Carnes: Cheer up " you live in Vail! |

Carnes: Cheer up " you live in Vail!

“Where do you want to die,” asked my temporary lift buddy.

Being just cynical enough to suspect sarcasm, I quickly surveyed the older gentleman, hesitating a beat before answering.

“Right here would be fine,” I replied with a slight smirk. “Why do you ask?”

I knew I was being set up, but intellectual stimuli appear on chair lifts about as often as they do in Eagle County Commissioner financial discussions.

Laughing, he said he had been asking the question for the last few days, ever since seeing a reference in the local paper to “Happy Valley.”

“Who wouldn’t want to die in a place called Happy Valley?” he asked with an obvious rhetorical flip of his wrist towards the Gore Range.

Even behind his shiny new goggles, I could see the eyes of an elder, the wrinkles of my father, the well-honed experiences of a lifetime. He was, hopefully, closer to death than me, at least in a natural way, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he had not asked “when” or “how” instead of “where.”

For a moment, I considered going off on a deeper discussion about stereotypes and their accompanying euphemisms, but thanks to high-speed chairs, I thought better of it and stuck to the script.

“Nobody really wants to die, I suppose, but if we could stuff happiness in a bottle and sell it to tourists, we probably would.”

We laughed together this time, continuing the rest of our brief trip with the usual banter about the uber wealthy, the have’s vs. the have-not’s, national politics, etc.

It turns out we had both recently read Eric Weiner’s “The Geography of Bliss,” thus the relevance of his morbid reference. But the truth is I have called this place Happy Valley since the mid-’80s.

Imagine my surprise a few years ago when a well-intentioned local asked me for permission to use the phrase in a letter to the editor, as if I were its axiomatic creator.

I politely declined ownership.

Measuring happiness in Happy Valley, if one felt so inclined, would be as frustrating as trying to measure the superficial aesthetic values of Arrabelle over the Sonnenalp.

If I squint hard enough (while wearing extra-dark sunglasses) they can look pretty much the same, but either way it all boils down to a simple matter of personal perception.

For every grinning 20-something working two jobs and skiing 100+ days each season, you will find at least as many 30-, 40-, and even 50-somethings struggling paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet while maintaining some semblance of family normalcy.

It’s always been that way around here, and I believe the same can be said just about anywhere in the country (minus the skiing, of course).

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” John Lennon once said.

I say happiness is what happens when you’re not busy being unhappy.

The self-defining emotion all depends on the person, the day, the time of day, and the activity and mindset the person is in the midst of when asked the question.

I think what makes our little corner of the world a little bit happier than most is that the Vail Valley is, in a marketing sense, a happiness destination. We are perceived as a stopping-off point for potential happiness, however fleeting.

People visit here on holiday to “get happy,” and hopefully share in the supposed happiness of all the others milling about.

Many move here in hopes of finding happiness, and as long as they aren’t running away from problems in the first place, chances are pretty good they might find a piece of it somewhere around here.

But true happiness, if there is such a thing, rests in the heart and mind of the individual, and no place else. It is nothing tangible, not a prize to put up on the mantle, nor is it something to brag about or gloat over the possession of, as that alone would be self-defeating.

With three ski mountains, a fourth in the works, over a dozen golf courses, thousands of nice people, only a few hundred jerks, and more opportunities for blissful contentment than snowflakes on Vail Mountain (during a normal season, I’m not trying to get carried away here …), Happy Valley is much more than a great place to die.

Living here is pretty nice too.

NOTE: The preceding opinions belong to Richard and are not necessarily shared by this newspaper…but for some happy reason he thinks they should be.

Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a column for the Daily. He can be reached at

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