Monday, August 4, 2014

The magic of happy

This image appeared in my news feed on facebook over the weekend. I've seen it around, but this time it caught my attention in a way it hadn't before. It appeared fortuitously, at a moment when I was particularly ready for its message.

Some people--you know who I mean, we've all met them--seem to have a higher natural set-point for happy. Just as others will always see the glass as half empty, they will always see it as half full.

I used to think that this was a characteristic that a person was born with. At best, I thought that people who posted images like this one didn't understand that not everyone feels this way. At worst, I suspected they were simply being insensitive to the challenges of mental illness, implying that depression can be willed away with a smile.

I do still think that we all start out with a unique biological set-point on the happiness scale. But more and more often, I'm realizing just how many people are quietly choosing to adopt a positive attitude, despite having gone through great hardship or difficult circumstances. Some of them are doing it despite grappling with mental illness or other mood disorders that make optimism pretty damned hard. I think I'm finally starting to see why, and how, that could be.

Since the kids and their mom moved out I have been working hard to process all the changes in our lives. I don't just mean the immediate ones, I mean all of them, ever since that phone call that turned our lives upside in the blink of an eye.  There is a lot there to process. I've written before about how stressful and hard some of the things that we went through were, and I don't want to go back over it now. I mention it simply because through this experience I've seen both the worst and the best of myself. Having experienced both extremes, I now have a chance to choose where in between I want to settle. Maybe it is just a case of realigning priorities, finally understanding what it is to let go of the rancor and bitterness of the past in favor of claiming whatever joy I am able to wring from the present. Whatever it is, I've chosen to be a deliberate optimist, a seeker of joy in an often-times joyless world.

As any good baker knows, you need a little salt to bring out the sweet. Without some trouble and hardship in life, you can't get to that magical happy place where the good, fulfilling moments are truly treasured. Without knowing what it is to lose, you can't truly appreciate winning. Somewhere in there, between despair and joy, in the raw, unseen places of yourself you never knew existed, that is where the magic comes from.

No, not everyone wants to choose happy. Being positive doesn't make the problems go away. Nor will being joyful save the world. Frankly, being grumpy or cynical works just fine for some folks, and I have no problem with that. Being an optimist should never mean judging others for not feeling the same way. Yet sometimes, at least in my experience, a strong person who has been through the fire standing up and showing how they can still look out at the world with optimism and hope can be life changing for those around them.

For me, that inspiration happened to arrive in my facebook news feed on a Sunday morning, received from someone who I happen to know has been through the fire, and who, in fact, walks through the flames daily. In other words, one of those happy people who believe in magic, and the magic of believing in happy.

Feeling stuck on the negative setting? Zoom out, look at the big picture, and spend some time contemplating the magic and mystery above.

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