Hume, the historian, never said anything truer than–“To be happy, the person must be cheerful and gay, not gloomy and melancholy. A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow, real poverty.”
Dr. Johnson once remarked with his point and pith that the custom of looking on the bright side of every event was better than having a thousand pounds a year income. But Hume rated the value in dollars and cents of cheerfulness still higher. He said he would rather have a cheerful disposition always inclined to look on the bright side of things than to be master of an estate with 10,000 pounds a year.
“We have not fulfilled every duty, unless we have fulfilled that of being pleasant.”
“If a word or two will render a man happy,” said a Frenchman, “he must be a wretch indeed, who will not give it. It is like lighting another man’s candle with your own, which loses none of its brilliancy by what the other gains.”
The sensible young man, in theory at least, chooses for his wife one who will be able to keep his house, to be the mother of sturdy children, one who will of all things meet life’s experiences with a sweet temper. It is impossible to imagine a pleasant home with a cross wife, mother or sister, as its presiding genius. And it is a rule, with exceptions, that good appetite and sound sleep induce amiability. If, with these advantages, a girl or woman, boy or man, is still snappish or surly, why it must be due to her or his total depravity.
Some things she should not do; she shouldn’t dose herself, or study up her case, or plunge suddenly into vigorous exercise. Moderation is a safe rule to begin with, and, indeed, to keep on with–moderation in study, in work, in exercise, in everything except fresh air, good, simple food, and sleep. Few people have too much of these. The average girl at home can find no more sanitary gymnastics than in doing part of the lighter housework. This sort of exercise has object, and interest, and use, which raises it above mere drill. Add to this a merry romp with younger brothers and sisters, a brisk daily walk, the use for a few moments twice a day of dumb bells in a cool, airy room, and it is safe to predict a steady advance toward that ideal state of being in which we forget our bodies and just enjoy ourselves.
“It is not work that kills men,” says Beecher; “it is worry. Work is healthy; you can hardly put more on a man than he can bear. But worry is rust upon the blade. It is not movement that destroys the machinery, but friction.”
Helen Hunt says there is one sin which seems to be everywhere, and by everybody is underestimated and quite too much overlooked in valuations of character. It is the sin of fretting. It is as common as air, as speech; so common that unless it rises above its usual monotone we do not even observe it. Watch any ordinary coming together of people, and we see how many minutes it will be before somebody frets–that is, makes more or less complaint of something or other, which probably every one in the room, or car, or on the street corner knew before, and which most probably nobody can help. Why say anything about it? It is cold, it is hot, it is wet, it is dry, somebody has broken an appointment, ill-cooked a meal; stupidity or bad faith somewhere has resulted in discomfort. There are plenty of things to fret about. It is simply astonishing, how much annoyance and discomfort may be found in the course of every-day living, even of the simplest, if one only keeps a sharp eye out on that side of things. Some people seem to be always hunting for deformities, discords and shadows, instead of beauty, harmony and light. We are born to trouble, as sparks fly upward. But even to the sparks flying upward, in the blackest of smoke, there is a blue sky above, and the less time they waste on the road, the sooner they will reach it. Fretting is all time wasted on the road.
About two things we should never fret, that which we cannot help, and that which we can help. Better find one of your own faults than ten of your neighbor’s.
It is not the troubles of to-day, but those of to-morrow and next week and next year, that whiten our heads and wrinkle our faces.
“Every man we meet looks as if he’d gone out to borrow trouble, with plenty of it on hand,” said a French lady driving in New York.
The pendulum of a certain clock began to calculate how often it would have to swing backward and forward in the week and in the month to come; then looking further into the future, it made a calculation for a year, etc. The pendulum got frightened and stopped. Do one day’s work at a time. Do not worry about the trouble of to-morrow. Most of the trouble in life is borrowed trouble, which never actually comes.
“As all healthy action, physical, intellectual and moral, depends primarily on cheerfulness,” says E. P. Whipple, “and as every duty, whether it be to follow a plow or to die at the stake, should be done in a cheerful spirit, the exploration of the sources and conditions of this most vigorous, exhilarating and creative of the virtues may be as useful as the exposition of any topic of science or system of prudential art.”