While reading The Happiness Project blog this week, I stumbled across a quotation from Shakespeare that I’ve always loved: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Like all clever and pithy sayings, this doesn’t always hold true. For instance, just thinking about the earthquake and tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan right now cannot possibly make it “good.” Sure, we can focus on all the good that’s being done to help the victims, the unity of support, and so forth, but thousands of people are dead, thousands more are missing, and the reactors are hot. That's definitely bad, and no amount of thinking will make it good.
When we focus on our personal happiness, however, the way we think about things can make an enormous difference. Consider the weather. The long, cold, gray Ohio winter can sap the cheer right out of the perkiest person. Four winters ago, I whined and complained and moped along with most people, and I didn’t like myself for it. I can’t change the weather, and whining about it certainly didn’t help make it easier to accept. In fact, I suspected that dwelling on the gloomy chill probably made it worse than it really was.
Three winters ago, I decided to pretend that the weather was beautiful, even when all evidence pointed to the contrary. When the skies were gray, I smiled and pretended they were clear bright blue. Instead of complaining, I smiled at people and said, in as cheerful a voice as possible, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Yes, I received a few odd looks from people as they shivered under their umbrellas, but my “thinking the weather good” actually helped me get through that winter with a much more positive outlook than I’d had the previous year. It took a lot of energy on my part to keep thinking good, but it was absolutely worth it.
Now, I’m trying to apply the idea of thinking good to spring cleaning. In the past, I’ve not had to motivate myself to dive into spring cleaning; I used to look forward to it. This year, unfortunately, I feel reluctant. Let’s just say I’m less than thrilled with the idea of cleaning my whole house, including the fridge and (ohmygoshyou’vegottobekiddingme!!!) the basement. The task seems so overwhelming and pointless: I'll have to do it all again in six months, after all. It would be so much more fun to stamp.
Big tasks are easier if you break them down into parts, and so I thought good thoughts: “Deep cleaning half the kitchen isn’t such a big deal; I can do that in a couple of hours!” I dove in and cleaned...I emptied all the cabinets and drawers on the sink side of the kitchen, vacuumed them out, wiped everything down (including canisters and coffee makers!), put everything back in tidy fashion, cleaned and organized the Lazy Susan, and wiped the walls. I even wiped the dust off the pipes under the sink.
Like I said, spring cleaning is a big task. And if you call me obsessive, I’ll show you how gorgeously clean half my kitchen is and you’ll ask if you can have some of my mental illness for yourself.
I feel AWESOME about my half-clean kitchen. So awesome, in fact, that I also dropped a bunch of stuff at the Salvation Army , cleaned the outdoor toy box in preparation for warmer weather, and laundered the living room throws…none of which I’d planned on doing today. But that’s just the natural motivating effect of thinking how nice half my kitchen looked. Tomorrow, the other half will get tackled just as thoroughly, and if that leads to even more spring cleaning tasks ticked off my list, I'll feel even happier.
Now it is your turn. What areas in your life could benefit from thinking good? What bad task or fact of life might benefit from reframing as good? Please share!