By: Taylor Bailey and Sophie Nitsche
The Boone Family
Robert Boone and his wife Gwendolyn seemed to be enjoying a day out in downtown Athens with their two toddlers, Genevieve and John Arthur, and baby Emily Katherine who was strapped into a harness on her father’s back for transportation. They sat at a patio table, just outside of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop on College Avenue. Genevieve happily informed me that her ice cream was “fruit berry” flavored. The couple made eye contact with each other when asked if they were genuinely happy, then looked back at us to reply in unison. “I guess.”
Mary and Steve Clark
We approached a couple with a fair amount of camera equipment who seemed to be waiting for someone or something on a set of stairs near UGA’s Arch. We asked them what their biggest struggle had been. “You’re supposed to warm up with ‘how are you?’ or ‘what’s your favorite food?’ or something!” they said, laughing before telling us they had no struggles beyond raising three children together, and were “definitely” genuinely happy. “The only struggle has been making sure the children get what they need when they need it,” said Steve.
Attracted to the gemstone jewelry for sale at a table on East Broad, we approached two men and asked them if they felt that they could consider themselves as genuinely happy. Gabe Newman nodded his head, ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his eyes underneath his black framed glasses before replacing his cap. “I lost everything. Homelessness [has been my biggest struggle] and I’m still doing it. I’ve been on these streets for ten years and I’m much happier than I ever was when I had all those material things.”
Striking blue eyes look down sadly as the man is asked about the biggest struggle of his life. “Overcoming a rare type of blood cancer,” answers Gaylon Vaden, a homeless man sitting in front of a Five Guys restaurant. “My mother wanted me to be a doctor, but I ended up on the wrong side of the scalpel.” When asked if he is happy, Vaden answers, “I never get depressed. I always smile. I might not always be happier… but I’m pretty happy. I try to find a way to help someone every day.” Showing off a book on molecular biology, Vaden tells me, “I used to be an astrophysicist working on something called the Space Defense Program. One day… I just snapped. I had an epiphany. I walked out with nothing and started hitchhiking. Then thirteen weeks ago, I found out gravitational waves exist, and my brain turned back on.”
“The hardest part of my life was when my grandmother died. And I have a real hard time makin’ it on my own… but I manage somehow. I don’t get to see my daughter none. That’s the hardest part, right now.” Lackay twists her red hair through her fingers nervously and adjusts her sun visor. I ask her if she considers herself happy, despite all the hardships. “Am I happy? Sometimes, and sometimes I’m not… most time I’m not anymore. I used to be happy all the time.”