Less Miserables

The change machine at Safeway spit out a Tennessee quarter, guitar-side up, and I considered it a sign: I should play my guitar! I consider everything a sign these days: the sale of a photo, the rejection of a proposal, an un-stolen iPhone left in an unlocked car with all the windows down.

But I’ve changed how I deal with the signs. Last year, the rejection of a proposal meant giving up writing altogether. The sale of a photo meant something else would go wrong. An item of value left in my car overnight would not have signified my incredible luck but my overwhelming carelessness. Eh, I say now. Mistakes happen. But maybe I should buy a lottery ticket!

Is this really the result of a simple attitude adjustment?

A year ago at this time, I might have told you it was impossible. I might have argued with you the way I argued with my mother, who has, for years, told me to smile and pretend, because there’s a chance it could rub off. But she was right.

I’m not saying you can become happy—or even that you should. Who said happiness was a normal state? Some of us are not cut from cheerful cloth. But we don’t have to be miserable. At least we can be less miserable.

When I didn’t believe in it, I thought those smilers looked like morons. In truth, I was a little resentful: what did they have that I didn’t? Probably a song in their heads or the memory of that grove of iridescent grackles or a picture of their kids playing saxophone along with Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.”

The famous and handsome author/filmmaker Michael Kimball (Dear Everybody, I Will Smash You) and I discussed happiness at lunch one afternoon. He told me that smiling has been proven to release endorphins that cause you to actually feel happier.

So I’m sitting here now, smiling, on a gray day. Did you catch that? I spelled gray without an e; the latter seems so much more moody and dismal that I rarely feel compelled to use it anymore, even to describe those annoying squiggly wires coming out of my head en masse. I’m sitting here composing, writing, typing, with a smile on my face. Do I look like a moron? Maybe, but I’m a moron whose daughter rocks, who is writing in the face of rejection, who is listening to “Us and Them” on her un-stolen iPhone. I am a @#%&*! smiler who has a shiny Tennessee quarter in her pocket, a smiler who is about to play her guitar and sing.

What will you smile about right now?

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  1. patrick April 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    If you were a practicing Catholic, your grey hair would come out at mass.

  2. Kim Hosey April 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    An item of value left in my car overnight would not have signified my incredible luck but my overwhelming carelessness. — My husband and I had a HUGE, ridiculous fight about my overwhelming carelessness the other day, because of this very issue. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who leaves things in the car. Sometimes the house is so disorganized it almost feels like a safer place to leave things. But mostly I'm an idiot.

    I've been uncharacteristically down lately, so thanks. You're totally right. I like the happy you. And I have about a million things to smile about, really.

  3. Leslie F. Miller April 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    I won't say I never get down. Last night, I took a look at my finances, and I got upset with myself for making stupid decisions and continuing to make them. Normally, I'd be awake all night, playing it over. But I resolved to change something right away, take care of something else in the morning, and move on. I'm taking it seriously. In fact, I said to myself that I needed to make a conscientious effort to encourage work to come my way. Guess what?! When I woke up, I had an email from an old friend asking me to shoot her portrait.

    It's not about thinking you have a million things to smile about. Then you only resent yourself more for being down in the face of that. It's about seeing the good things ahead of you. See them. Make them happen.

  4. Kim Hosey April 13, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Yeah, OK. I see that.

    Sending pitches now.

  5. Gail Dragon April 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Well, this made me smile.

  6. kinnicchick.com April 13, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    This totally made me smile. YOU make me smile all of the time on FB and flickr. And today? The fact that my husband is still alive makes me smile HUGE.

  7. Aunt Teena April 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

    I smiled when you talked about the spelling of grey (I usually use the e, and at the way you used it to describe your hair.

    I love Patrick's comment. That made me smile.

    Other than that, I don't do much smiling these days. I can try the smiling to trick my brain into thinking it's happy. But I probably won't.

  8. Leslie F. Miller April 13, 2010 at 10:55 pm #

    Thanks, ladies. Keri, I'm thinking of you.

    Teena, nothing will work if you don't want it to work. It's about more than smiling, though. I am SURE that if I tell myself I suck over and over again, I will believe it, because I did. And then I did suck, too. I stopped doing anything. I told myself I was fat and unattractive and old. I got older, fatter, and worse looking. So what is the harm in standing in front of the mirror saying positive things, pointing out the things that are still good about my looks—my hair, my–uh, my, uh. My hair! It's fabulous. If I pull it this way, it even covers my mole! Yes!

    And then the hair looks even better and the face follows it.

    I was tired of living in the negative. And I think it's possible for nearly everyone to stop living there. I think it's even possible if you don't want to but you follow the steps. If you get the letter from the universe, and you think it's stupid, but you read it every day, some of that is bound to rub off.

  9. kelly April 14, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    yeah, I do think your attitude can change your mood. I also think that sometimes it's beyond our ability to simply change our attitude. sometimes the depression is like a whirlpool sucking us down. If we're at the edge, we can escape… if we're in the middle, sometimes we aren't powerful enough to fight the pull. But by all means, swim when you can swim?

    what makes me happy right now? my scilla blooming. I'm about to go post a picture of the buds, which might just be more beautiful than the flowers. I love spring and I love not having to wear a coat outside. I love feeling the sunshine on my face.

  10. jo(e) April 15, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    This post made me smile.

  11. MOLLYC April 30, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    I am smiling because I just had a Jello sugar free chocolate pudding with Cool Whip, which as far as I am concerned, should win some sort of Nobel prize for delishness. Love your blog

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