Essay winner’s good deed helps another, not herself

COLLIN DUFFY PHOTO

COLLIN DUFFY PHOTO

In “The Happiness Hypothesis” (Basic Books, $17), social psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes that the goal of positive psychology is “helping people find happiness and meaning.”

My friend Bob Sessions in Iowa made me aware of this 2006 book, and the author acknowledges there is no clear road to happiness in this complicated world of unexpected detours and derailments.

“There are several different ‘happiness hypotheses,’” the book explains. “One is that happiness comes from getting what you want, but we all know (and research confirms) that such happiness is short-lived. A more promising hypothesis is that happiness comes from within …”

I guess you won’t actually find the phrase “golden rule” in the Bible, but the advice to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is there, and that’s a part of what helped me separate your 50-some essays about who most deserves a peaceful getaway.

You sent photos, poetry and lovely notecards. You spent nearly $20 on priority mail and joined forces with others to send multiple essays about the same person. You expressed dismay and good humor, grateful for the loves of your life and weary of profound challenges that make life seem unfair.

Our winner? Jane Harrington-Heide of Kenosha, who stood to gain nothing from this entry:

“Jackie and Tom have faced many challenges in their 10-year marriage. First child – the lovely and adorable Madie – was born with spinal bifida. Madie, age 5, thrives despite her challenges. Second daughter Gianna, born healthy in May 2014, died just nine weeks later from SMA (spinal muscular atrophy). This couple has remained steadfast in their marriage. Love and faith keep their union strong. A Goldmoor getaway, and some alone time, would recharge their batteries.”

Jackie and Tom Zernia live in Kenosha and are high school sweethearts who have been together 18 years. They just celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary. Jane and Jackie’s mom, Chris Pillizzi, have been friends since elementary school.

“Great couple,” Jane says, of the Zernias. “They seem to have dealt with the struggles that come their way with grace, love and – I’m sure – some sadness at times. Their daughter Madie is such a spitfire. She knows no bounds in spite of her challenges. That, I think, is due to her parents’ spirit and belief in her abilities rather than her disabilities.”

She did not tell the Zernias about her essay, which meant Jackie was shocked to get my phone call this month. Tom has worked at J. Ewens Design Inc. for 16 years. Jackie is a part-time waitress-bartender at Pete’s Place in Kenosha and a graphics designer.

“You never know what life is going to throw you,” Jackie says, as a nod to the heartache that she and her husband endure. “You just keep going and do the best you can.”

The Zernias will receive a gift certificate for a two-night stay donated by The Goldmoor Inn and Resort, bed and breakfast lodging on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and five miles from historic Galena, Ill.

The Goldmoor offers 18 cottage, cabin and suite accommodations on 21 acres. It is a former country estate that is under the new ownership of natives of Germany who have decades of intercontinental hospitality experience. goldmoor.com, 815-777-3925

Judges included Birgit Radin, innkeeper at The Goldmoor; Bob Sessions, a travel photographer and retired philosophy professor in Iowa City; and Sue Madsen, a reading specialist for Dodgeland School District, Juneau.

Essay writer Jane, an insurance agent and investment advisor, will receive a copy of Lynne Diebel’s new “Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip Through a Midwestern Landscape” (UW Press, $20), to acknowledge her good deed and interest in writing.

A strong runnerup is Andrea Boudreau of Pleasant Prairie, whose essay was on behalf of Cody and Lindsay Weber of Normal, Ill. She wrote:

“I would like to enter the contest for my cousin and his wife who were married less than a year ago. They found out this January that she was pregnant, but was diagnosed with small cell ovarian cancer. After months of chemotherapy their beautiful son was born, but she is still fighting for her life. Their blog details their incredible journey and her vow to never ever give up. Please consider them for this getaway.”

The blog – whenlifethrowsacurve.com – includes a link to a donations site that supporters have put together to help the family defray medical and other costs.

A closing thought comes from Susan Maier, publicist for The Goldmoor:

“Decades ago, when Saturday Evening Post still existed, my aunt entered a green bean casserole recipe of my mother’s in a recipe contest. She won second place – an all-expenses paid trip for two to Hawaii.

“My mom was thrilled because her aging parents had never been to Hawaii, so she gave the trip to them.”

Sincere thanks to all of you who participated in this writing exercise, and I hope you and the people you hold dear find ways to navigate the storms of life. A part of the answer, it seems, is forging ahead together as best as we can.

For more about “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” and its author, go to happinesshypothesis.com.