Making happiness: Chicken Soup a helpful recipe for Vineyard writer


“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness,” Chicken Soup for The Soul Publishing, LLC. 372 pp. $14.95. Available at local bookstores and libraries.

Donna Paulson believes how we see life helps determine the way we live it.

Ms. Paulson has been a closet writer since she was a kid outside New York City but in the past six or seven years, the Tisbury resident has used lessons she’s learned from events in her own daily life to write inspirational stories published in three different books in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series and in two editions of “A Cup of Comfort,” an imprint with a similar theme to the Chicken Soup books.

“I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I think writers write because they have to, regardless of whether or not it’s published, but it’s nice to get validation that people want to read what you’ve written and that maybe you’ve helped them,” she said in an interview last week.

“I just pay attention to the ordinary things that happen to me, but they are spectacular to me, they have special meaning that other people can relate to perhaps. Of course, I’m part Italian, I cry at parades — even if I don’t know anyone marching in it.”

She’s also published stories on parenting. The themes and chronology provide a snapshot of who she is, a single mom with a full-time job, raising four kids, now teenaged to mid-20s. She’s at work on a novel about a single mom raising four kids in an Island community.

“It’s good discipline to be pulled back into real life through these stories. I feel they help me get in touch with things inside myself. They define what I was feeling or thinking at the time,” she said.

Her stories are direct, believable, often wry and self-deprecating, snippets of real life challenges and opportunities and how she was able to handle them with help from friends and her Big Friend. An example: “I was walking on State Beach one day in winter a couple of years ago, feeling pretty much like a failure as a mom, overwhelmed and needing help. I prayed for some help as I walked.

“I stopped for a minute and just began sifting sand through my fingers as I prayed. And there it was, a small plastic lamb, in my hand. A child had probably dropped it during the summer. What are the odds of finding that in seven miles of beach?

“Coincidence? Mmm. I don’t know. I don’t rule out random but I’m kind of a God Wink person. And that day I needed some sign that I wasn’t alone, that Someone or Something was looking after me. Finding that lamb made me feel that, raised my spirits, and helped me get through the issue,” she said.

The event became a story in “Chicken Soul for The Soul: Miracles,” published two years ago.

Ms. Paulson is able to have fun at her own expense as well. “I was driving down the road for a final divorce decree hearing. Not a fun time, obviously. Then I saw my former husband hitchhiking up ahead, heading for the courthouse. I thought ‘Should I pick him up?'”

Here’s the point of view thing. Ms. Paulson was able to see the ironic humor of the moment, braked, and picked up her soon-to-be former husband and they drove together to the courthouse to be divorced. That moment became a story in the Chicken Soup book about divorce.

Ms. Paulson’s latest opus, “A Remodeled View,” is contained in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness,” published in September 2011. Her story relates to her “fixer-upper” house badly in need of TLC. Mr. Paulson was daunted by the scope of the work and the funds she imagined would be required for repairs.

Then a friend showed up and began making small repairs, every day a repaired light socket or a new plank on the porch, using materials at hand. “Catching his enthusiasm, I found myself cleaning out the closet in my bedroom… and decluttering [spaces]… and when I did, nicely decorated spaces appeared,” she wrote.

Her take-away: “My charming house had been here all along… it just needed the help of a benevolent friend, a little elbow grease, and a fresh coat of paint,” she wrote, adding, “And now, I wonder, what other areas of my life could use a renewed look, what dormant blessings could be revived by a new perspective?”

Jack Shea of Vineyard Haven is a regular contributor to The Times.