Monday, September 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Happiness is Contagious

In this weekend's New York Times Magazine there is an article about the contagious nature of happiness. I've been thinking a lot about the connection between the mind and the body lately, how easily our emotions manifest into physical conditions. I usually think about this in the negative sense, most often considering the effects of stress on the body. The article in the NYT Magazine points out that good conditions like physical fitness and happiness are contagious, too. You want to be happier and healthier, hang out with happy, healthy people. You're still going to have to do some work, though it certainly makes the work easier if you have some inspiration around.

Some of my friends and co-workers are a bit shocked to see that a week after I lost my apartment and a good amount of my belongings that I'm walking around grinning. Today, one co-worker commented to me that if this happened to him he'd be "in the fetal position in a corner crying his eyes out." I never got there. I was a little shocked, a little worn out, and tired. For a few minutes I was really angry at the woman who set the building on fire. And when I said out loud how mad I was at her, I immediately felt terrible. I still feel a little terrible for that moment of anger.

On a couple of occasions, I've found myself bursting into tears for the past week. For one moment, I'd become overwhelmed by the thought of what could have happened if I'd waited a few seconds longer to get out of the building, or if I hadn't heard the kitchen floor crackling, or if I'd still been in the shower. It sends a shiver down my spine. And then I take a deep breathe and remember that someone, somewhere was watching out for me last Saturday, keeping me safe. And I am okay. Better than okay. In one week, I put my life back together while holding it together for most of the time. How could I not be happy? My smile returns.

On a more serious note, happiness is helped along by a good sense of history and remembering your own personal triumphs as well. There are defining moments when we learn just how strong we are, where we learn our capacity to recover, where we find our smile after a long period of difficulty. That defining moment for me happened a long time ago. And while it was devastating to have it happen to me at such a young age, in many ways I am grateful for it. It's helped me weather many storms since; it most certainly made the loss from the fire last week far easier than it would have been otherwise.

It's a funny thing about happiness - it so often occurs right alongside great unhappiness and has little to do with the actual events. In many cases we have the opportunity to choose happiness or sadness, we get the chance over and over to decide how we will react to a situation and what we will take away from it. We're always so much better off choosing happiness, and so are the people around us.

No comments: