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The Jar of Happiness

The poster read, “Happiness! Sold in Glass Jars! Call Today!” and underneath the text was a phone number.

I was walking home from a long, exhausting day of work when I caught a glimpse of the paper stapled on an old telephone pole. I took a picture of it thinking it was amusing.

I was going to show my wife once I got to our apartment, but I was caught up with chores and forgot about it—dinner, dishes, laundry, packing a snack for our daughter, putting her to bed, then putting her toys away that she’d left out in the living room—every night, it was the exact same routine.

The next day, I awoke sleeping back-to-back with my wife. I always had to get up earlier than she did for my job, so I quietly got ready for the day and headed out the door.

At work, I was updating the company’s latest expense report. Most days were similar to this one. They were basically paying me to stare at a computer for nine hours a day and input a couple numbers in to a spreadsheet. I finished my work very quickly, so I decided to head out of the office early—it also helped that it was a Friday, and a lot of people leave early at the end of the week.

On my walk back, I was thinking of what my life had become. I did this often. I always dreamed of traveling when I was younger. I wanted to drive across the country or solo-backpack across Europe. Then I met Kelsey. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Kelsey. I mean, I still do. We just don’t have that spark anymore. When you meet someone and get in a relationship, whether it’s meant to be or not, some of your personal life-plans have to be put on hold. And then that relationship turns to marriage, and then you have a baby, then you have to enroll your daughter in a preschool, then you have to get a better paying job and work more hours and blah, blah, blah.

I’m not trying to throw a pity party for myself. I’m just saying I wasn’t exactly content with where I was in my life. I wouldn’t have referred to myself as a happy person.

As I took the same route home that I did every day to work and back, I walked by the same poster I had passed the day before. I don’t know why, I really don’t, but I decided to call the number. I figured it would be some joke. Maybe someone just picks up and says, “I love you!” on the other end and hangs up. Or maybe it’s a line to a sex-worker. I had no idea what to expect.

I called. It only rang once before someone picked up.

“Hello?” a woman said.

“Uh, hi—um, I’m calling about your poster? Your ad?”

“Oh, awesome,” she said calmly, “when do you wanna pick it up?”

“Pick what up?”

“The jar…” she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh, of course, um,” I realized then that I had left work early without telling Kelsey, so I could just go pick it up now and she’d be none the wiser, “what exactly is it? That your selling?”

“I just told you. It’s happiness. In a glass jar. Like the poster said. Happiness keeps best in glass jars. They’re more durable than, say, a plastic bag.”

“Um, okay. Should we meet somewhere?”

“For sure. I don’t want you to end up being a creep or something, so let’s go to a public place.”

The public place we decided on was a Starbucks parking lot a little over a mile from me.

Now, I didn’t think I was really going to be buying a jar of happiness or whatever. I was 99% sure she was going to sell me drugs. Maybe heroine would be in the jar. I remember thinking, Oh no, ‘happiness’ is probably a nickname for some street drug and I’m going to a drug deal. What if she’s a cop? Am I going to be arrested? But something inside me told me to keep walking, and so I did.

I stood outside and texted her.

Me: I’m here.

Her: Cool. Be there in a sec.

Me: What are you driving?

Her: Silver Camry.

And as her final text came through, I saw her car pull in. She took a spot not too far from where I stood. I could see there was no one else in the car, which put my kidnapping fear to rest. She opened her door and stood on the pavement, looking around until her eyes met mine. I gave her a little nod of acknowledgment. She simply responded by waving her hand, gesturing for me to come over to her car, so I did.

She was young, maybe mid-twenties, with curly, golden hair. Her skin was pale and contrasted with the all-black outfit she was wearing. I thought she looked like Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz had put on the Wicked Witch’s clothes.

“Nice day out,” she said as a greeting.

“Oh, yeah it is. Hadn’t really paid attention to it.”

“You were the one that called about the jar, right?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“Cool, well, here you go.”

She handed me a very small, glass mason-jar. It couldn’t have been more than two inches tall. Inside of it was a light. Not a light bulb—just light. It was like someone bottled up sunshine. It glowed even in the midafternoon daylight. It looked like a tiny sun, or a tiny universe existing in this little crystal-walled home. I was admiring it with no attempt to hide the awe on my face.

“Pretty rad isn’t it?”

“What—what is it?”

“You’ve asked that, like, three different times, I think. My answer is still the same. It is happiness. Happiness in a glass jar.”

“What do I do with it?”

“Keep it,” She said simply, “if you have any problems shoot me a text.”

She started to get into her car.

“Wait!” I said, “I thought you were selling this? How much is it?”

“Don’t worry, man,” she said with a smile, “you’ll pay.”

She closed her door and I stepped out of her way as she backed up, then drove off. What the hell had just happened? What was I holding? I looked down at the jar again, its radiance was simply mesmerizing. I put it in my pocket and could see its glow slightly through my pants. I began to walk home.

What was just a nice, sunny day, quickly changed into a rainy one with clouds wrapping the sky. It was not forecasted that it would rain, or else I would’ve ridden the bus or subway to work that day. I jogged home trying not to get too drenched. I finally found shelter once I made it to my apartment building.

I walked up to my door and found that my key wasn’t on my key ring anymore. Shit, I can’t believe I lost it again, I thought.

I knocked on the door and said in a somewhat loud voice, “Hey babe it’s me, I don’t know what happened to my key.” I heard the door being unlocked from the other side.

When the door opened, I was greeted by a large, heavy-set man with greasy hair and unkempt goatee, he said, “I think you got the wrong door, bud.”

“Oh!” I said, disoriented, “my bad, sorry, have a good one.”

He let out a chuckle as he closed the door.

Apartment number 33.

I know that was my apartment. I know it was. I’d been in apartment 33 for five years now. But that was not my apartment. From what I could see inside, all the furniture was different, it was painted a different color, it was all wrong. I felt like I’d hit my head and was drugged. In that moment, nothing made sense.

I pulled out my phone to call Kelsey so she could calm me down and tell me I just got confused for a second. But her contact wasn’t in my phone. In fact, nothing was in my phone. I had no messages with her. No previous calls. No pictures. It was like my phone reset to its factory settings. Did that girl somehow switch my phone out when I wasn’t looking? I would’ve just dialed Kelsey’s number manually, but I couldn’t quite remember it. I had known it by heart before, but not anymore. I needed to get back to the office, I had all my contacts backed up on my work computer.

Since it was still raining, I hopped on the bus which had a stop right in front of the apartment complex. I rode downtown toward my office, the whole time staring at my wet shoes, wondering what the hell was going on.

We have a keycard access to our building so only authorized personnel can get inside. I always keep my access card in my wallet, always. But, surprise, surprise—it wasn’t there. I buzzed in to the speaker we had for guests with appointments, or employees as a back-up in case anyone lost or forgot their card.


“Hey this is Tim, I must’ve lost my card. My employee number is…” I stopped as I drew a blank.

A voice came through the Speaker, “Tim? You got cut out, what’s your employee number?”

“Um, I can’t remember, I—”

“That’s fine, just tell me your full name and department.”

“Uh, finance. I’m in finance. My full name is Tim Brooks.”

“One sec.”

About thirty seconds later, the man spoke to me again.

“We don’t have a Tim Brooks working in this building. Did you have an appointment with someone?”

I backed up in surprise, almost tripping on my own feet. I had just been in that office an hour or two ago. What was happening to me? I felt like I was getting Alzheimer’s but going through every stage in one day. I stared at my hands, unsure if I was in the right body. I felt like the world around me was disintegrating. I wasn’t in control, I was merely sitting inside somebody else’s head, watching the world through their eyes.

Just then, I got a text. I recognized the number immediately, it was that girl. The one who gave me the jar. I had forgotten all about it until I saw her text.

Her: Hey. How’s it going?

I looked at my phone, dumbfounded. It made me angry she was so nonchalant about this. She knew what was going on. She had done this somehow.

Me: What the hell did you do to me?!

Her: The worst is yet to come.

I was astronomically close to just chucking my phone as far as I could in frustration. I took the jar out of my pocket. It looked unchanged, still glowing just as bright.

“What the fuck did you do!” I yelled at the jar, realizing I probably looked like a lunatic.

As I stared at its glistening glass, I realized something. I didn’t know what my wife’s face looked like anymore. I knew her name. Well, I know it started with a K, or maybe a C. I couldn’t picture her in my mind. I knew I had a wife. I knew I did. Yes, because I had a daughter. I had a wife and a daughter. I just, couldn’t remember their faces then—or their names, or their birthdays, or any memories I had with them.

I know they existed. They did exist. I had just seen them that morning, right? I couldn’t remember how she looked, or what she smelled like. What was our first date? We had a wedding, right? What about our first kiss? Or my daughter—or was it my son? Maybe I didn’t even have a kid. But my wife, or girlfriend, she was real. I knew she was. The thought was tearing me apart. I couldn’t see her in my head. I couldn’t recall a single fact about her.

I was standing outside of the same building, but I was unsure why I was. Did I work there? I must work somewhere. The rain was accompanied by a chilly wind now. It was whipping at my face, making my nose and cheeks sting. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be with her. I wanted to be warm. I wanted to go in to a shitty office job that kept a roof over my head. I wanted it all. I was soaking wet. I was miserable. I couldn’t remember my parents, or my childhood. Did I even have any friends? Why was I in the rain?

I looked down at my hand. I was still clutching the jar. The only memory of my entire life I could concretely remember was that girl giving it to me. Telling me it was happiness. It did not bring happiness. It brought pain. It bought suffering. I was more miserable in that moment than I’d ever been.

My phone buzzed:

Break the jar, Tim.

I looked at my other hand. With the setting sun and the rainy sky, I swear the jar glowed brighter than any street light near me. I didn’t break it because I was following her instruction. I broke it because I was angry. I broke it because I was upset. I needed a release. I raised my arm above my head, and brought it down with one swift motion, shattering the jar on the concrete beneath my feet.

That dark, chilly air accompanying the rain spread away like it was the shockwave of a bomb going off, and I was at the epicenter. I saw the warm, yellow light from inside the jar spread rapidly across the ground and ascend into the sky. It was as if I was watching the beginnings of the universe being created—like God had just snapped his fingers and said, “let there be light.” I was engulfed in it. I could no longer see street or rain, or anything dark. I felt like I was plummeting into a star going faster than the speed of light. It felt like sitting in front of a fire on a cold winter’s night, but that warmth was covering every inch by body.

And then I blinked.

Immediately I could feel the sheets beneath me, and my back barely touching my wife’s. I was staring out the window. The morning light drenched through the glass and gleamed on my face.

I stood from bed and grabbed my phone. It was Friday morning. I had one text:

Let me know if you ever need another jar 🙂

I called in sick to work. I snuck into my daughter’s room and greeted her with a kiss and told her she didn’t have to go to preschool today. We were going to have a family day. She smiled and stretched out her arms with a yawn before curling up and falling back asleep.

I got back in bed and squeezed my wife tightly. I didn’t let go for hours. Our daughter came into our room and woke us up eventually—she was jumping on the bed and shouting for us to wake up. Yesterday I may have found that annoying. Yesterday I may have found a lot of things annoying, or monotonous, or dull.

But not today. Today, I pulled her under the covers in between me and Kelsey.

Today was going to be a good day. Today, I was happy.


Notebook on an a desk.

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