Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thinking Good

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!


  1. It's really not a mind set for me but when we get ready to go back to NC in the spring, we have a 4-page chck list, which includes deep cleaning, moving appliances out and cleaning under them, waxing them (to protect from FL summer heat), etc. If it weren't for "moving" every 6 months, I'd not get this cleaning done but because it's part of getting ready to enjoy the next 6 months, I don't mind it. All in the attitude.

  2. At the moment the area in my life that could (possibly) benefit from thinking good thoughts is to clear the evil morass that dwells in my brain when I think, frequently, about the woman who mucked up and lost us the chance of selling our house. I need to clear those evil thoughts out and find a positive side to this because it is not only mentally draining but futile. I must move on and keep reminding myself that there is another buyer out there somewhere :)

  3. I had just finished a conversation with my husband along a similar line. My work colleagues and I learnt today we had failed in a long time dispute with our employer. My husband said I don't have to become bitter and twisted like some of the others may. My being grumpy only troubles me & my colleagues - not the big bad employer. So, I need to chose the better way. Think the better way. For me.

  4. Before I read your blog this morning, I saw a bumper sticker that I thought you would enjoy:
    bark less"
    It reminded me to show gratitude for something every day, even the gray ones. What purpose is served by being grumpy?

  5. I am really, really trying to think positive about this 3rd cross country move we've made in 6 years, to Florida to retire. Trying to fit in where I seem to be one of the youngest around. Trying to keep a smile on my face and in my heart to support my very hard working husband who is thrilled to be here. Trying to think of many folks who would love to change places with me to live in FL and count my blessings. Trying to relax and enjoy each day as it comes. Your post, Susan, is very timely. Thank you.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!