by  Robert J. Collins

Happiness is a warm puppy. (Cultural sensitivities aside. I firmly mean that in the rolling-on-the-floor, chewing-up-slippers mode—not served with pickled cabbage or lo mein noodles.)

Webster defines “happy” as “enjoying well-being, peace, comfort and feelings of joy.” There is throughout the defini­tion the sense of an almost naive freedom from worries and concerns. All that certainly fits puppydom… prancing about, chas­ing the tail and making tongue-slurping friends with everyone in the room. The little creature, with its simple-minded happi­ness, can’t help but impart that feeling to others (at least until the first carpet accident.)

Are there other things around capable of imparting that same happiness? Lord knows we need it in Japan. The daily papers and weekly newsmagazines are full of stories of violent eruptions in what are obviously (and until the eruptions) secretly dysfunc­tional families. “High school stu­dent kills grandfather, little sister and the next door neighbor with baseball bat.” “Young mother drowns several children because husband lost job.” “Man stran­gles wife with favorite necktie; hides body on third-floor land­ing of apartment building.” I hate it when those things happen.

Would puppies help in those families? Probably not, as things seem to have gone too far. (“Young mother also drowns puppy.”) People are buying little robot dogs, but I can’t see those creatures imparting the same unalloyed happiness as the real McCoy. If anything, I think the robots might be responsible for more violence in the future— especially when their cute little batteries run out. (“Junior high school student rips off robot dog’s head and puts it in girl friend’s obento who then chokes to death.”

Is there hope? Yes, friends, I believe there is. Advertisers know what we mere mortals can’t be trusted to fathom. There are products out there that are capa­ble of going way beyond the hap­piness-imparting characteristics of a warm puppy. Take a close look at Japanese television, par­ticularly the daytime fare. Mem­bers of dysfunctional families are not paying attention. There is happiness around here that bog­gles, to coin a phrase, the mind.

Toast. (“Lightly grilled bread,” as Webster would say.) A young lady, all dressed up and ready to go somewhere, stops in her leaving-the-house rush and pulls a two-inch thick slab of toast from the shiny machine on her spotless breakfast counter. Holding it with the tips of her fingers, the young lady gazes with rapture at this marvel then leans forward and inhales the whiffs of steam drifting from it.

This being a family newspa­per prevents me from dwelling upon what’s happening with the young lady, but suffice to say that her twitching, grimace of pleas­ure and moans of ecstasy over toast have clearly elevated her to a plateau of happiness one asso­ciates with other endeavors. The commercial ends before she rips off her clothes, falls to the floor and rubs the (lightly grilled) bread all over herself.

Sore throat. Being sick is the opposite of being happy, more or less. A woman (in a spotless house) frowns and (not disturb­ing a hair on her head) clutches her neck. Her daughter skips into the room and immediately dis­cerns that Momma is feeling bad. Putting aside plans to bludgeon someone with a baseball bat, the daughter skips out of the room obviously devastated by Mom­ma’s condition. She returns right away with a little squirt-bottle of medicine.

Momma opens her mouth and her throat suddenly becomes transparent. Inside those cords and things are bright red and swollen nearly to the point of explosion. One squirt does the trick, however, and mother and daughter are next seen very hap­pily singing and dancing down the street. No dysfunction in that family!

The pattern of happiness within the world of advertised products repeats itself all day long. A professional golfer, about to zoom off to the course in his personal jet rocket, is caught by his happy wife with a bottle of energy drink for him. He drinks it down in one gulp and is happy. His wife is happy that he’s happy. He roars off in his rocket which itself seems even happier.

They seem almost as happy as the guy who comes home from work, sheds his coat and shoes and sits down at a (spot­less) table in the center of the room. His wife pours a cup of sake for him. He puts the liquid in his mouth, thinks about it for a moment, then breaks into a smile of pure ecstasy (as if he’s never had the stuff before). Watch his wife in the back­ground Wow, is she happy!

Look at Pappa, wearing his goofy vacation hat, having fun with the kids as they test the features of the new family van. Happy? They make the Brady Bunch look like the crowd in Train Spotting. Yes, there’s a whole lot of happiness around. (Isn’t there?)

Why, then, as I write this, are the police looking for the hus­band of a woman he strangled before burning her house down, thereby also killing two of her children? Not enough bread or cough medicine in that house­hold? I say get those advertising people out there, along with some warm puppies.