“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” William James
Here I sit at the end of another personally and professionally grueling week trying to write this post. Saturday I got up especially stressed by all I have yet to do before Christmas. Then, as I did some morning cleaning, I listened to NPR. Stories about the funeral of Nelson Mandela were interspersed with stories on the anniversary of the Newtown shooting. It was a reminder that whatever darkness enters my life, or how overwhelming a crisis can feel, there are yet darker places and greater losses, a different perspective on my woes. And of course, therefore, a change to my intended post.
The original intent for this post was a focus on choosing happiness, the working title had been Don’t Worry, Choose Happy. On Monday I read a Huffington Post article by Carolyn Gregoire about studies that found we can do things to make ourselves happier, that just trying works, even if we just smile. It grabbed my attention because I had earlier heard of research on Darwinian principles based on the idea that as we evolved as mammals, we evolved emotions, and Darwin believed, evolutionarily, smiling created happiness, rather than happiness creating smiling. That intrigued me, which comes first, a chicken and egg idea.
My posts always come after I “live with them” for a while. So I mulled these ideas over as Doug and I went to the appointment with his surgeon, fought with his insurance company, and something truly rotten happened at work. I worked to stay positive. I remembered a favorite quote by G.K. Chesterton, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” I meditated and tried to let loose of what was weighing me down. It worked sporadically, but not well. It just didn’t stick.
Music is one way I make myself happier. Somewhere in the midst of the Sandy Hook anniversary commentary on Saturday they played 525,600 minutes from Rent which argues we should measure a year in our life not by our minutes of stress, or the bridges we burn, or the way that we die, but in friendship and love.
That is a another perspective that resonates for me. I believe we feel better if we move our perspective from what hurts us to what heals us, from hatred to love, from complaining to celebrating, our focus on our friends and loved ones and the gifts in our lives. If we watch a funny movie, choose an ironic smile rather than a sneer, contentment and happiness are more readily restored. I find I am at my best when I cultivate this attitude. I believe in it.
But I know that belief can feel abstract and that attitude hard to create when we are grieving or depressed, lonely or lost. And while we may need the help of medication or counseling if these become chronic states, I still believe we do better if we keep on looking at the water in our half-empty cups until we see them as half-full.
This morning I learned of Ana Grace Green, a six-year old Sandyhook victim, whose personal motto was simply, “Love Wins.” Her mom is a therapist, her father is a member of Harry Connick Junior’s band. Mr. Connick has created a song in her memory with that title to raise money for the Ana Grace Project. The refrain verses say in part:
And what she is to love, listen, oh my brother Is as the wind to mercury
That really puzzled me at first. Then I got it. I remembered my high school chemistry class when we played with mercury. Of course that couldn’t happen today, but I found mercury fascinating. You could drop a bead of it and it would fracture into innumerable droplets, smooth little balls that took on a life of their own, rolling away, seeking out crevices, picking up colors from what they rolled over, carrying them back to the whole if you could corral them. Love is like that, hard to stop, on a path of its own, bringing new experiences into our lives. Spreading love is like that, finding every crack where it is needed. Carrying love into our soul dark places truly is like the wind scattering seeds of love, spreading balm on our hearts and souls. Yes!
“Can we use our knowledge of human nature to offer people more appropriate conditions of living, and at the same time create a more peaceful world?” Bjorn Grinde asks in his book about the Darwinian Happiness principle. My answer to him is that same resounding Yes.
Love can win. It wins every time we share our lives and our love with one another. Light can come into darkness, seeping into our hidden places of need. Love can win when we share the last flickering ember of our hope with someone else who is struggling, and when our fading light catches fire in them, our own light is rekindled. Believe it. Love never dies. Yes, Ana Grace, love always wins.
- 525,600 Minutes (jenycarlson.wordpress.com)
- A Grieving Newtown Mother’s Motto: ‘Love Wins’ (wnyc.org)