I received a letter from a friend in Florida who wrote to tell me about an unexpected change of plans in his life. Suddenly the future was not as certain as he thought it was. To make things worse, the change of plans was not definite. Things might change or they might not. But he wouldn't know for a few months so he couldn't do anything other than wait. That's a frustrating position to be in.
I found his response invigorating. His letter described his dilemma and then included this sentence: "I guess I'll have to be happy no matter what happens, so I will."
It's that last phrase that grips the mind: "So I will." When I read those words, I said to myself, "What a great way of looking at life." So many of us get grumpy when our plans are waylaid by unexpected circumstances. I know people who lose their religion if they hit a traffic jam on the way to work or don't have enough change to buy a newspaper. And if their cell phone doesn't work or their Internet goes down, look out! How easy for all of us to let circumstances dictate our moods. When things are going great, we feel great. When life is tough, we're grouchy and mean-spirited.
Abraham Lincoln put it this way: "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Each morning when we roll out of bed, we're faced with a profound choice: Will I face this day with optimism, courage, and a positive spirit, or will I start complaining because we ran out of toothpaste? Think about it. How many days are ruined before they begin because we have chosen (yes, chosen) to focus on the irritations of life?
In using such trivial examples I don't mean to downplay the truly great problems of life—sickness, the loss of job, a wrecked car, an angry boss, impending surgery, and so on. But most of us face those things infrequently. If you live in a big city, traffic jams are a daily reality. It's the same with mislaid scissors, hand prints on the wall, and discovering at 6 AM that you've run out of Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch. These are the true tests of character.
I think my friend from Florida is on to something. "I guess I'll have to be happy no matter what happens, so I will." This is a step beyond Que Sera Sera because the secret of happiness is not simply accepting what happens, but choosing to be happy in the midst of the unplanned surprises of life.
You have a choice to make. You can be happy or you can be a grump. It's up to you, of course, but you'd make it easier on the rest of us if you'd smile while you're pulling the toothpicks out of the mayonnaise.
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