I got a belated Christmas letter this week from one of a very long-term friends, and the poor guy has had a hell of a year. He tells of helping his dear ones through devastating illnesses, and the deaths of others whom he held close. My heart grieves for him. Even at second hand, sorrow is deflating, and as my generation grows older, sorrow and suffering and loss are quite naturally become a larger part of our experience. I go to a lot more funerals now than I did in my younger days.
As I read my friend’s letter, I wondered: Is it even possible to be, on a day-to-day basis, happier now than I was at a younger age, considering that I have a lot more reasons nowadays for feeling low? It’s kinda’ hard to feel all jolly, fizzy and happy when sad things come our way. I wonder if I’m bucking an inevitably lowering tide. Oh dear!
On the other hand, I sure don’t want to be an unhappy old woman. I wouldn’t want to inflict that upon myself nor upon anyone else. For one thing, chronic unhappiness isn’t good for our health, so it can become a vicious cycle: we’re unhappy, our health deteriorates, which gives us more to be unhappy about. I don't want to jump onto that merry-go-round, nor be pushed onto it by circumstances. I'm reminded of my maternal grandmother.
A Family Story:
When Grandma was in the long, slow process of dying, many many year ago, my parents made a trip back to Nebraska to see her one last time. Poor Grandma was in hospital, where she had suffered the amputation of first one leg, then the other. (Don't know why; maybe an attempt to deal with diabetic neuropathy? I was a child at the time). This is the story my father brought home:
When they finally arrived at her bedside on a busy hospital ward, he told me, he was astounded to find that little old woman in very bright, good spirits. He knew that her prognosis wasn’t good; he knew that she knew it too.
"Mother D, how on earth can you be so cheerful?"
She gave him her gentle sweet smile. “If I'm unhappy, the people around me will be the same. I wouldn’t like that very much. I like to be surrounded by happy people."
Courageous woman, my grandmother. She's a role-model for this business of being happy in the face of adverse circumstances. I so much admire her determination. She would say, and I'd agree, that we simply cannot allow circumstances to be the determining factor in how we feel.
If we do, we become victims of circumstances. Oddly enough, being a victim of circumstances works both ways:
“There he is,” says the woman in the novel I’m reading. “Jonah! The reason for my happiness ….”
You know what happens in novels - pretty soon, her reason for being happy is going to up and do something wrong - fall for another woman, say the wrong thing, something ... and there her happiness will go, out the window!
It’s so easy to be dependent on circumstances for our happiness, and Oh! How fleeting such happiness can be! I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one who has discovered the elusiveness of happiness based on people and events. Here today, gone tomorrow, right? Who needs the disappointment?
Far better, I believe, to be happy regardless of circumstances. That's what I'm aiming for, this year. Will there be suffering? No doubt. What can we do, to lift our mood when life tastes like sour lemons? The cliche says, 'make lemonade' but what I want to know is, "HOW?" How do we 'make lemonade'?
Thankfully, along with the lemons, there will no doubt be sweeter fruits. I promise you, I'll be savoring those far more this year than I ever did in the past. I believe that is one, at least, of the antidotes for the circumstantially-induced unhappiness. I'm looking for others - and I'm more than open to suggestions! I'll be grateful if you'd put them in COMMENTS, below. I'd love to hear from you.
Sincerely, Elaine H
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