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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Decide to be Happy**

Smilin' Al Lovin' the Sun

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

*Chicago Tribune
July 8, 2011
as "Worry, yes; but try to be happy"
*Somerset, PA Daily American
July 9, 2011
as "Worry, yes; but try to be happy"

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” --Abraham Lincoln.

It was a beautiful day. The sun bright in a clear blue sky, the breeze was soft and almost warm. The hillsides lushly alive with trees and flowers from which came the delightful chorus of birdsong.

I took the occasion to leave the office and take a stroll around downtown.  It was one of those days where the world seemed to rise up and dance in the sunlight. I dusted the attic of my mind, pushing aside the darksome worries that seem to be so much a part of our modern lives.  People were full of smiles and laughter. Friends were talking animatedly, and even complete strangers exchanged warm greetings. I stopped several times to speak to friends, our conversations light and joyful. We talked of many things, but mostly we reveled in the joy of being alive. 

One friend said, “You know, I feel so much better today than last night. I watched the news for a while, but everything was so negative that I finally turned it off.”  She paused for a moment, as a brief shadow dimmed her features. “I know the news needs to be reported, but why can’t we hear about the good stuff more often?”

Good Question.

Everyone’s heard the oft-spoken stone cold criteria for news: “If it bleeds, it leads.”  In these times especially, the media has a responsibility to bring to our attention the information we need to have, and with the economy teetering on the very brink, and yet another war to think about, most of that news tends to be bad.   

I watch WJAC-TV news most often, since channels 10 and 23 tend to be more Altoona- and State College-centric. To be fair, on a typical newscast, they do make the effort to bring several stories that involve news that is good, even uplifting.  But they only have 22 minutes in which to squeeze news, weather, and sports, so some things just can’t get covered.  Actually, when I look at the condition of the world, I think they do an admirable job bringing a fair balance of both the good and bad.

The interesting thing is that, despite our protests to the contrary, we are naturally drawn to bad news. Nobody takes the time along the road to drink in the beauty of Mountain Laurel in the spring, but come across a car accident and everyone wants to stop and stare. During election seasons, we are bombarded with political ads that seem to verge on slander.  While everyone decries that negativity, study after study done by political scientists proves that those are the only ads that stick with us. Even our own conversations reveal this fascination. Good news, accomplishments, and successes get a brief mention, but gossip about the scandalous, the disreputable, and the morally repugnant lasts for hours, if not days.

Lately, there seems to be nothing but bad news. The economy, war, rumors of war, corruption and greed, and the steady parade of accounts of humanity’s inhumanity to each other parade through our minds like the big electronic news ticker in Times Square. That constant barrage of negativism can make us cynical and sad.  But hidden under that pile are a few gems; examples of people exercising generosity and compassion.  Even with all the hate, anger and sadness, there is still good news to be found.

Every day, in our own lives, we encounter someone who does a kind act, or someone, even a complete stranger, whose unsolicited compassion lifts our day. Nothing prevents us from sharing those incidents.  In fact, we should make the effort to spread that good news as far and wide as possible. Yes, we can even write letters to the editor that aren’t filled with anger, judgment and vindictiveness.

So, try this. When you see a kind act, write it up and email or snail-mail it to the paper. In the subject line, call it “Today’s Kindness,” or something similar. It may be only a few words, but that’s where ideas begin, and where attitudes can start to change.  And maybe, just maybe reading those snippets will help to counter-balance the perception we all seem to share that our civilization is circling the drain.

To decide to be happy is to decide to live life richly. Let’s share the wealth, shall we?
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