Saturday, January 2, 2010

Put on a cheerful face

I am not sure if it still exists, but I remember for some time, the fashion trend among teenagers was the “gangster look”. People walked around in baggy jeans, oversized t-shirts, and baseball caps. On their faces, they always wore an expression of toughness that seemed to say “You better not mess with me.”

Even though it was just part of the fashion statement that young people were trying to make to their peers, I can’t help but think that trying to look tough on the outside will eventually make you become tough on the inside as well. If you concentrate on making yourself look like you’re going to smash someone’s face in if they looked at you the wrong way, you won’t have a whole lot of time left to think about being a nice and cheerful person to people around you.

The reality is that many people walk around with angry or unpleasant looks on their faces even though it has nothing to do with making a fashion statement. Many people do not feel happy in their lives or do not know how to be joyful with what they have. Many people intentionally or unintentionally make themselves into uncheerful people that are unpleasant to themselves as well as to people around them.

Charles Evans Hughes, who was chief justice of the United States Supreme Court once said, “A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company.” One of the ways we turn ourselves into good company, not only to people around us, but also to ourselves is by being a cheerful person. Cheerfulness is not like when you do not have a good grasp of reality and become ditzy and everything is “Like omigod, how cool!” But cheerfulness is an attitude in which we reflect the joy we feel inside at all the good things that we have in life.

There are many aspects of our lives in which should make us feel joyful, but this isn’t happening because we are not aware of these good things. Sometimes, we even mistake a good thing for being a bad thing.

Let’s take the case of being stuck in traffic when we are driving on the highway. To most of us, this is really terrible, especially when we have some important place to go. But think again and we’ll find that we should be cheerful even when stuck in traffic because it means that we actually can afford to have a car in order to drive around, unlike many others in the world where even finding money for a bicycle is not possible.

Or let’s think about when we are stuck on a difficult math problem. We might be really angry at the teacher for assigning us so much homework, especially with math problems that are impossible to solve. Yet, if we think again, we’ll see that even now, we should be cheerful because being stuck on a homework problem means that we have opportunity to go to school and learn many things that are important to finding success in the future. In this world, there are millions and millions of young people who would love to be able to sit at a desk listening to the teacher explain lessons but cannot because they have to go out to find a job to make money for their family or for their own lives.

Despite the fact that our lives are full of occasions for joy and cheerfulness, many of us choose to go for the tough look every time we step out of the house. We look tough so that other people will afraid of us. We look tough so we don’t have to smile at the beautiful things that appear in front of our eyes. We look tough so we don’t have to show gratitude at all the blessings that have been bestowed on us by God, who is the most cheerful Being in the universe. According to American philosopher Dallas Willard, “We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.”

Since God is joyful, God always wants each of us to be joyful. In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself prayed for our joy (John 15:11;16:16-24; 17:13). And Jesus wants to make it easy and joyful for each of us to come to him. As he assured us, “My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30)

Lastly, we must remember that to be cheerful and joyful is a decision that we make ourselves. It is not a result of something that happens to us. Just as we can make a choice to be angry and resentful, we can make a choice to be cheerful. The way to make that decision is by looking at our lives for signs of God’s presence. God’s presence is not only detected in the good things, but oftentimes, also in the hardships and difficulties. In fact, we are even more likely to find that God is walking with us in times of pain and suffering than in the good times. As a result, no matter in what state we are in, if we want to feel God’s presence and support in our lives, we will be able to feel joy.

Life is difficult and sometimes painful. In our modern society, there are many things that we can use to justify why we walk around looking angry all the time. Yet, it does not have to be this way. We can all be cheerful and joyful, if that’s how we want to feel!

Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come.
- Chinese proverb

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