When it comes to happy thoughts, perspective is everything.
For many people, rain is a sad, dreary experience. But not for me. I love the rain, it reminds me of Florida where I grew up looking forward to hurricane season and the chance of school being canceled. And where mid-summer night thunderstorms rocked me to sleep and lit the night sky so every now and then I could see the lake in the backyard rippling with new, invigorated life borrowed from each falling drop of rain. So nothing but happy thoughts.
Back then it was easy to hold onto that perspective. I was an only child, so my dog was the only other person I had to convince to believe thunder and lightening were not so bad. I never convinced him, but he also never tried convincing me otherwise (except by huddling in extra close when it thundered). People are not as considerate.
When I got to college my living situation changed dramatically. Where before I lived practically alone, I was now surrounded by people with vocal convictions and opinions. My happy thoughts immediately bestowed me the label of an optimist and it seemed like every person I met saw rain as a dreadful fact of life — a horrid side effect right up there with flu, trips to the dentist, and having your ears pop when you reach altitude.
For one year I resisted their influence. I continued living as I had always lived, a secluded monk-like guy who listened to strange music, liked to talk about the prospects of immortality, and couldn’t be bothered to check or wear what was still fashionable during the last decade. Eventually, however, I cracked.
A lot of the changes were for the better. I became less secluded and started going out more often. I refined my outlook and became open to new music, a bit of style, and even took a deeper look into spirituality and alternatives to religion. In this aspect, I found my enjoyment in life go up and I looked forward to even greater change. But not all change is good.
Because I was changing into something I was not, and because the transformation is rarely ever instantaneous, during my second and third year in college I was in an awkward limbo where I was stuck in between identities. I saw myself in the mirror and was not happy with the person who looked back.
There was emptiness in my eyes, as if the joy of life had been sucked out. The smile that I once wore proudly seemed an illusion. Ironically, it was late at night (and often when under the influence) when I noticed my transformation the most. It was as if I was yanked out of my body and held up on display for my own amusement. Stretch out, I saw myself for what I had become: someone who had given up who he was in pursuit of something he never wanted.
I never wanted to be the cool guy, the Mr. Popular, the brainiac, or anything else that could be thrown into one of the stereotypes, but those are all still infinitely better than what I had become: a fake.
By senior year I was angry with myself. I refused to go out as much, I cut back on drinking, and began funneling myself away from those I felt were negative influences. It wasn’t an easy journey and I’ve made many mistakes along the way. Although I am still far from being the person I was back when I eagerly awaited for hurricanes, I’m finally starting to notice a difference. My happy thoughts are back.
And don’t for a second dismiss the value of happy thoughts, they make all the difference in the world. On the bus ride back from New York last weekend, I sat next to a new mother and her baby. The mother was a huge Disney fan and we had lots of stories to share (I practically grew up in Disney World). When I mentioned I had worked at Disney once, she immediately asked me how was it that all of the employees at Disney are always so friendly. I thought about it, then realized the entire theme park was one massive happy thought.
Then came her next question.
“So, what about Mickey Mouse. Who is under there?”
I simply smiled and shook my head.
She laughed, “Still don’t talk about that, even after all these years?”
Here I was, miles and years away from Walt Disney World and somehow still felt their influence. That’s the power of happy thoughts.