribulations of life make happiness hide. You gotta figure out what’s hiding your happiness. That’s not an easy recipe. Those are simple words for not an easy recipe.
Jeresneyka “Rizzo” Rose
Self-taught artist, community advocate, first-generation American
Jeresneyka “Rizzo” Rose is a Colorado Springs artist.
• Everybody thinks about the struggling artist. And I don’t believe that at all. I feel like if you put the work in, then your work will be rewarded.
I think I’ve put in a lot of work as a person within myself to love myself in a society that tells us we’re all not enough. Society tells you that you have to be married by 25. You have to have a house and a white picket fence. You have to have kids and dogs. I don’t have any of that. And here I am still happy.
• My song right now is “Just Like Magic” by Arianna Grande. It lights me up. And I feel like it reflects where I’m at mentally. Like, I get anything I want because I attract it.
• Happiness feels like when you’re inside all day and you step outside and the sun hits your skin and it’s warm and it makes you smile. Happiness feels like when you see a loved one you haven’t seen a while. Happiness is when you do your little dance when you eat some good food.
• I believe that the happiest people in the world play frisbee. Years ago, I told my friend that and she bought me a frisbee. I think it’s like a Jedi mind trick. If I believe frisbee is going to make me happier and then it does, then it worked.
• I even have an unhappy routine. I cry. I think it’s a great release of emotion. Tears just well up for me really easily. And I like to eat my favorite things, like crab legs or ice cream. I like to watch Netflix. It keeps me from dwelling on whatever the problem is.
Professor of theater and director of theater and dance program at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Lija Fisher, left, Mare Trevatha, Kevin Landis and Shannon Steele star in TheatreWorks’ production of “Church.” Photo by
• Happiness is about communion. And that’s what we love so much about art. How do we gather people around to see a play or listen to a talk? And if you can throw in some food and some cocktails? Talking to family and friends and drinking and eating and watching a good play.
• Because of the nature of lockdowns and not being able to travel and do what you always do, I spent a ton of time with family in California. Four months with my mom, dad and brothers. I had a realization, that as a middle-aged person, I haven’t done that since high school. The reconnecting with what’s essential has given me happiness.
• (Happiness is) pure contentment without any sort of preoccupation about what needs to change. Not thinking everything to death and just being.
• When I close my eyes and think about my youth, I think about being in elementary school. I loved it. Where I grew up there was a creek and playing with my friends in the creek and finding treasures and a sense of exploration. That’s my close your eyes memory. I see five kids down in the creek finding frogs.
Musician, visitor information supervisor and volunteer coordinator at Visit Manitou Springs and community outreach coordinator at The Manitou Music Foundation
Kiera Lynn of the Leo and the Lark duo belts out a funky folk music song. Lynn and Mike Edmiston had missed playing live venues during the COVID-19 pandemic, so the musical duo took their songs back to the streets of Manitou Springs.
• I found myself with all this extra energy for music. I wanted to write new music and play music and I knew that wasn’t going to happen publicly. So, this is probably going to sound really cheesy … But I’ve set up a little audience on my refrigerator. It consists of friends, family friends, their kids’ school pictures and whatever photos a normal family would have on their refrigerator.
And I’ve been performing in my kitchen as a way to practice out loud and get as close to a performance as I could possibly get without being in front of actual people. I open all my windows, so I’m sure my neighbors can hear me. But I find a lot of joy from standing in my kitchen and singing at the top of my lungs to this refrigerator crew. It’s just quiet time with Kiera and the refrigerator.
• Everybody thinks we’re always supposed to be happy. I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I don’t think the intent of life and all it’s cracked up to be is to be happy every single second. I think it’s about taking what life hands you and finding inner contentment. I really do think happiness comes from finding those things that bring you joy and making them bigger.
• Have you read “The Four Agreements?” One of my biggest takeaways is not making assumptions or having expectations. And not taking everything so personally. I’ve learned the less you care about that stuff, the happier you will be.
• I’ve spent a lot of my years of my life really unhappy. When I was so focused on attaining happiness, it was unachievable. Now in my daily life when I focus on my goals and what I’m looking for, then the happiness comes naturally.
Fly fishing guide, world traveler, student of philosophy
Fishing guide and “Bug Guy” Robert Younghanz is thankful for the diminutive mayfly, Tricorythodes explicates, commonly known as the Trico.
• Recently a friend of mine said: ‘Did you know that the average male in the United States of America generally has 13 years of living after they retire?’ And I was like, Wow. Really?
And I thought of my neighbor across the street. Brian retired at 71, and he died four months later with $3 million in the bank. And I said to his wife, ‘Did you guys use the boat? Did you do things?’ She goes, ‘We went on a cruise once.’ And then I felt bad, because I felt like I was kinda pinning her down a little bit.
• There’s a Biblical thing. Christ says, ‘Who gave more? The rich man that gave all the gold, or the poor man who gave a penny? Who sacrificed more?’ (My wife) Teresa and I sit here and go, It doesn’t matter what you make or I make, it’s that I contribute what I can and she does as well. And we have never, ever had a fight about money. And hopefully we never will, because it’s so destructive.
• I know this sounds weird, but those sunflowers out there? They’re gorgeous. And just look at the bee on there! This sounds like I’m a stoner or whatever, but let’s take joy and pleasure in that.
• There’s an adaptation of “The Christmas Carol” that came out in 1970 that starred Albert Finney. It’s at the end of the encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Present.
He says, ‘Remember, Scrooge, there is never enough time to do and say the things that we wish. We can only hope that we can do as much as we can in the time that we have.’ And then he points to him: ‘Remember, Scrooge, life is short and suddenly you’re not there anymore.’
That to me is happiness, to realize that.
• I hope if I’m 90 that I’m still going, I wonder about this, I wonder about that, I’m not sure about this. That might be another part of it. To always have that simple curiosity and be able to keep that in your heart.
This content was originally published here.