“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. 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.