Dear Ones —
I want to thank so many of you who wrote in about yesterday's QUESTION OF THE DAY ("Do you trust happiness?")
First of all, it is super reassuring to see that this seems to a common human response — this fear that contentment will not last, this waiting for the other shoe to drop when things are going well. In fact, it may be universal. I thought it was just a Yankee/Protestant hang-up of mine (based in old, deep New England fears about pleasure) but a friend of this page from Egypt wrote about how she was warned as a child never to shine her light of happiness too brightly, or it would attract the evil eye. I heard from A LOT of Catholics yesterday, who carry their own breed of guilt about contentment. And one of you asked simply: "Are you sure you're not Jewish?"
Folks, it looks like we're all in this together.
You've given me much to think about.
And my thoughts now turn to something I overheard in NYC in the days after September 11th. There was a lot of anxiety and dread floating about the city, for obvious reasons, but I had one friend who remained stubbornly cheerful and determinedly fearless through it all, even when everyone else was having anxiety attacks about getting on the subway, or hoarding canned food, or creating apocalyptic plans for escaping town if necessary.
My cheerful friend was talking to one of my most anxious friends, who asked, "How can you be so calm when we could be attacked again at any moment?"
My cheerful friend replied, "Because I refuse to lead a panic-driven life, and we are not under attack right now."
My anxious friend said, "But how will you behave if we DO come under attack?"
And my cheerful friend replied: "With dignity, hopefully."
I think this is such an elegant way to address the concept of our shadiest and darkest fears of the future. For it does seem that we keep our happiness in check at times because of some notion that disaster could strike at any moment. (Don't get too comfortable in your happiness, kiddo — BECAUSE THE END OF DAYS IS COMING!) Well, indeed, disaster CAN strike at any moment. It is naive to think that nothing bad can ever happen to us, of course. But instead of waiting in anxiety for that horrible day to arrive, why not resolve that WHEN/IF disaster does strike, we will face it with dignity — only when the time comes, and not a moment before. And until then, we will be resolutely cheerful and grateful for whatever we've got right now.
If you trust in your own ability to manifest a dignified response to any future eventuality, does it make it easier to live happily today?
What do you guys think?
And thank you for such thoughtful conversation, everyone. I have really come to love these exchanges…
Y'all's really smart.