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Happy Ron Hill and the Pursuit of Happiness

Happy Ron Hill

Happy Ron with his partner, Paul Tillery, at the Troubadour Holiday Party, 2018.

No caption necessary!

We sat down in a quaint little restaurant to talk about happiness and some other inspiring things. He may have gotten a rough start in life, challenged with multiple disabilities, the kind of challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve his goals and aspire to new and exciting possibilities. Determination was his driving force. Music moved him. Love guided him. Laughter buoyed him.

Ron’s early life was anything but happy. He was born to older parents with a birth defect in one hip where he had no socket and both hips eventually required replacement. I was startled to learn that he did not grow up in a musical family. He remembers occasionally hearing music, but there were no Sunday jams as he was the only aspiring musician in the family. Destined to bloom later in life, he began his musical journey decades ago.

He recalls that classmates were not mean, but he often felt isolated and alone as a child. Ron began really working on his personal self-development plan in 1995—he changed his name to Happy Ron to empower his number one goal in life: to be happy. He had an inner awakening fueled by positive thinking, full body approval, and weight loss. Due to serious health concerns, he welcomed his new hips and mourned the loss of his first true love, Jessica. May she rest in eternal peace. He’s learned to cope with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobias, and body coordination issues common among folks diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, which has only recently been recognized.

As a music lover/listener in the San Diego music scene, I first met Happy at Rebecca’s Coffeeshop, one of the former music Meccas in the South Park area. At that time, he was grumpy, loud, and seemingly very angry. Upon questioning him, Ron says these were really hard times as he was suffering tremendously with chronic pain in his hips. He was developing skills to overcome trauma from his past while experiencing chronic pain. He struggled physically to walk back in those days, but he persevered with two main goals: to make music and meet interesting ladies. Ron was always found with an instrument on his back making opportunities to do what he loves and bring others into joy with his jokes and songs.

Ron is now 56 years old and wildly happy and productive with the life he has created. He proudly informed me that he has participated in 2,600 open mics and 400 Happy Ron shows. By his definition, a show is an event where he plays two or more songs. That’s a lot of laughing, singing, and smiling! Back in 1995, he realized and set out to be happy and leave feelings of alienation and isolation behind to truly embrace happiness. He was fully accepted by his audiences and sought to accept others wholly as they were and leave them better than he found them. The Happy Ron I see today stands tall and confident in the knowledge that he has and continues to aspire to a deeper understanding of the world and the impact he can have on it. He resides in a senior citizen community where he’s thriving with like-minded folks and thrilled to be alive.

Ron’s first live performance was in 1994. He has taught himself to play the piano, the guitar, and other instruments as well as computer programs to enhance the music that he’s created. San Diego’s local music scene is a big, loving family of unbelievably talented artists, characters, comedians, musicians, and singer-songwriters. Happy first mentioned Cathryn Beeks, who is the Queen of the San Diego music scene. I have had the pleasure of assisting her in making her magic happen with her incredible talents to bring people together, to create an environment where people feel safe to share, make new homegrown music, and promote others along their individual paths. She fondly recalled Wednesday nights at O’Connells back in 2006 when Ron would accompany her in consuming copious amounts of popcorn. Those were really good times for music. She says that she never saw anything slow Happy down.

I reached out to Jeff Berkley who declared that Happy’s music is informed by his kind heart and desire to spread joy. He’s a friend and an ally to the community and he never complains about challenges. And then I reached out to Sven-Erik Seaholm who was eager to talk about the CD he produced for Happy, which was recorded in two magical sessions. Sven was a bit overwhelmed when he first heard about Ron’s idea to invite 22 of his closest musical friends to accompany him, but it worked! His record, Terribly Happy, is comprised of 13 songs that are short and sweet, featuring San Diego’s favorite musicians. It’s catchy and contains love songs, funny songs, and some teach a lesson. He never stops playing and he even brought in the big horns for the most spectacular singalongs. The title track is especially fun to sing along with. “Pretty on the Inside” is a reminder that the heart remembers what it’s learned to want. “Bartender” is a deep, searching song and desire for love in a slightly comical way. It’s a fun listen.

Next, I caught up with Paul Tillery, Ron’s music partner and teacher. He describes Paul as his right-hand man while Paul describes Ron as his brother. They have been playing together for over five years and Paul likes the fact that the music is constantly changing. He said that Happy is unique and he practices his songwriting by going to clinics and retreats for self-improvement. He always seeks good people for constructive criticism. Ron’s ability to seek out criticism for ongoing growth is amazing.

Last, but surely not least, I heard from San Diego’s own Steve Poltz, who was quick to respond and lavishly praise his friend Happy Ron. He says that Ron is a curious cat, always seeking something new, a true original with an uncanny ability to show up for himself, his audiences, and his community.

The overwhelming feeling among all that I interviewed was “I love Happy!” He has earned his place among his peers and is very well loved in the San Diego music family. He has their upmost respect and support and has become a truly happy man. He’s established himself securely among San Diego music royalty with his messages of encouragement, positive thinking, and sheer determination.

What’s next for Happy? He has just rebuilt his state-of-the-art super computer and is learning new programs for his next leveling up. Soon, we will begin hearing his songs in commercials, TV shows, and movies. He looks forward to more collaborations with friends in the future, and he sees himself as a teenager with new hips, fully expecting to meet a woman with similar values to share his happiness with, increasing his position and fully embracing his age of autism. Having only recently become aware of his place on the autism spectrum disorder in the last year, there is much to explore and learn about. With a little imagination and a side order of humor, he consistently shows up for friends and fans to embrace who he really is and promote self-inquiry in others.

Some friends have mused—what’s up with these thought-provoking questions that Ron is cultivating on Facebook these days? I asked about that and the answer was so simple, it would’ve fit me if it were a snake. These are things Ron ponders and questions; these are the topics that keep Happy ticking and creating. What Ron really thinks about is his way of reaching out and then processing the information and using it for his improvement. He aspires to be a better, happier person every day and constructive criticism is always greatly appreciated. The tools that help him grow are books, workshops, retreats, and online groups’ feedback from other musicians and friends, which includes encouragement, love, and support to and from his chosen family. Love is what holds Ron together, what lifts him up, the love of music and his chosen family.

Happy Ron offered these closing words from his heart to your ear: Most of my life I was unaware of the impact of my physical disability and the autistic spectrum on my life. Understanding this was key to changing. However, as I move forward with my new hips and my new social skills and awareness, I question whether or not those labels are as useful anymore. I’m trying to develop acceptance of my past limitations even as I move forward with my new abilities. My hope is that my life and music can be some inspiration for those that want to grow even as they love themselves just as they are.

Thank you to Liz Abbott for your love and dedication to the SD Music Family and for giving me this opportunity to contribute to those who have given so much.