I have a happy friend. “If you have to be in a mood,” he says, “it might as well be a good one.”
It’s one of those things that’s easier to understand than it is to do.
We know it’s true. Still, we seem to have one part of our mind doing long-term planning and another part negotiating our happiness here and now. We can’t take “yes” for an answer.
Even if we admit that it is better to choose happiness, it takes a rare soul to trust and act upon that truth all day, every day. That’s why the saints got halos.
The funniest man in the world checked out this week. The man who always picked us up delivered the ultimate downer.
Did we misunderstand? Is there a something we cannot see?
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln was the funniest person ever as president of the United States. When asked how he liked being president, he said it was like the guy who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. He told people, “If it wasn’t for the honor of the thing I’d rather walk.”
Responding to rumors that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was drinking whiskey, Lincoln said if it was true, he was going to find out what kind it was and send a case to all his generals.
This was the same man who, during his lawyering years, suffered from depression that kept him in bed for weeks. Only a man who knew how to cope with a sorrow like Lincoln’s could have carried us through the Civil War.
We try to imagine what such a horrific time might have been like, but they had to live it. A melancholy man who knew his Bible helped them find meaning in it.
There appears to be a connection between our joys and sorrows, deeper than our moods, in our culture.
Emmett Kelly, the most famous clown of my childhood, wore baggy pants, a threadbare coat, a daisy in the band of his broken hat and somebody else’s shoes.
His job was to make us smile, but he always had a frown. He beckons us to laugh at a world that feels sorry for itself.
We assume worldly success will lead to permanent happiness. If we just get to that place, we believe, all our problems will take care of themselves. Oh, how happy we will be.
But in life, there is no “there” there. The only constant is change, and we move on from any place, whether we want to or not.
So, if any poor soul can be happy, and billionaires can be unhappy, why don’t we choose to be happy? Is it Door No. 1 or Door No. 2?
Now things get complicated. We have free will to determine our response to the world, but the world has the same free will to respond to us as it chooses.
Our only hope is to respond in the best way wherever we are.
Jesus had every reason to give up. People wanted the savior they wanted, not the savior he was. They still do.
They wouldn’t walk with him and kept wondering when he would start following the script they had written for him.
“Drive the Romans away,” they said. “Love one another” he told them.
There he was in the middle of it, saying the same true words to wary Romans and bitter countrymen alike: “The kingdom is within you.”
All the power and joy in the world? Inside me? I can be happy? No matter what? It has always been so.
Our own Charlie Russell painted cowboys around a campfire in Laugh Kills Lonesome. They all know the only time you can be happy is now: where you are, next to the fire, under the stars, with a hat and slicker and friends.
You can be happy with nothing and miserable with everything. You can be happy, or miserable, no matter what. So pick one.
And if you find yourself in a mood, may it be a good one.
Kelly Addy, a Billings attorney, is also a licensed local pastor at Huntley United Methodist Church.
Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to email@example.com.