Jorge and I sometimes enjoy having a staring contest. The statistics regarding which one of us wins this childish game are probably in Jorge’s favor. At least it seems like I’m usually the one who blinks first. Regardless of who “wins”, both of us erupt in a fit of laughter. Oftentimes, when the laughter subsides, we’ll just lean back, feeling content and grinning like Cheshire Cats.
We indulged ourselves in a staring contest during Jorge’s latest visit. Afterwards, my friend said that he felt as happy as a little boy. I could see that he spoke the truth. Jorge’s eyes were half-closed, there was a wide grin that pushed his dimples into little domed shapes. For a couple of minutes, there was no need for either of us to speak a single word. We just sat at the kitchen table looking at each others’ faces.
I broke the silence by asking why Jorge seemed especially happy.
He replied that he had recently been given a safe driving certificate and a nice cash bonus by his employer. Jorge did not have a single traffic violation nor any sort of accident in the past five years. He noted that in many other respects, his life has been more pleasant than usual. Then Jorge nodded at me and asked why I looked happier, too.
I stood up from my chair, walked into the music room, and returned, holding an old book. I handed it to Jorge and said, “It’s older than I am.” The book is a self-teaching textbook for an English speaker to learn how to speak and write in Russian.
Earlier, I had been perusing reviews about language textbooks so I could decide which one taught the most effective technique. Then, during a trip to the Goodwill Store, the store manager pulled me aside and said she had something I might like. The manager thought of me the moment her eyes spotted the book in a box of donated books and trinkets.
At the moment she presented it to me, I felt a smile sweep across my face. Better yet, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude towards the store manager and her kind gesture of remembering my personal interest and desire to learn Russian. Even though she presented the book as a potential business transaction, I knew there was an element of sincere friendship involved, too.
Jorge mentioned that my face took on a glow while I described the happy event. Then he handed the book back to me. “It’s great to be reminded that there are some business people who show a sincere interest in their customers’ aspirations.”
I agreed. I also think that there was more than just the sale of a two-dollar book involved. It seems that the store manager’s favor was a sincere gesture of friendship. The reason I think so, is because the manager and I have frequently enjoyed conversations about the languages we are currently learning. She is engrossed in taking up Italian, and I am fascinated with Russian. The mutual interest in expanding our language skills is something important we share.
Jorge then replied that it’s pleasant to remember that good things happen to us now and then. There are a few good things that are a little bit better than other good things. One seemingly humble act towards another can brighten the day.
There’s not one person on Earth who has not experienced some profound unhappiness. Tragedy and despair lurk in the recesses of our minds. Bad things happen to good people. We must certainly honor and respect the gravity of serious events. On the other hand, we dust ourselves off and get about the regular act of living our lives. The fact that we can do so, is reason enough to be glad.
What is it about certain people who cruise through life, in all of its ups and downs, that causes them to be unfazed and strong with happiness? They might not be monetarily wealthy, nor are they free from unpleasantness, but they have a basic sunny disposition anyway.
Jorge thinks that happy people see life from a different perspective than unhappy people do. Even though they might have a basically cheerful personality, they must put forth conscious effort in order to maintain their cheerfulness. They have learned to practice self-awareness.
My friend says he learned that being a realist has helped him remain mentally balanced and reasonably happy. That is, he doesn’t expect nor believe that people or situations are better than they appear. While he hopes for goodness in life he is also prepared for badness and mediocrity. He calls his attitude a blend of pessimism and optimism. He does not set unrealistic visions of perfection. Looking into Jorge’s eyes, I call his attitude pragmatism.
He laughs, and gently accuses me of “projecting” my own life’s philosophy.
I respond by acknowledging that both of us have experienced such a degree of hardships that we could justify sour, repellant outlooks on life. We have chosen not to do so. We do not want to be the sort of people who take delight in their own misery. There is no need to compare our lives with those who have more or less reason for happiness.
Jorge says it’s foolish to believe that billionaires have more happiness than we do or that we are more happy than someone living in a slum. We are much more than our circumstances. It is unwise to console oneself by saying, “There are people who are worse off than me.” Why should we be thankful that some other people are less fortunate than oneself? That line of thought seems heartless and cruel.
I agree with Jorge. I add that there are a precious few people who derive great personal pleasure from the act of helping others. They go out of their way to perform acts of kindness and favors for other people. They don’t feel like martyrs nor are they self-righteous. These friends act out of a sense of positive selfishness. They cannot help but feel happy by making other people feel happy. It is their own desire to be happy that fuels the generosity.
My friend affirmed that it’s good to be generous and it’s also good to remember the times when we have been on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity. There is something to be said about having an attitude of gratitude.
I smiled when I heard the time-worn cliché because thankfulness is an important ingredient in happiness. Closely related to gratitude is the act of stopping to smell the roses. To enjoy the regular, little things in life is really an act of thankfulness. It’s amazing how often that mundane things in life can feel profound when we stop and examine them closely.
Jorge mentioned the pop-psychology Internet meme that promotes the idea of saying “no” to people. Certainly there are folks who can be psychological drains or who take advantage of us. However, don’t forget to say “yes”, sometimes. There are some situations that may seem inconvenient or unfamiliar. Before making a decision, it is wise to take a few moments to consider the fact that the situation might well be an opportunity. There are examples of situations that you were, at first, reluctant to do, actually turned out to be incredibly satisfying and rewarding. So, while “no” can be useful, “yes” is also a very life-affirming decision.
Jorge reminded me of what he remembers when people put him down or life hands him unpleasantness. “Life is just too short.” He sometimes feels like only yesterday, he was a crazy teenager with the world at his command. Those days were actually half-a-century ago. Someday, who knows when, he’ll breath his last breath. There’s just not enough time left to sulk and feel sorry for oneself.
I smiled as I finished his statement. “Live fully in the present moment.”
My pal said that there are plenty of events and people that distract us from the present moment, but the best idea, is to be fully present as much as one can.
The next thing I knew, Jorge asked if I felt up to a little bit of arm-wrestling.