Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be
Last night, the topic of our Thursday Night Men’s Meeting was slogans. Twelve-step programs are big on slogans and there is a reason. In a crisis, wisdom is easier to recall in a bumper-sticker sized bit than some sentence-long or page-long chunk. As someone who’s always hated bumper stickers, I accept that particular bit of wisdom reluctantly and, by the way, usually cringe when the topic is announced. When the topic is slogans, inevitably someone brings up the one at the top of the page, usually attributed to President Lincoln. Last night, I beat them to the punch and brought it up myself, and in keeping with my contrarian, curmudgeonly nature, I dissected it.
What I didn’t talk about was the fact that there is a very real possibility that Lincoln DIDN’T say it. According to Ralph Keyes on The Quote Investigator, This popular Internet quotation is usually attributed to Lincoln. It doesn’t sound like him, however, and no evidence has been offered that he ever said or wrote this. It has appeared in unreliable collections of Lincolniana, and was attributed to Lincoln in the 1960 film Pollyanna. If, as evidence suggests, old Abe was clinically depressed (in an age when there was no Prozac to lift his mood), it seems likely he didn’t say it, or if he did, he used it to lift his own spirits without fully believing it.
If I read it literally, I don’t believe it either. It is the as they choose to be that throws me. This life brings trials that sometimes bear sorrow and if we are honest with our emotions, we cannot be as happy as we choose to be all the time. We can, however, be happier by choosing where to focus our attention, since most times there are good things in our lives as well as bad. And I have experiential evidence that we can be as miserable as we choose to be. Being miserable is easy. Being happy takes work, as Dennis Prager says in his book, Happiness is Serious Problem. But if I ignore my literal side, that part of me that sees black and white and nothing in between, I think the point of the slogan (whether attributable to Abe or not) is that We are responsible for our own happiness. That, I believe fully, not that I always like the idea. After all, when we are down, don’t we all want someone to come around and cheer us up? I’m fortunate to have a number of someones in my life that do just that. But not always. Then, it’s my job. I try to do it well, not always successfully.
How about you?