The Happiness Machine - Doug Barnes

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Happiness Machine

Ray Bradbury's classic book titled Dandelion Wine has a tantalizing quote on a happiness machine. I was struck by the applicability of this quote to bicycling.
Watching him cycle the brick streets of the evening, you could see that Leo Auffmann was a man who coasted along enjoying the way the thistles ticked in the hot grass when the wind blew like a furnace, or the way the electric power line sizzled on the rain wet poles...The wheels of his Happiness Machine spun whirling golden light spokes along the ceiling of his head. A machine, now, to help boys change from peach fuzz to briar bramble, girls form toadstool to nectarine...His invention must let a man drowse easy in the falling leaves like the boys in autumn who, comfortable strewn in the dry stacks, are content to be a part of the death of the world. (Bradbury 1957, p. 37)

Ray Bradbury's work can often be understood on many different levels. Most critics think this quote refers to family or a fond remembrance of childhood. While that interpretation is no doubt valid, on a different level he first introduces the Happiness Machine with someone riding a bike. 
Bicycles leaning on stone wall and river
Two Bikes on C and O Canal near Violet's Lock
(Photo: Doug Barnes)
My interpretation of this quote is that the Happiness Machine is a bicycle. This thought comes from my work during the Sundays that I volunteer for the Bicycle Loan Program at the C and O National Historic Park at Great Falls, Maryland. The combination of riding a bicycle with friends and family, not having to deal with car traffic and constantly changing views of the beautiful C and O Canal often works its magic. People who borrow bicycles from the program may start out from Great Falls with a scowl, but they inevitably return with a grin. In other words, the miles turn into smiles.

For me, bicycling is a kind of a gift that enhances mental health, provides mind clearing exercise and gives at times a breathtaking connection to the environment. Bicycling also has meant discovery of the history of roads traveled, integration into local cultures and reflections on relationships and the meaning of life. Throughout all these experiences, the rhythm of pedaling and a feeling of balance empties my mind and plunges me into a void, an awareness of all that surrounds me. Troubles slip away like snow off a hot tin roof. The feeling is happiness.

I'm not the first to have the idea that a bicycle is a happiness machine.  In 1895 the magazine Brooklyn Life sates that the bicycle, "has brought a degree of perfection never before reached in vehicular construction...A ride in its saddle is perfection in motion and the acme of gentle exercise. Once there, a man or a woman wants to be there most of the time.  The desire grows." (Herlihy2004 p. 413). In 2017 Bicycling had an article with the title, "It's not just a bike--it's a Happiness Machine." Between these 120 years and continuing today, people are still relishing the simple joys of riding on two wheels.


Bicycling Staff. 2017. “It’s not just a bike—It’s a happiness machine.” Bicycling. Accessed 2018.

Bradbury, Ray. 1957. Dandelion Wine. New York: Doubleday.

Herlihy, David. 2004. Bicycle: The History. New Haven: Yale University Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment