“No duty is so underrated as the duty to be happy.” -my mom’s fridge
Can you imagine waking up every morning happy?
I will tell you, the only mornings I wake up happy are Saturdays. These are the only days that I wake up to a pure, unadulterated weekend, full of unsquandered potential. Even Sundays are a letdown because the work week looms over my day like a tasteless Halloween decoration hovering in somebody’s front yard.
My gloomy mindset didn’t come about overnight. It resulted from a habit of looking at life as a gradual series of losses. I think this way, cataloguing successively the loss of my childhood, the loss of simple pleasures, the loss of family to work and school, the loss of moments to memories. And more practically: lost social opportunities, missed expectations, lost connections and jobs. Why do I do this? I could think in gains instead. But the thread running through each of these attitudes is an unquenched thirst for perfection in the everyday.
Such restlessness in imperfection is natural for us. Most people aren’t satisfied and feel uncomfortable in a temporal world, and that’s fine. It’s the little bit of the divine in us, the part that is not destined for this life but the next, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. But contrast my experience with my husband’s. He recently stopped greeting people on Monday mornings because his cheerfulness bothered people at his workplace. I can’t blame his coworkers: most people don’t appreciate a hearty “Today is going to be GREAT!” in response to their sleepy “How are you?” on a Monday morning.
What’s wrong with Dalton?
But actually, I should ask, what’s wrong with all of us?
I think most of us know someone like Dalton. A person who is doggedly happy almost every day, or at least chipper anytime the mood is grim. When we aren’t rolling our eyes, we should ask ourselves why we resent that person. Chances are we assume they have something we don’t. We believe that we too would be happy if the circumstances were right. But happiness, like love, cannot not just happen to us. We must choose it, must live it, for it to become our experience.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that “joy is the net of love by which we catch souls.” We cannot expect others to love the Lord, or even to believe us when we say we have faith, if we refuse to be happy.
Let’s face it: it is easier to feel bitter, nostalgic, anxious, calculating, or anything other than just plain happy. Happiness is extremely difficult. It is so simple an emotion that if we’re not careful our cluttered and restless hearts overlook it. Incidentally, I’m certain that this is why we reflect on childhood as “the good old days” with the built-in assumption that things were better back then, when we actually just had fewer expectations, and therefore more room to be pleased. Thus, for adults, happiness is a duty. Mother Teresa didn’t just speak about the power of joy. She lived it herself, combating nearly fifty years of inner desolation with an outward happiness so convincing that even her closest friends were incredulous when they learned of her soul’s long, dark night. She understood that her attitude had the power to convert others, or to alienate them from Christianity. Happiness was her duty.
The next time Monday morning rolls around and Dalton bounces out of bed as chipper as can be, I’m going to think of Mother Teresa. My attitude doesn’t affect me alone. “No duty is so underrated as the duty to be happy.”