I’m fond of saying, “People who are good at math shouldn’t be allowed to teach it.” If that strikes you, like lightning, as the absolute truth, this metaphor’s for you. If not, you may just have to bear with me a minute. Here’s what I think I’m trying to say: People who are good at math, those to whom it comes easily, are simply not equipped to communicate mathematical processes to those of us who don’t speak number. If the English language made any sense, the word “innumerate” would not mean “uncountable;” it would be the opposite of “illiterate,” which would not mean “unable to read and write;” it would mean, “literature deficient.” Oh! Maybe we should just coin the word “illiteraturate.” But, I digress (shocking, I know).
So, in effect, what I’m saying is this: the “illiteraturate” shouldn’t be allowed to teach the “innumerate.”
In fact, as an adult, I had the good fortune to re-enter college under the wondrous tutelage of an Algebra teacher who chose to teach math precisely because she wasn’t good at it. She wanted to spare other “innumerate” students from the pain of being taught by math whizzes. The math whiz approach is similar to trying to teach your child to drive by thoroughly taking them through the intricacies of disassembling an internal combustion engine. In the same way, you probably shouldn’t ask people who “speak happy” to explore and communicate the effects of speaking happy. If you really want to observe the effect of taking happy actions on happiness, you might get more bang for the buck if you have people who aren’t that great at being happy to test drive activities meant to enhance happiness. If that’s true, I have to admit that I was a great choice to test drive that effects of the Happy LIFE’s “happy habits.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Overall, I’d have to say I break even on the happy/sad dichotomy. But, I’m pretty sure plenty of people break way more toward the happy side than I do. Sure, I know how to have fun – a lot of it – but I have sometimes found myself serving in the ranks of the unhappy. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once served a two-year hitch under the command of Major Depression.
So, it’s taken me by surprise that that The Happy LIFE is having what seems to be a profound effect on me. The “Gratitudes” phase, which was the last of the five “happy habits” of the Happy LIFE has been, interestingly, the first one that I’ve carried on past the first 21 days – and I think it may be changing my life. In all honesty, when the Happy LIFE started, the naïve, idealistic part of me (which is inexplicably still hanging on after more than a half-century) was open to giving all the happy activities a try. What the hell, right? Yes, I have a fairly large sappy sucker side. But, then the “dark side” popped up immediately. That (hopefully smaller) dark part of me kept whispering – a little snidely, I must admit, “Oh, good Lord, this is just a load of happy horse piles.”
And, that dark little side might have won out because it can be very persistent, telling me I’ll look foolish, that people will think I’m a dope for buying into it, that it’s a waste of time. If I hadn’t been asked to take on the Happy LIFE as a work project, I’m not sure I ever would have gone this far with it – and I would never have learned that, with work, it’s possible to recognize and overcome our inherent negativity bias by actively focusing on and retaining the good things in life.
The other night was the blue moon and it was the end of a remarkable day in my Happy LIFE, presenting me with gifts that may indeed come only once in the proverbial blue moon. I’d had an inexpressibly excellent dinner with friends and as, things were winding down, I happened to catch movement from fellow diners across the room, who were also getting ready to leave. It was a young couple and their small daughter, about two years old, was standing beside the booth and waiting patiently as her parents gathered their things. Our eyes happened to meet and, because it’s my habit establish eye contact and smile at people when that happens, that’s what I did. Except, with kids, I tend to give it a little extra, making solid eye contact to say, “I see you. I know you’re in there, the seed of everything you’ll ever be, smart as anything and able to understand and communicate more than we adults can usually believe or handle.” This little girl got it, even from several feet away, smiled around her “passie,” looked pointedly down at her feet, and back up at me, clearly “saying” how much she liked her shoes. I gave her the thumbs up, nodded, and mouthed, “Yes, they are very cool shoes.” The little girl went stock still, as if in surprise, but only for an instant. Then, she looked down at her shoes again, looked back up at me as if to be sure we’d really just had a moment and, when I again gave her the thumbs up and mouthed “Cool shoes, very cool,” her smile got even bigger. She even swayed from side to side a little, in that way only small children can do when they are bursting with pride in their abilities.
And, as her parents passed to leave, I said, “That’s quite a little girl you have. She was so patient as you got ready to leave – and she’s very proud of her shoes.” Her mother, who was thanking me in passing, stopped in her tracks and started laughing, saying, “Oh, wow. She LOVES shoes! And she really loves that pair.” I said, “Well, she managed to tell me that without a word, across a room. She’s very special. You’re doing a great job. Keep up the good work.” The mom laughed again and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, we’ve got another one on the way.” I congratulated her and told her that I had no doubt the next one would be just as special.
Before the Happy LIFE, I’m not sure I could have “heard” that child so clearly or had such a delightful interaction with complete strangers. Without the Happy LIFE, I don’t think I would have been able to believe what an even more wonderful world I can see.