Walking through the shops in a quaint little town in Maui, I noticed on the front door of a little hippie store a hand painted sign with this Budha quote on it.
“Happiness doesn’t lie in a certain set of circumstances, but in a certain set of attitudes.”
Sounds true enough. I know that I can easily depress myself when I dwell on the negative. Which it seems I have a special ability to do lately.
At the school I used to work at, one of the principals would recite on the announcements every morning, “You can make it a good day or a bad day. It’s your choice. So stop being a whiny brat!” Ok so she didn’t say that last part, but the implications are clear - Attitude is everything! A phrase, by the way, written on several posters throughout the school.
Is it really that black and white though? What about the kid who suffers from some sort of abuse? Am I supposed to give him a monologue on the power of positive thinking?! Seriously?? That sounds a little insensitive.
How does one “make it a good day” when you feel like no one really cares? Maybe the abuse example is an extreme, or at least I hope, but a bad day, week or month certainly isn’t. Possibly some of our ability to be happy really is attitude. In dark moments it’s easy to forget the good, but sometimes crappy things happen and “looking on the bright side anyways” feels fake and silly. My smile becomes a mask rather than an expression of a true feeling. Are feelings such as sadness and disappointment so wrong that we must always power through them? Where does the balance lie? Can I be at peace with my life even if I don’t feel happy?
One morning, in an attempt to find out if I planned on going to church that day, my roommate found me sitting on my bedroom floor sobbing. The stress over whether to quit my job finally became too much to hold in any longer. I really don’t remember much of her comments to me, but what I do remember is her sitting on the floor across from me. When I looked up, tears had started to stream across her face too. She couldn’t change my uncertainty or my fear concerning the future, but in that moment I didn’t feel so alone. Somehow hope grew on the floor of my bedroom that Sunday morning. Hope that even though I have all these unanswered questions about my life I would be okay because someone felt my pain and cared. Obviously we didn’t just sit there all day crying, but the compassion of a sweet friend enabled a much better day.
I had this student last year who, I’ll try not to be too dramatic on this point, was the worst behaved kid I have ever had and possibly have ever even met! He constantly fought the other students, was exhaustingly emotional and even threw temper tantrums in the middle of class. I’m pretty sure he aged me at least five years! The chip on his shoulder grew each day as he seemed to think the world was against him. It soon became my goal each morning to find something positive to say to him. I’ll never forget this one day when I praised part of his writing, his worst subject by far. Though this wasn’t the first or last time I said something encouraging to him, for some reason this time it meant more than the others. He wore a proud smile and displayed an unusual and refreshing kindness towards those around him the rest of the day. A few simple words changed his afternoon.
I wonder how much our happiness or contentment with life actually lies within our control. Is attitude everything? Unfair or at least unwanted events happen and at times trying to make myself feel good despite it feels impossibly hard. What happens if I’m too exhausted to keep a grip on hope?
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
What does God loving me even look like in practical application? The blessing and compassion of a caring friend? The encouragement and love of those around me? The hope that I can live each day to its fullest if He will give me strength? Happiness may not lie in a certain set of circumstances, but how can my attitude improve if I don't know I am loved?
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord; may your love and your truth always protect me.
Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.