Happy Talk

Oscar Hammerstein II - Doylestown, Pennsylvania
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 28, 2010
Oscar Hammerstein II
Library of Congress photo

Lyricist and Broadway producer Oscar Hammerstein believed himself to be a happy man despite the personal disappointments and global conflicts he witnessed. Inspired by nature, Hammerstein says his happiness came from embracing his own imperfections.

Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: fear, hope, war

I have an unusual statement to make. I am a man who believes he is happy. What makes it unusual is that a man who is happy seldom tells anyone. The unhappy man is more communicative. He is eager to recite what is wrong with the world, and he seems to have a talent for gathering a large audience. It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many spokesmen, and hope so few.

I believe, therefore, that it is important for a man to announce that he is happy even though such an announcement is less dramatic and less entertaining than the cries of his pessimistic opposite. Why do I believe I am happy? Death has deprived me of many whom I loved. Dismal failure has followed many of my most earnest efforts. People have disappointed me. I have disappointed them. I have disappointed myself.

Further than this, I am aware that I live under a cloud of international hysteria. The cloud could burst, and a rain of atom bombs could destroy millions of lives, including my own. From all this evidence, could I not build up a strong case to prove why I am not happy at all? I could, but it would be a false picture, as false as if I were to describe a tree only as it looks in winter. I would be leaving out a list of people I love, who have not died. I would be leaving out an acknowledgement of the many successes that have sprouted among my many failures. I would be leaving out the blessing of good health, the joy of walking in the sunshine. I would be leaving out my faith that the goodness in man will triumph eventually over the evil that causes war.

All these things are as much a part of my world as the darker worries that shade them. The conflict of good and bad merges in thick entanglement. You cannot isolate virtue and beauty and success and laughter, and keep them from all contact with wickedness and ugliness and failure and weeping. The man who strives for such isolated joy is riding for a fall. He will wind up in isolated gloom.

I don’t believe anyone can enjoy living in this world unless he can accept its imperfection. He must know and admit that he is imperfect, that all other mortals are imperfect, that it is childish to allow these imperfections to destroy all his hope and all his desire to live. Nature is older than man, and she is still far from perfect. Her summers do not always start promptly on June 21. Her bugs and beetles and other insects often go beyond her obvious intentions, devouring the leaves and buds with which she has adorned her countryside. After the land has remained too dry for too long, she sends relieving rains. But frequently they come in torrents so violent that they do more harm than good. Over the years, however, nature keeps going on in her imperfect way, and the result—in spite of her many mistakes—is a continuing miracle.

It would be folly for an individual to seek to do better—to do better than to go on in his own imperfect way, making his mistakes, riding out the rough and bewildering, exciting and beautiful, storm of life until the day he dies.

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the book and lyrics for many operettas and musical comedies. He wrote Show Boat with composer Jerome Kern. Later, with composer Richard Rodgers, Hammerstein wrote some of his greatest musicals, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music.