Monday, May 21, 2012

It's all about (good) attitude

For a long time, I undervalued the quality of cheerfulness.

I thought it was banal. I thought a sunny outlook implied a lack of intellectual depth. I thought it betrayed a disturbing level of naiveté.

I’m not alone in this respect. A friend of mine once expressed the theory that if everyone is getting along, it means people just aren’t paying attention. Complacency being the enemy of critical insight, and so forth. Another acquaintance once said to me that the trait she most hoped to one day be able to ascribe to her own child was “acerbic.”

Still, running into a friend in the supermarket on Saturday afternoon reminded me of how wrong I’d been about this. This particular friend has more strenuous and more constant caretaking duties within her family than anyone my age that I know. She lives in a four-generation household. She takes care of her own children, one of whom has a disability that requires a lot of heavy lifting – both figurative and literal -- on her part. She attends to household chores for the whole clan. And she told me at the supermarket that she now covers the night shift of physical caretaking for her husband’s very elderly grandmother.

Yet she’s always cheerful. Not falsely or resignedly cheerful; but genuinely sunny and upbeat. She had two kids in tow and told me that they had just been at a baseball game for her son’s Miracle League team, a group devoted to children with physical disabilities. We talked about summer plans; she said she was looking forward to a cross-country drive with her husband and children. She said she was picking up ingredients for a family dinner and was planning to scones for Sunday breakfast. And she asked all about my family as well.

It would be too cliché to call her an inspiration. It’s not that she can be happy despite having a much bigger burden to carry than I do that impresses me; it’s just the way a pleasant attitude is part of her DNA. I know I myself don’t have that kind of upbeat presence, but as I drove home, I tried to think which of my other friends do. It made me realize that to a certain extent, I’ve prioritized irony and edginess in some of my friendships. A lot of people I spend time with tend to complain or gossip when we get together, but I can’t imagine this friend ever gossiping, and I’ve certainly never heard her complain.

And really, I think I need more exposure to that, in hopes that I’ll become more like that myself. Maybe when I was younger, it was okay to prioritize irony and edginess, but lately I’ve started to feel a bit sated. Kindness has become more important to me than cleverness, and concomitantly, I think it’s time to recognize the value of a good attitude. I probably won’t run into this friend again for a while, but I’ll try to keep yesterday’s encounter in mind. She sets a good example for me, and her pleasant outlook doesn’t seem to have set her back any. I’m not sure I can live up to this standard, but it definitely seems like a worthwhile goal.

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