Choosing Cheerfulness

September 9, 2013

New York Portrait sessions

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

We have a family friend who is effusively cheerful. Every time we see him, he is all smiles, eagerly asking about our projects and our family. When our children are with us, he kneels to their eye level and asks genuine questions about their interests. He is enthusiastic and engaged. I’ve watched him interact this way with a roomful of people, offering equal amounts of cheer to every person he speaks with.

There was a time in my life when I would have found this sunniness just a little too bright for my taste. Could he really be that interested in everyone he talks to? Could he really be that happy?

But it’s obvious he’s not putting on an act. He’s genuinely and enthusiastically interested in people around him, and the temptation to question his cheerfulness ended when I realized how talking to him made me feel. It was great! I felt important and valued. I felt like I had interesting things to say. And I couldn’t keep from smiling. His cheerful glow seemed to transfer to me after our conversation, and I was more inclined to see the world as a rosy place. I liked it.

I haven’t yet found a way to match his kindness, but when I think of him, I am motivated to try. Sometimes I think of our friend when I’m checking out at the grocery store after a long afternoon, and I’m tired, and I’ve already made a second trip to the very back of the store because I forgot something the first time I thought I was ready to check out, and now I’m running late, and did I already mention I’m tired? And hungry?

The clerk offers a polite hello and sometimes I muster the energy that our cheerful friend has, and I answer genuinely, instead of replying with a meaningless “fine, thanks,” in a tone suggests otherwise. And I’m beginning to wonder if my friend has solved an interesting equation — by making other people feel good, something wonderful happens to us, too. When I choose cheerfulness, at the checkout or with my family, I stand up taller, I feel a surge of energy, and I’m genuinely interested in other people.

The clerk and I are chatting now. Soon we’re both smiling. I’m offering kindness, and it’s doing something for both of us.

What happens when you choose cheerfulness? And who are the cheerful people in your life? How do they make you feel?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Amy3 September 9, 2013 at 11:43 am

This is so timely! I was just thinking about the choices I make in the moment – to be cheerful and assume the best or to be irritated and annoyed. I’m embarrassed to admit how often I find myself in the latter state, especially as you say when my energy is low, but this reconfirms my commitment to be in the former more often. Thanks!

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2 Amy Hackworth September 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I’m in the latter state more often than I’d like to admit, too. :) Here’s to success in our efforts to change, Amy3!

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3 Amanda September 9, 2013 at 11:56 am

Absolutely – I think this is really true. It IS infectious. Spread the word! The world needs a little more conscious cheerfulness.

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4 lisa leonard September 9, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I love the idea of choosing kindness. Such a small thing but a big impact. Beautiful post, Amy. xx

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5 Amy Hackworth September 9, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you, Lisa!

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6 Giulia September 9, 2013 at 12:33 pm

A smile and a friendly word can really change your day. This reminds me of Bhutan’s gross national happiness – ‘happiness is fundamental human goal and universal aspiration’

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7 Lauren September 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I know someone like this too and I always think to myself, “try to be as kind as Julie”! It does make such a difference.

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8 Debbie September 9, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I too use a few people that I know as inspiration in this regard. I also follow the Happiness Projects’ idea of giving yourself a weekly or monthly resolution to follow and often try to have kindness be the resolution. Love this post! :)

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9 Nora Ballantyne September 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

This is life’s greatest lesson: offering kindness because we CAN, not because we want something in return. You are so right about the effects of pure kindness, thoughtfulness, and LOVE: it brightens us up so beautifully, because our souls are designed to reach out and lift the hands that hang down, strengthening the feeble knees and burdened hearts that are all around us.
I love love this post, Amy. Yours are among my favs at DesignMom. Still hoping for that picnic! Give Justin a hug from me! (And yourself one, too!)

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10 Rebecca September 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm

It is a beautiful thing! Cheerfulness that is as genuine as red as a tomato or as bursting as a sunflower really can make the world a better place.

There is so much more room in this world for more kindness. Thanks for such a wonderful post.
xxoo

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11 Amy September 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

THANK YOU for this wonderful post! It brought a tear to my eye and a surge of joy to my heart. I’ve come to realize that happiness is a conscious choice and I love to see people who are living proof of that principle.

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12 Val September 9, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I love this topic, and your article, Amy! It took me back to a women’s meeting that I attended 10(!) years ago, where a woman I admired spoke about deliberately choosing happiness in our lives. The meeting came during a low point in my life, and I wanted a change, so I took her challenge to “choose happiness” on a daily basis. I started very simply — with grocery store clerks and others I encountered each day, and I can’t believe the change that it has produced in those 10 years.

At first, I felt like it was an “act”, but before long, I realized that it wasn’t really acting, but how my spirit genuinely felt. Recognizing that truth created a monumental shift for me! Deliberately choosing happiness has allowed me to go through some very difficult personal trials with a “sunnier” outlook, and I think it has kept my natural tendency for depression at bay. At this point, I don’t even consciously think about choosing cheerfulness, it simply has become second nature.

Today, as I read your lovely article, I realized how incredibly grateful I am for the beautiful woman who shared her own secret of daily choosing happiness. My life is infinitely better because of it!

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13 Amy Hackworth September 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Val. I love hearing that this has made a noticeable difference for you over the years. That’s really inspiring. It makes me think that we can all start small, and we can all do hard things, too.

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14 Margaret September 9, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Your description at the check-out line reminded me of a previous Design Mom post by Koseli: http://www.designmom.com/2013/05/the-best-advice-from-david-foster-wallace/

It’s always good to have one of those blindingly sunny people in our lives, isn’t it? I find it a great reminder of the joys we take for granted.

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15 Amy Hackworth September 9, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Thanks so much, Margaret. I missed that the first time around, so I’m looking forward to listening to it later today.

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16 julia September 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

hmm…good thought provoking post! I think cheerfulness is often a choice, at least for me, and I try my best. I try to be transparent too though. If I am having a terrible day I’d rather tell a friend than pretend its going great.

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17 Lisette Wolter-McKinley September 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

My husband sounds a lot like your friend. Making people feel important, cared about and valued is priceless and a wonderful trait to try to emulate.

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18 Nan September 9, 2013 at 5:37 pm

SOMETHING WONDERFUL…always happens when I choose cheerfulness. Just the very act of mindfully CHOOSING lifts me up. It is the best me that makes that choice and it leads to other “best practices”. Win, win, win, win!

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19 Kathryn September 9, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Have you read the book by Tom Rath, How Full Is Your Bucket?
He has written a book for adults and has a picture book for kids, by the same title. You should check it out! Great message about kindness to others.
I teach 4th grade and always read it on the first day of school. For homework, I have the kids do something kind for someone in their family. Once a week the kids fill out bucket slips for a friend or family member. Everyone loves giving and receiving them!

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20 Rina Mae September 10, 2013 at 5:59 am

Thank-you so much for this post. As an expat in the Netherlands, I wish I had read this a LONG time ago. I am also now embracing the concept of “cheerfulness”/mindfulness and I am definitely at a happier place in life.

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21 Jennifer Reynolds September 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

It’s like that Abraham Lincoln quote “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Sometimes it’s hard to remember we control our thoughts, right? Great post.

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22 Janet September 11, 2013 at 7:07 am

Loved reading this! My daughter and I are both trying to incorporate cheerfulness and kindness. Yesterday was day 1 and we both felt happier!

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23 Sybil September 13, 2013 at 9:42 am

I would love to show that care and kindness with strangers but I struggle with what to ask or say to engage… If there was a cheat sheet or a book with “opening topics/questions to engage just about any stranger” that would be awesome :-)

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24 Chrissy September 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Well…you can’t engage everyone, some people resist. However, most people like to talk about themselves and/or what they love. I often start with noticing something about them that I like…their earrings, a jaunty hat, their cute dog…it can be anything. And then I comment on it. Sincerity is everything. If they are someone I am engaging because they look like they need some positive interaction…then usually a very quiet but sincere and gentle, “how are things?” Or “tough day?” Or something that simple can open up a conversation that may astonish you. Like I said…some people won’t engage…but it is wonderful when they do. Cashiers, nurses and servers and other people that spend their day caring for others who are often rude or demanding are especially in need of this attention. Older people too, sometimes they may go a day or more without meaningful conversation with anyone.
The main thing is practice…if you do this long enough it becomes easier and easier. A smile goes a long way as well.

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25 Chrissy September 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Haha…I am the cheerful person in my life! My husband and family are all lovely and happy and fun, however it is me with the smile I can’t suppress and the sincere interest in the life of the cashier (really…everyone has something interesting to say, if you allow it) and the sometimes irreverent happiness. My mom once said my happiness is like a bubble around me that cannot be popped permanently…it just keeps reappearing. Lol. Evidently I have been this way since birth. I don’t know how a person becomes this way, obviously, since I didn’t do it on purpose, but I can say it is a lovely way to live. From my perspective almost everyone is nice, almost everyone is helpful and there are funny or poignant or delightful human experiences to be had around every corner. Is this just because I am cheerful and open? I don’t know. It is likely, I would imagine.

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26 Julia September 15, 2013 at 7:24 am

Such a great post! Your thoughts about the grocery store reminded me of this video (This is Water, excerpts from a graduation speech by David Foster Wallace):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaVrn1Sz0H8

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