Fulton Ourselves tells of a woman guest in a hotel who went to the manager in great distress. She was obviously on the point of collapse. “Somebody in the next room has been banging on the piano the whole day”, she wailed. “If you don’t have it stopped at once, I shall collapse, and you will be responsible”.
“I wish I could help you madam,” the
manager replied. “But the pianist is rehearsing for tonight’s concert. It would
be as much as my place is worth. I dare not stop the great Paderewski”. “The
pianist is Paderewski?” The woman’s voice changed. “Oh, that’s quite
She returned to her room and began
inviting her friends to come over and listen with her. Soon Paderewski had a
rapt audience in the next room, and the woman had miraculously recovered from
her attack of nerves.
The situation had not altered.
Nothing at all had changed except the woman’s own attitude. She had acquired a
new point of view. She was looking at
the same problem from a new angle.
We all have the freedom to choose
which aspect of the experiences of life we shall contemplate, and our choice
determines whether things shall go well or ill with us. Happiness is largely an
attitude of mind, a way of facing life.
There are three degrees in the way in
which we can view life. Some people habitually look on the dark side of things. Their outlook is consistently
negative, and their attitude to life is one of gloom and despondency. They
minimize all joy and magnify and prolong every grief.
At the other extreme we have the easy
optimist, living in a world of illusion. He tries to get rid of the hard and bitter facts of
experience through shallow flippancy. He makes a farce of pretending that he
can get rid of stubborn facts by ignoring them.
A barometer may be stuck always at
“Fair” or it may be stuck at “Stormy”, but it is as useless one way or
the other.In the same way, the pessimist who looks habitually only on the dark
side, and the optimist who, through sheer sentimentality and a burlesque of
optimism, deliberately suppress the truth – both are wrong.
When Marie Antoinette came to Paris,
no ragged or starving person was allowed to appear on the street as the
procession passed. France at the time was seething with dire poverty, but the
starving populace were swept into the side – streets and could not be seen, so
that Marie Antoinette might think all were happy and prosperous. That is how
the stupidly optimistic mind works.
The mature character strikes a
balance between the two extremes. His viewpoint is broad and deep, and while he
looks at things as they are, there is nothing selective in his gaze. He is not
afraid to select facts, but he uses his
own judgment in the interpretation of the facts. Knowing that it all depends on
the way he looks at things, he accepts the truth that “There is some soul of
goodness in things evil, would men observingly distil it out”.
Challenging facts of life face us
every day. There is no escape from our inevitable encounter with bereavement,
loss, pain and disappointment.
These things happen to us. None of us is
immune from the blows of fate. What we so often forget is that the freedom of
our response to their challenge still
rests with us.
Our happiness does not
depend upon our view but upon our point of view. What then can we do to bring about such an
habitual attitude to life? To begin with, we have to realize that the
cultivation of the cheerful outlook rests largely with ourselves. These are
people who almost enjoy being miserable. They have accepted the state of
perpetual depression and make no attempt to alter their mental attitude. Marcus
Aurelius very aptly wrote: “As are the habitual thoughts , so will be the
character of the mind, for the soul is dyed in the colour of its thoughts”.
We can always direct the stream of
thought to the things that make for brightness. We can deliberately occupy our
minds with cheerful books and shun the tendency towards depression. It is one
of the essential qualities of an attractive personality that he looks at the
bright side of things; in the phrase of an older generation, “he lives on the
sunny side of the street”.
Looking on the bright side is a
healthy way of living. It has a direct influence on the nervous system. It is
impossible to overrate the importance of a cheerful outlook on life. It is of
deep psychological value, refreshing the mind and stimulating the energies. “A
joyous spirit not only relieves pain but increases the momentum of life in the
The cheerful outlook implies a brave
way of living. Most people can face high tragedy by drawing upon their latent
reserves of courage. It is the ceaseless round of little troubles that gets us
down. Even when things are apparently hopeless, the positive outlook is still
the brave way of facing up to life. “Judge a man’s courage by the hope that is
in him”, said Emerson.
Above all, the source of abiding
gladness rests in a personal religious faith. Where there is faith, we are not
afraid to face life and the challenges of things as they are.