Remember the Judy Garland song that goes, “Forget your troubles! C’mon get happy!”?
It’s a great tune if you want to get up and dance. But as advice goes, it’s pretty lousy.
First of all, it’s scarce on details. Forget your troubles? How does one even begin to do such a thing? Our troubles are staring us right in the face. It’s like forgetting the elephant in the room. Lost your job? Forget about it. Sick children? What do you care? Get happy!
And also, is forgetting your troubles really such a wise thing to do? Is it compassionate towards oneself or others to simply deny painful realities in order to feel good? I can hardly imagine that walking up to someone who is facing foreclosure on their house and breaking into a tap dance would actually make them feel anything but bewildered and misunderstood.
So it’s no wonder that happiness sometimes gets a bad rap. It seems like a denial of some of the most painful realities of life. We think that happiness is possible only in the absence of trouble. Well if this were the case, then happiness is an impossibility and happy people are delusional dreamers at best.
But I want to propose that happiness does not require us to forget, deny, or glaze over our troubles with superficial sweetness. Pain is a part of life. All the same it is possible to be deeply happy, even in the midst of our troubles.
How is that so?
Five years ago, I had the profound experience of being with my father when he passed away. My brother and his wife were with me at the time. My father had been in a coma for two days. His organs were failing, and one by one, his systems were shutting down. All the same, we held his hands and stroked his forehead. We spoke to him. We told him how much we loved him. How much we would miss him. As we watched the heart monitor becoming more erratic, our tearful eyes met. We knew that we had just minutes left with him. The attending nurses stopped in from time to time and put a hand gently on our shoulders and offered us kind reassurance that even though the passage was imminent, it would be peaceful and comfortable. And when the monitor finally showed a flat line, my brother and my sister-in-law and I held each other and wept.
Was this painful? Deeply. Was it joyful? Not at all.
Was I happy? Yes. I was happy.
I was happy to have the opportunity to be with my father in his final moments. I was happy to be with my brother and my sister-in-law, who are both such loving individuals. I was happy to have people who were close to me who could support me through this painful separation from someone I loved so much. I was happy that we were surrounded by such competent and compassionate professionals who could guide us through this difficult and mysterious process. I was happy for the ability to weep and to be consoled in the wake of my father’s passing.
Yes, I cried. I cried until my eyes were swollen and I could barely catch my breath. But I also smiled. In the midst of this trouble, there was so much to be grateful for. There were so many gifts of the heart to give and to receive. And to be alive and aware of the gifts we are given, even in the worst kind of troubles, that is reason to celebrate. That is reason to be happy.
So, don’t forget your troubles.
But, c’mon . . . get happy.