Cheerfulness is a wise choice
“The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.” —Montaigne
I’m neither a card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation nor a Baby Boomer. I am a war baby, born in the handful of years separating those two iconic eras. Born nine months, to be precise, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I am a mixture of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking” tenacity spilling over from Great Depression ancestors, and “The-Earth-is-yours-and-everything-that’s-in-it” unbridled optimism of post-war ’50s.
Cheerfulness, as I understand it, is not something to wear on our sleeves, like religiosity or superiority, euphoria or hilarity. It’s milder, more modest and subtle. It’s rarely given to high fives or chest bumps. It rarely sports a 9-to-5, ear-to-ear grin. Cheerfulness may be a little like whistling past a graveyard instead of screaming, “I am not afraid!” or, like British in the midst of World War II bombardments, greeting others the morning after, through a teeth-clinching smile, with an uptick “Cheerio!” Cheerfulness is a workhorse, not a show pony.
Timothy Hampton writes that cheerfulness is “a momentary uptick in emotional energy” and “lightness of mind under the pressure of catastrophe.”
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who probably was never accused of it, said that cheerfulness “compels one to run out into the sunshine so as to shake off a seriousness grown all too oppressive.”
How did our Great Depression ancestors manage to practice cheerfulness? How dare we, facing flu and RSV, pandemic and cancer and other mortality issues, practice cheerfulness?
It’s a choice. Cheerfulness is the life instinct, bubbling up from our depths, regardless. It’s our choice to allow it to surface occasionally, to squeak up and express itself, regardless of the gloom and doom surrounding it.
Here’s to a cheerful Thanksgiving weekend.