My three-year old nephew is in the stage where he’s learning to monitor his own behavior – namely self-control. After not getting his way at Grandma’s house the other afternoon, Cruz launched into an adorable, yet fairly familiar, “Eeyore” phase. He moped, he sighed, he pouted. Head down, lip out… there was no way this three-year old was going to budge from his gloomy disposition. My mother saw it as an opportunity. She knelt to the ground, looked at Cruz and said, “Now Cruz I know you’re upset, and that’s okay. But let me ask you something. Do you want to be a sad little boy or do you want to be a happy little boy?” He looked up at his Grandma and said, “Happy.” Mom replied, “Well then all you have to do is put a smile on your face and go be happy.” It was that simple. Instantly his frown changed to a grin, and he trotted away to go have fun again – a real life Christopher Robin.
Could it be that easy? Can we just decide to be happy? For the most part, I say yes. In the face of tremendous pain and discomfort, human beings find reasons to smile as surely as they need air to breathe. It is not that we are incapable of being happy. It’s just difficult to feel happy sometimes.
Often it is difficult for people to find joy within their lives, and it can be even harder to celebrate the happiness of others. When confronted with the good fortune of their friends and colleagues many people prefer to remain securely in their “Eeyore” phase, rather than give in to the good feelings resonating from their companions. After all, isn’t it safer to be in the dredges of their misery – a place safe and familiar? Why feel joy for someone else, when they feel none for themselves? If anything, they feel resentment, right? Won’t it just make them more acutely aware of their misfortunes by rejoicing in the goodness within others’ lives?
In this economic climate, it is difficult for even the most seasoned professional to procure suitable professional employment. Most artists participate in a constant battle with their esteem and determination in their attempts to access better professional opportunities for themselves. It could be easy to become resentful of others’ successes. But what good would that do for any of us?
A colleague of mine just received a coveted position at an excellent educational institution in the Northeast: a two-year visiting professor position in art. Having received his MFA in 2010 at the same institution I received mine, his invitation to teach at this school was a beacon of light to those in our field. Surely there will be a few of his colleagues or acquaintances who secretly grumble with envy and resentment, but the majority of us met the news with great enthusiasm. A “win” for him is a “win” for all of us.
And for some of us (er… ahem… ME), it was like our own dreams had come true. When I heard the news, I could not stand still! I was like a child – clapping my hands, bounding through my apartment with unfettered exuberance. That night it didn’t matter that I still worked a mind-numbing data entry job. I didn’t feel an ounce of resentment or jealousy. I felt hope, because someone I knew had just received the kind of news we all dream of getting: a job in our field!
Like my little (nearly!) four-year old nephew, we have a choice. We can decide to be happy. We might not always get our way, but we always have control over our perspective.
Think of it as good karma. Think of it as good manners. Whatever works for you; be happy for others.
After all, when it’s your turn to share your good news you’ll want everyone to be happy for your good fortune too!