In Person: The Pursuit of Happiness

Huda Akil in Science:

GranddaughterSophie_160 Among her many talents, my granddaughter Sophie, who has just turned 2*, has a clear vision of what would make her happy, coupled with the persuasive skills and executive function to make it happen. “Slide?” she says, cocking her head to one side, meaning the nearby park in New York City, which has slides, swings, and a sandbox. I'm tired and would really rather not, having planned a quieter evening of baby-sitting her, with books and toys. I try to distract her but to no avail. “Slide,” she repeats, forgoing the questioning tone and nodding her head repeatedly, as if to hypnotize me into agreement. To remove all obstacles, she fetches her sand pail, wedges her shovel and ball neatly into it, and repeats, even more assertively: “Slide, Tayta” (i.e., Grandma). “Go to slide.” She brings me my shoes and my purse and waits expectantly at the door. Of course, I succumb.

At the park, we hit the sandbox first. Sophie is delighted except for a pesky problem–the sand getting into her sandals, seeping between her toes. Intermittently, she stops her play to clean it off. A teachable moment, I think–if you can't get rid of it, embrace it! I persuade her to take off her sandals and dig her feet into the sand. She is hesitant at first but humors me and then starts wiggling her toes and laughing. She pours a bucketful of sand over her feet with glee. “Tayta, take off shoes,” she commands, with the repeated nodding. “In for a penny,” I think to myself, and off come my shoes. Of course, I'm persuaded to stick them in deeper as Sophie pours her bucketfuls onto them. Amazingly, the sand feels great on my tired feet. I would have never imagined sitting in the middle of New York City, wearing black business pants, with my feet bare, burrowed into the sand. But it makes her happy, I think to myself, with a smile. It makes me happy, I realize! Then I have an odd thought–where is “happy” in my brain?

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