Witness Post: Holland on Happiness

At the suggestion of my former business partner at the D3 Family Funds, David Nierenberg, Tracy and I hired a wise country lawyer from Vancouver, Washington. His name is James Holland and he is the sole partner with the firm of Hall & Holland. Tracy and I were struggling with a breach of a real-estate partnership with a man, who had lied to us and robbed from us. We needed to have someone with trial experience, business acumen, and a modicum of spite for wrong-doers. Holland was our first choice.

Jim 1

James Holland with Hall & Holland

The Main Thing Is The Main Thing

We worked with Holland for nearly a year in preparation for a trial. And over time we came to appreciate his legal acumen. Our minds often raced to possible catastrophic outcomes, so he would calmly re-focused on the subject at hand. Holland recited aphorisms such as, “Let’s not get sidetracked. Remember, the main thing is the main thing,” or “We are dealing with a psychopathic liar, so we have to think like one to stymie him.” Simple truths. Without his skills we could not have navigated the shoals of the Multnomah County Courthouse nor the legal machinations of the Pacific Northwest. We ended our legal matters with a positive outcome: a legal judgement against our real estate partner. The unfortunate end result was that we are unlikely see the money we lost from our real-estate swindle. We have the properties to manage and ultimately sell to get some of our investment back.

Breakfast at Dulin’s

For many months after the trial in Multnomah County, Holland and I would meet for breakfast at one of his office away from the office. He held court at his favorite breakfast spots: Dulin’s Cafe in Vancouver, Washington. There, Jim would opine on the topic of the day, which was often philosophical and theoretical. A voracious reader, Holland always seemed to have three books going on his night stand. He would recite snippets from each of the books to see if the listener were paying attention. One of his favorite topics was Happiness…

Holland On Happiness

Holland was writing a book on Happiness and he pulled me into the reading and editing of the text. As a lover of words, it was my privilege to be allowed into the inner circle of critics he found worthy. At breakfast one morning, after a long dissertation about the definition of happiness, he turned to the topic of discipline. Happiness without discipline is ephemeral. It disappears like vapors. The trick is to be the disciple of some cause for which you will sacrifice your time and attention.

Jim used the analogy of fly fishing to make his point. Casting is a skill practiced for years. To prepare himself for his annual fishing trips to Idaho, he would escape to his back yard or his basement for hours of practice. “If you want to place the fly in the right spot, it is a matter of centimeters. Too far to the right or left and you get skunked. The cast has to be perfect.” Many months or rainy weather do not deter the Holland passions. The morning routine is like breathing, he can’t live without it.

Several anthems that Holland sings come from his years of experience trying to do it another way. Similar to anyone who is a solo act, he relies on the experience of wylie people who steeped in local lure (pun intended). He recommends that fishermen hire a guide and learn to think like a fish.

Hire a Guide

The hours wasted trying to find the perfect riffle into which to cast a fly are infinite. Be selective and find someone who knows these parts of the country. Hire them. Talk with them. Learn the local ways that have worked for fishing: the flies, the time of day, the gear, the angle … everything that can help the fisherman have an advantage over the fish. It sounds simple, and with the right guide it is.

Think Like a Fish

Fish don’t really swim upstream or downstream. Instead they face into the oncoming water and swim faster than or slower than the current. Swimming slower takes them downstream. The human scent, sounds, and shadow are easily detected by fish. The sooner the fisherman learns the right way to approach a stream, the more likely she or he will be to catch a fish. Is it mayfly season? Mosquito season? Larvae season? The hook needs to resemble the expected meal of the season, or the fish will ignore it.

The Cast

All of those hours of practice come to fruition with the cast. The fly, perfectly chosen, tied, and adjusted has to land in the exact spot for the fish to quickly swallow it and swim away. Too far away and they won’t bother. Too close and you can spook them.


Jim Holland sometimes said, with a smile creeping across his face, “Happiness was a weekend with my family.” Those of us who know him, however, modify that statement to say that “It’s is week with the family after daily fishing trips with my favorite guide on the rivers and streams of the Northwest.” That’s his idea of happiness!


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