“How the hell do you stay so optimistic?”

When a comment like that hits you from out of left field, it takes a few minutes to get your bearings.

“Damn, I didn’t realize I was.”

I’ve always pictured myself as having a somewhat pissy attitude. I tend to become irritated at the smallest things, something I’ve always known about myself and never liked. Since I’m still recovering from years of abusive Catholic guilt, I suppose my awareness of it has me constantly checking myself to be sure I’m not offending anyone. Who wants to be around someone in a constant sour mood? I certainly don’t.

Maybe it’s not optimism people notice in me but rather an overcompensation for my guilt at being a jerk and then masking the behavior before anyone notices. Jesus, whose brain works that fast just to not be noticed?

Damned Catholic school.

My mother’s experience with the nuns back in the 1930’s and 40’s was idyllic so it’s understandable that she would want the same for her children.

My father was exceedingly good at his job and every couple of years was promoted and transferred so we moved a lot. We never had money but my parents worked extra hard to provide the best they could manage and always scraped together money to make sure my five sisters, two brothers and I had a superior education.Β  We went to Catholic school.

Or rather they went — I did time.

I’m not saying all Catholic schools are bad — just the five I went to.

I can only blame so much of my angst on school though. When I was 22 and out on my own, I was complaining, as always, to a dear friend about the fact that I was so bad with money, always bouncing checks, because my parents never taught me how to balance a checkbook. My friend, Skip, told me I was an idiot.

“If they didn’t provide you a skill you need, okay, maybe they’re at fault a little. But once you realize you’re deficient in that skill and you take no action to change that situation then your parents are no longer guilty of that sin. You are the only one responsible for your own shortcomings. So shut the hell up and quit blaming them.”

Boy, I sure got told. He said it with love of course. But the truth really stings when you’re left with no recourse other than to admit, “Yup. I’m an idiot.”

I’m still not that great with finances. But I know now it’s not my parent’s fault.

If you don’t like your experience, it’s up to you to change it. So I insinuated myself into the company of people whom I most admired. Those I wanted to be like.

Nice people. Good people. People who don’t hit you. People who don’t spend their resources recklessly.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard lately is that, to be happy, don’t spend your money on things — spend it on experiences. They enrich the soul.

I firmly believe we are all a product of our experience. If you want to be rich, hang out with rich folks. If you want to be funny, hang out with comedians. If you want to be a writer, spend time with other writers. And if you want to be happy, seek out the pleasant folks who aren’t so busy trying to be rich or funny.

One day eight years ago my wife, in a hail of tears, stated it was unfair that I seemed happy when she was so miserable. And her misery was my fault because it was my job to make her happy and I wasn’t doing my job.

You must understand that I’m a pleaser. I derive great enjoyment from doing for others and putting them at ease. It’s my fun in life. But this was the first time anyone ever told me that it was my job.

I don’t care at all for confrontation but I told her, “Sweetheart, it’s not my job or anyone’s job to make you happy. You are the only person in this world who can make you happy. It’s a conscious choice. It isn’t visited on you like a gift or something you can find. You must decide to be happy, despite all the anger and misery. If you don’t know how to do that for yourself, then I can’t help you.”

I’d never talked to her like that before. I stood up for myself. It was one of the best days of my life.

Also one of the very worst. Six weeks later we were divorced.

I suppose I internalize my frustrations too much. I was raised to put on a good front. And for the most part, I guess I end up buying into the act. I choose happiness. Which means I simply focus on good things, hang out with good people, read good books and listen to good music.

I don’t watch things like reality TV — watching angry people verbally bitch-slap their fellow man on national television is not my idea of entertainment. And it certainly makes me anything but happy.

So yeah, it’s an effort to choose to be happy. But given the alternatives, I will always find it worth the effort.

I guess I can see how people think of me as optimistic. We all get pissy now and then. But if you want something bad enough, like happiness, you create an environment within which a happy attitude is likely to grow.

Okay. Today I’m an optimist.

Now to make it come true.





21 thoughts on “Outlook

  1. Michael, thank-you, very personal and difficult topics contained within your Outlook. I enjoyed most, how no one is held responsible for someone else’s happiness. It’s not a duty to make people happy but rather a duty to make oneself happy.

    Divorce, catholic church, I think.. how great and strong of you to first listen to your heart, then have the strength to follow through. I was married to a man with a large catholic family, where it became my duty to make him happy.. I believed otherwise. At that moment I knew I’d rather live a life showing my daughter a happy mother with herself, then a mother lost and settling to just be together, making someone else happy. The payoff of losing myself was too great and the risk of not showing my daughter how to follow her heart was scary.. what example was I going to create as a mother if I stayed… would I too teach her how NOT to create happiness for herself?

    I have been married again which I like to say partnership or understanding and have 4 more beautiful children. Sorry for my long comment back.. really thought I was going to restrain myself… ..then your lovely Outlook came along.

    Very happy you visited a post of mine in May.. wish I came over sooner. Sometimes hard to always be optimistic, but when I think back about my outlook in a time of adversity, I gain strength from myself, and my optimism turns, with a choice that was forgotten.

    Thank-you for speaking on meaningful topics not often touched upon, and so well!!
    I wish you a great day. Happy to reading.. following.
    Tara πŸ™‚

  2. As I get older, I try to channel my energy into having a positive outlook. This sometimes means I have to explain to friends and family that I cannot deal with their negative vibes.

  3. I always find your post interesting.. But this one is optimistic.. I have loved it.. The line where you say ‘…to be happy, don’t spend you money on things β€” spend it on experiences. They enrich the soul.’. What a wonderful thought it is. I was disheartened to hear about your divorce but then again standing up for yourself is a big thing.
    Being happy is such a tough task these days , for we lack the skill of defining happiness. Yet again cheers to optimism and keep up the good work.

    – Your fellow A to Zer
    Visit my post at http://precari0us.wordpress.com/

    • Dear Precari0ous,

      Your kindness and encouragement elevate me. Really. I’m several inches off the ground as I write this. You are an ideal example of my assertion that I need to surround myself with good people. Thank you for reading. Cheers.

  4. Thanks for sharing yourself. You are a quite compelling character, certainly your ex-wife’s loss on so many levels. I am glad you rebounded so well, which seems clear from your outlook, yes? Someone once said that it takes an equal amount of energy to have a bad attitude or a good attitude; it’s your choice. Another excellent post. God bless, Maria Delight Directed Living

    • Thank you, Maria. You’re very sweet. Yes, equal amounts of energy expended for good and bad attitudes is quite true. In fact I have always heard a bad mood is infectious but I believe a good mood is too. One must persist if they are to turn their mood around. Another conscious choice. Thank you for your good thoughts and observations. Cheers.

  5. I really like your take on outlook. It was a big moment when I took responsibility for my actions and stopped blaming others.
    As a side note: I had a Catholic friend who’s big epiphany at age eight was that nuns had legs. She thought they just had feet sticking out below their habits. When Sister So-and-so raised her habit to cross a mudpuddle, Jean knew the truth! Nuns have legs!

  6. The third last paragraph of this post really resonates. The concept of if you want to be happy you create an environment in which happiness is likely to grow is so true.There is no magic fix to happiness, although having a positive outlook certainly helps.

  7. “Jesus, whose brain works that fast just to not be noticed?” – Just call it getting in touch with your feminine side and you’ll be fine. πŸ™‚

    When I was a teenager I remember hearing about that glass of water and whether you see it as being half-full or half-empty. Neither really seemed to describe the way I felt about it so I decided that for me, it seemed to be half-full. Of pee. I don’t think I ever did get around to discussing that with my therapist when I was getting counselling a few years ago. I should probably do that someday.

    From another Catholic school survivor.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story with us Michael. Glad you’re an optimist today! It’s true that striving for happiness is a worthwhile aim or goal; one way of NOT getting it is by surrounding one’s self with negative people or with those who have expectations that YOU will be the one to make the light shine.
    One’s outlook or attitude is paramount. When we have down moments we have them – it doesn’t have to define us.
    I enjoyed this very much thank you!

  9. A wonderful post on outlook. You are right, we must be responsible for our own selves and choose to be happy, or sad. It is all in the outlook. πŸ™‚
    A to Z April Blogging Challenge

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