Guest Post by Susan Harris, author of Death Lost Dominion
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…” So, are you clapping? ARE YOU KIDDING? With all the frustrations and obligations we face daily, how can anyone go around grinning like an empty-headed puppet?
You might be happy and not know it. We get into a habit of looking at the dark side of life–the bills, the disappointments–everything that goes wrong. We have an image in our minds of an ideal existence that never seems to exist. The tricky part is we don’t always recognize what goes right.
Remember when the news featured stories of the people who didn’t die in 9/11–the people who were supposed to be in the towers that day but were home sick, or had a flat and didn’t make it to work, or overslept? Every disaster has a silver lining of stories of the people who thought they were having a bad day. Instead, they discovered they had been spared. Unlike them, most of us have no idea of the car accidents, exposures to diseases, or injuries that we’ve missed because we were late or detoured or busy elsewhere. We don’t know what doesn’t happen to us.
Of course, it’s difficult to celebrate good fortune we can’t know. But isn’t it odd that we so rarely accept that surviving a day intact might be an accomplishment in itself? Remember Bing Crosby crooning “Count Your Blessings” in WHITE CHRISTMAS? Seeing what’s good in your life can help you know where you want to devote more time and energy. What you feed, grows–whether it be positive or negative.
I had a friend for whom “Pollyanna” was a dirty word. He was solidly convinced that any intelligent, mature person would have to wallow in cynicism all the time. Certainly, we can identify plenty of problems that we need to address at some point. To ignore them permanently would have dire results in the future. But must we stare into the gloom all the time? Does it help? Is there a benefit to despairing over bad news hourly?
Research proves that walking away from problems, even taking time to play can give our brains permission to produce creative new solutions to old problems. Staring at them with singular concentration can turn off all that is imaginative about our minds. Only problems with concrete steps–such as some kinds of math or procedures–benefit from intense attention. If we want a fresh idea, we have to begin with a fresh mind. Play. Meditate. Take a nap. Take a vacation. All of these are productive avenues to original solutions. Imagine the child who is still inside you. You don’t have to go back to being a child to be a friend to the part of you that wants nurturing or fun or rest.
When everything and everyone around you seems to be twisted and dark, look in the mirror. Maybe you’re peering through a crabby veil you’ve created. Life is too complicated to be uniform. EVERYONE isn’t any one thing. You aren’t being fair to somebody. Maybe the bad mood is yours. Maybe you’ve chosen to be miserable. Maybe you’re the dark cloud in someone else’s day.
We’ve all heard tales of people who were forced to live in relentless hell by a sadistic circumstance such as the guy who kept his own involuntary harem or the Nazis. Believing the cage would open one day helped sustain the captives–as long as they didn’t depend on freedom happening on any certain day. In fact, many survived to move on to better lives. Once they were free, some insisted on creating happiness as the best revenge.
Happiness isn’t a rainbow that suddenly appears out of a storm. Happiness requires effort. It requires us to recall and identify what’s working properly in our lives. It may require action. If you’re very brave, can you change what you don’t like in your life? If you can’t change it, can you look at it differently so you see it as temporary or as a choice that’s worthwhile to you? Can you choose to laugh at all that stuff that doesn’t make sense? Can you limit your exposure to toxic, negative people so you don’t catch their gloom? Can you enrich your connections to the people you appreciate? Can you do something altogether new that might be fun?
The magical part of happiness or love or appreciation of beauty is that it builds resilience. The stronger your positive self, the more effectively it survives the blows of living. No wonder the soft lick of a puppy tongue can go so far to improving a rotten day. You can almost feel your blood pressure calming.
Go ahead. As the main character says in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, “Excelsior!” Have you said or thought something hopeful and positive today? Did you notice anything beautiful? Scrape the cover off some happiness. If you find it, it’s yours!