On happiness, optimism, and my unbreakable rosy specs

“Bee, you are fascinating.  This is a very exciting case.  How have you done it?”

“Done what?”

“Dealt with it all?  Turned out so well?  Ended up here, doing what you’re doing, and being so. . . well. . . happy?”

The last time I visited a therapist, this was the conversation.  I was working on my Ph.D., and I was visiting Dr. Fascinated because I’d just had a panic attack while watching a fantastic performance (at least the part I saw) of The Vagina Monologues.  One minute, there was a woman describing sexual brutality during a war, and the next minute, I was sweating, hyperventilating, and going all butter noodle in my seat.  The people in my row were going to stop the show and get an ambulance, and I was mortified. 

Only complete mortification at the prospect of further public humiliation could have motivated me to see a therapist.  I had, after all, managed to survive, learn from, and blossom through several shitty experiences all by my clumsy little self.  The shit functioned as fertilizer, and I grew.  I grew in a direction I was happy with.  And apparently, that shrink thought I’d done a fine job (grad student+smile+sense of humor=psychologically well adjusted).  He was so impressed, in fact, that instead of talking about my panic attack issue, he begged me to return so that he could study me and write at least an article, probably an entire book.  I shit you not.

Just as people all have their own ways of eating Oreos, we all deal with the shit life throws in our general direction (or sometimes straight into our faces) differently.  Some become reactive shit throwers.  Tired of being victimized by their very own personal shit sources, they choose to become someone else’s resident shit flinger.  Others, who’ve learned to get comfortable being on the receiving end of shit, volunteer to serve as the target in many a marksman’s shit shooting practice.  I, on the other hand, opted to work my way out from under my own shit and grow above it.

Ok.  Enough shit talk.  You get the idea.

People who don’t know my stories tend to have an amusingly wrong idea of where my optimism—often understood as naïveté—comes from.  I’ve had students speculate on my high-class, private-Catholic-school-and-horse-riding-lessons style upbringing, as if my perspective and mood are a result of never having known inconvenience, much less trauma.  Colleagues have accused me of youthful folly with the idea that I hadn’t yet been properly schooled by the cruel injustices of the world (the guaranteed injustices that would one day most certainly knock me on my smiling little arse.  Yes.  I’m so happy even my arse smiles.).

Thankfully, my chosen attitude and my faith in good are not nearly so fragile as those explanations would posit.  Nope – my happiness is a survivor’s happiness.  It’s a conscientious choice to be happy, to believe that people are good, to live life with enthusiasm and vigor, and to package up the little negatives, throw an “exception” label on them, and ship ’em off to someone else who has more personal storage space than I do. 

The point is that it’s all a choice.  It has to be.  If it’s not, we’re all victims.  If it’s not, then Bruce (before he was) Almighty was right:  “God is a mean kid sitting on an anthill with a magnifying glass, and I’m the ant.”  Or a dung beetle as the case may be.

Whatever the metaphor, it doesn’t work for me.  That’s not what this is about.  That’s not what I’m about.  The only glass in my life is the unbreakable lens in my rosy specs.  Oh, and those happy goggles?  Excellent eye protection so that when the shit’s flying, I can still see my way out.


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