Battery-hens-merelyTom went to visit his mentor, Dwyer, in his small cabin on the edge of town.

“What do people need to be happy?” Tom asked.

“What do you think?” Dwyer asked back.

Tom thought for a moment.

“I think that if people have their basic needs met, you know, food and a place to live, and if they are safe from harm and have a job to do, that should be enough to keep them happy.”

Dwyer frowned.  Clearly he disagreed.

The old man jumped to his feet and marched to the door, beckoning his young friend to follow him.

They trudged towards a farm that contained a large barn and as they got closer, Tom could hear an infernal racket coming from inside.

Dwyer opened the door and Tom looked inside with amazement.

He saw row after row of chickens, each of them in their own tiny cages.

Dwyer looked at Tom and asked pointedly, “Do they have food?”

“Yes.”

“Do they have shelter?”

“I guess so.”

“Are they safe from foxes and other predators?”

“Yes.”

“Do they have a job to do?”

“They lay eggs.”

“Do they look happy?”

Tom looked closer at the hens.  He didn’t really know what a happy chicken looked like.  Do they smile?  Can a chicken even be happy?

Before he could answer, Dwyer said, “Come with me.”

They left this farm and walked down a long lane towards another property.

On the second farm was a large field, full of chickens.

They weren’t cooped up, they were foraging around in the field pecking for food.

“Do these chickens look happy?” asked Dwyer.

It seemed like an odd question, but Tom inspected them anyway and it occurred to him that there was a different atmosphere here.  These hens seemed to be in a more natural state and they seemed more chickeny as a result.

“Perhaps,” Tom responded, not wanting to commit.

“Of course they are, don’t be so absurd,” retorted the old man. “Here’s the point.  Both sets of hens have food, shelter and a job to do.  The first ones are confined to a small area where all that they can do is exist, but these hens, these beautiful birds, even though they are more exposed to the foxes and hawks of the world, are have an opportunity to really live.”

“We all have a serious choice to make,” Dwyer continued, “We can either live like battery hens, in a confined, seemingly safe existence, where we expect that everything will be brought to us, albeit in very small portions, or we can break free and live like free range chickens, foraging around in a less predictable, slightly more dangerous world and truly live.  You asked about happiness before.  You can’t be happy if you’re merely existing, you have to live, son.”

Tom got it.

Will you?

HT.  Thanks to Liv, one of my awesome young readers who took the time to send me a letter regarding a project that she is working on about the difference between living and existing and wanting some advice regarding happiness.  I hope that I answered your question Liv, and let me encourage you to be a free range hen, living the life that you were meant to live.

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