There are two ways to read this quote.
Lincoln might be telling us to “accentuate the positive.” That managing our emotions and deciding to be happy will make us feel happy. In which case, this quote is kind of ironic, given that poor Abe struggled with depression. Seems like there’s a little self-loathing mixed into the words.
“Don’t get trouble in your mind” is the cheery refrain of a bluegrass chestnut, performed in the video below by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
I’d never heard the song until a friend posted this video on Facebook the other day, and it just hit me in a sweet spot. Since then, it’s been an earworm.
But unlike most earworms, this one could prove useful.
I’m not one to quote chapter and verse often (ever), but this tidbit is too wise to ignore.
I am taking it entirely out of context here so if you want to tell me where it fits into Scripture, please feel free.
But aside from all that—yes, yes, yes.
And I’m not talking about that tangled web we weave when we lie to other people. That’s a whole other mess. I’m talking about the lies we tell ourselves—the most powerful, potent, and difficult to address lies.
Lies like, “I’m happy.”
Or, “I have a great job that I love.”
Or, “If I had a different relationship, I would be happy.”
Or, “If I do things this way, I can keep everyone happy.”
Or, “I’m OK as long as you’re OK.”
Lies, lies, lies.
This is the title of a self-help classic I read in 1987, when it first came out. I don’t remember much about the book, but the title stuck with me because it’s such a useful concept.
Now I’m reading a helpful book called The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher G. Germer that, at least what I’ve read so far, puts a yoga-esque, Buddhist-ish, new millennium-like spin on a similar concept.
The gist of both books is to feel what you feel. You can’t run or hide from emotions and so you might as well just have them. Accept them. Let them course through your body. And don’t hate them. Emotions aren’t bad or good. They just are. They might be comfortable and uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable never killed anyone.
I’ve never read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and probably even mocked it back in the day, when it came out. It just sounded so silly. But here is a very wise quote from its author. Of course. Doesn’t everyone know the feeling of being lonely in a crowd? (Does everyone? Or is this more of an introvert thing?) You needn’t be alone to be lonely.
Intimacy is the opposite of loneliness, I get that. But that takes me only halfway to enlightenment. The trouble is, I can’t put my finger on what intimacy is. It’s one of those words that I understand on a cellular level, but struggle to define.
Nice to hear the secret of life boiled down to crap, eh?
I don’t know the quote’s context except that it came from a book called The Importance of Living. And according to one review of the book, “Lin Yutang’s ideal is the ‘scamp’ – an amiable loafer who wanders through life, learning, loving, living. ”
And sure, I can see this as a credo for that sort of carefree fellow. Actually, I think Dean Martin has said something similar. And he was nothing if not a scamp.
It’s refreshing attitude. So simple. So free from angst and navel gazing and rumination. Happiness is a warm..never mind.
Similarly, a therapist once said to me, “Misery is a great motivator.”
And JK Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Yep. There’s little more effective for lifting you out of misery than misery itself.
When things are so friggin’ awful that you can’t imagine them getting any more awful, doing things that were unimaginable suddenly seem imaginable.
Change is so difficult, you gotta really, really, really want it. Or have it forced on you. And when life sucks so bad that getting out of bed requires monumental effort, change is being forced on you. That kind of despair is powerful stuff—powerful enough to make you drag yourself up and stumble forward.*
Besides, sometimes thinking about things staying the same is scarier than thinking about them changing.
Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122 years, 164 days. I haven’t found the original source for this oft-quoted quote, though one website claims she said it about living to be 120.
Whether or not living Calment’s way can help us live to an overripe old age, this quote makes me happy.
“I took pleasure when I could.” That’s easy enough. You look for it, embrace it, and enjoy it when it is available to you. Life is difficult, so don’t ever run from pleasure if you don’t have to. Things are bound to suck again, soon enough.
But the rest of the quote intrigues me more. Clearly, morally, and without regret. These seem such fine words for a life well-lived, so simple and unfussy. They are like cold, crisp, clean water.
But what do they mean, really?
This is a curious quote, and certainly counter to common wisdom, which tells us that connections and community are the road to bliss while solitude and silence lead to serial killing.
Of course, I’m being facetious. As an introvert, I’m all for staying quietly in one’s room, and I find solitude not only pleasant, but necessary. Staying quietly in my room is easy. But has that inoculated me from unhappiness? Of course not.
Granted, Pascal is not saying that solitude prevents unhappiness, only that the inability to be alone is the cause of unhappiness. And not just a cause, the sole cause.
That’s big talk. I don’t buy it.
Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. — Kurt Vonnegut.
Ah yes, the little white lie. I’m all for it. You’re haircut looks great! The party was a blast! No, I don’t mind doing you a favor at all!
Life is indeed nicer with harmless untruths like those.
But this quote also makes an argument for what I think of as benign denial.
I grew up in a family mired in unhealthy denial, which convinced me that denial must be avoided at all costs. Denial can be a terrible problem. It keeps people in unhealthy relationships, reassures them that lung cancer only happens to other people, causes financial ruin, and all kinds of other bad things.
But there are other kinds of denial that are no big deal.