Today on All Things Considered (wow, I really listen to a lot of NPR), they aired the penultimate installment in their Summer Jobs series. A listener shared a story of the summer he spent dressed up as a toy soldier at FAO Schwarz. There were two clowns who also worked with him. One clown would always say things like, “The rugrats are really getting to me today,” under his breath, and then turn around and greet the kids. The other clown really had a great time in his job, and was always enthusiastic. He would do things like arrange the stuffed toys in a semi-circle and read them stories. People would look at the first clown and say, “Wow, that guy has the hardest job in the world.” People would look at the second clown and say, “Wow, that guy has the best job in the world.” The listener has used this throughout his life as a lesson about how other people can tell when we’re enjoying ourselves and when we aren’t, even if we try to hide it. If we’re enjoying ourselves, our efforts look effortless. If not, the things we do look like hard work.
I heard this story and thought about how it relates to the subjective nature of the experience of happiness. Today, for example, I just loved being with my kids. It wasn’t an objectively awesome day. The baby was fussy but didn’t want to nap, my daughter screamed at me multiple times when she was frustrated while trying to learn a new task, drinks were spilled, scrambled eggs were rubbed into hair, blackberries were rubbed into clothing, my toothbrush was thrown into the toilet. But I started the day by greeting my children with a smile and hugging them as they got out of bed, even though I really might have rather had more quiet before jumping into the day. That mood continued all day and made my interactions with the kids feel less like work and more like sharing love and creating positive memories.
Gretchen Rubin writes about the value of acting the way you want to feel in order to feel that way. If we act warm and friendly to others, they’ll act warm and friendly in return. If we act surly and standoffish, we’re likely to get that in return. If I wake up in a bad mood and don’t make an effort to pull myself out of it, I won’t be open to experiencing my children’s positive mood if they start the day with one. If I try to act energetic and happy, then not only will I be open to their joy, I might even influence their mood positively as they reflect back my enthusiasm.
It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or cloudy if I keep the curtains closed. The weather outside might be dreary and depressing, but it might also be beautiful and sunny; if I don’t open the curtains for fear it might be cloudy, I also miss the chance to let the light in.