Cheerful vs happy

“I’m not happy. I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them.”  Beverly Sills, American opera singer.

I saw this quote recently and was immediately charmed. By this definition of happiness, could anyone really claim that state? Is there really anyone who has no cares at all? Not in my experience. But I know many people who regularly demonstrate grace under fire, grace under pressure, grace in the face of real life struggles. To some degree, life is all about perspective. If things are generally good, even a small disappointment can take on greater significance. A flat tire or lost cell phone can feel like a small tragedy. I have to acknowledge that most of my life has been blessed with health, children, friends, relationships, love…the kind of life that is easy to take for granted because it is stable.

I am increasingly aware that no life is simple, that even the people around us who look whole and happy have their cares, their own quiet battles. No one escapes some form of life challenge. Sometimes the issues are of our own making, sometimes not. Sometimes the stress is personal, sometimes it is from the heartache of watching a family member or friend struggle, and only being able to stand by and watch.

So what is the answer? Even in times of stress and heartache, life  goes on. How is that possible? It’s difficult to rise above grief, above loss, above pain. But the attempt to be cheerful is important. Is this just the “fake it till you make it” attitude? I think this is different. I think the message from this quote is that we acknowledge our troubles, we confront them, we choose life. We continue to embrace life. We look for the good to offset the bad.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being the proverbial ostrich, burying my head in the sand. And anyone who know me knows that I never seek confrontation with others. But I see a subtle difference here. When I have difficulty in my life, my confrontation is less with someone than with the issue itself. What can I do to make a difference? How can I overcome? After all, I can’t change another person, I can only change myself. I can only choose for myself. I can only be cheerful for myself.

I choose cheerfulness. I am not always able to claim happiness. But I can breathe deeply, I can focus on the good in my life, I can enjoy the comforts of the day: now in early December, a warm fire, a cup of hot coffee, twinkling lights, an early Christmas card from a friend. I choose to be a light in the darkness. Doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with this at times: of course I do. But with the help of faith in the power of God, faith in the power of good, faith in the power of hope, I will be cheerful. I will overcome.

It is a very empowering place to be. I’m liking the view from this vantage point.

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