Last week’s post celebrated the release of Ali Farrell’s Pretty Rugged, a book that shines light on women as “lobster fishermen” off the coast of Maine. Author Farrell’s own story illustrates the relationship between work and happiness, which regular readers will remember was touched on in this space last month.

University of Pennsylvania’s Martin S. Seligman and his co-authors of
“A Balanced Psychology and a Full Life,” explain that happiness or well-being comes in three flavors, if you will: pleasure, engagement, and meaning, and they note that, of course, humans can raise the levels of their happiness in each category.  Interviewing her through email exchanges, I got a sense of the degree to which her activities contributed to her enthusiastic well-being.

One of Ali’s ancestors in his prime, at age 90.

She spoke about getting a fresh start by returning to her ancestral home in Maine after living away for years, during which she graduated from college, married, had children, divorced, and worked to support herself and her two little ones. “Moving myself and my kids up to Maine was the best decision I’ve ever made. We are now beyond happy and feel at home.” Generations of her family have lived on the coast or on the islands, and have worked on the water. “I’m the fourth generation living in my house. My kids are the fifth.” It can be hard to read tone in an email, but there was no mistaking the glow coming across in her words.

Author Ali Farrell, flanked by lobster-fishing buddies Crystal Gross & Hilary Walker

Meeting lobstering women at the local pub, sharing laughs with them there and in the outdoors, and seeing those connections develop into close friendships has made her feel like she’s finally landed. Romping with her children in this beautiful corner of the world likewise makes her smile. Photography and writing bring her great joy.

Like most of us, Ali Farrell appreciates a good take-out meal, a boisterous laugh, a bouncing baby. These things come under the heading of Seligman’s first category, pleasure, and can be appreciated without much effort. 

Now she has a familiar and comfortable spot to call her own. Place matters. Feeling like you are at home. Especially if you never felt sure where exactly you belonged.

The harbor town that Ali Farrell calls home

As a business and sports management major in college, she felt drawn to arts classes. However, dressed in sweats, the lacrosse scholarship student stuck out from the artsy students in photography and writing classes. “I actually stayed ‘out sick’ on most presentation days. I enjoyed photography and writing outside of class though.”

Such activities demand use of our personal strengths. They require work. That takes us into Seligman’s second category, engagement. Putting yourself into an activity that requires use of our skills leads to gratification—satisfaction we take in becoming lost in our work, even though such work can be unpleasant, even painful. Think of an athlete or a dancer training for competition or performance. Even in work she does to pay the bills, like her photography business, Ali Farrell seems to revel in her engagement.

When we engage in work that is done in service to something larger than ourselves or own interests, we venture into the third category of happiness: meaning. Along with fellow Mainers Sam Martin and Nick Koltai, Ms. Farrell established the nonprofit United Fishermen Foundation, an organization that supports independent commercial fishermen–a group that has been hit incredibly hard in the time of COVID. The three Mainers donate many hours per week helping fishermen grow their business. One way they do this is by making it easier for fishermen to connect directly with consumers.  

The effect of devoting hours to this kind of organizational work? “These really are the things that excite me, make me feel great, feel fulfilled,” Farrell wrote. As Seligman would put it, such activity gives her a sense of meaning and purpose.

And she seems to be the kind of person who leaps at the chance to do such things. One thing leads to another in our lives, as we reach certain turning points. Ali Farrell’s pursuit of curiosity and friendship, and her eagerness to use her strengths and skills have led to authoring books and growing a nonprofit organization.

For her, age doesn’t seem to be an object when it comes to the gratification and meaning routes to happiness. “A few months ago, my kids had an idea to make COVID masks and sell them to people to raise money for the animal rescue organization where we got our current dog, Bear. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Ali’s daughter and Bear, in a mock-up of Ali’s next book’s cover

The wise injunction to “follow your bliss” typically involves putting in the work. It’s led Ali Farrell back to Maine, where Mainers are benefiting from an author and activist who’s doing a good job of working her way along the three paths to happiness.   

Next week, what those three routes to happiness can add up to, as seen in the life of one of the Pretty Rugged women.

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Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the TURNING POINTS blog on and on his OPEN ADMISSIONS Facebook Page. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction.