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day 23: c'mon, get happy

February 24, 2011

I have a friend who is well-read, cultured, informed about social issues, hard-working, intelligent, and interesting.  She is always quick to recommend a novel I should read or suggest a play I should see.  At her suggestion, the two of us took a Portuguese class a few years ago (“Bom dia… Fala portugues?” is pretty much all I remember).

In addition to being interesting and intelligent and informed, my friend is also one of the most negative people I have ever met.

When we became friends about six years ago, I called her gloominess “cynicism” or I called it “depression.”  It didn’t bother me all that much, frankly.  After all, I’d built a career trying to make people happy, one way or another, and (for better or for worse) people-pleasing is a part of who I am.  When she’d call me with a tale of woe about a date who had disappointed her or a colleague who’d undercut her, I’d listen empathetically.  I’d get righteously indignant for her.

Once I had my first child, I was far less available to be empathic or indignant.  On the occasions that she and I did get together, I began to notice that she had few questions for me — she didn’t ask about my challenging transition from full-time social worker to stay-at-home mother of a newborn.  She didn’t wonder if I was sleeping or eating well.  We talked, instead, about her abysmal social life, or her stress level, or her fights with her mother.

In reaction, I went into remedy-mode.  Had she thought about joining a church to meet people?  Could I lend her a yoga DVD for her stress?  Should she limit her conversations with her mother to once a week?  Should she call her therapist?

I’m sure you can guess her responses:  “No,” “No,” “No,” and “No.”

Once I had my second child, I became even less available and (frankly) less tolerant.  My free time was sacred, and I didn’t want to spend it wallowing in darkness.  I was sad that she was sad, but I was sadder that she was unwilling to do anything to make herself happier.  My new approach, when she called, was to counter her negativity with humor.  “What do you mean you hate your job?  Not you!  I thought you woke up every morning with a grin on your face!” Poking fun at her shifted the energy of our conversations a little, but I was still left feeling a little used after each time we talked.

This is Day 23’s gift:

It is a book of 101 sticky notes sporting sunny quotations

I found this a while ago and thought it might make a cute birthday gift for a friend.  It is a book of sticky notes, each printed with an uplifting quotation or thought, to be posted around one’s room or office or body.

It is the perfect gift for my smart, cultured, glass-half-empty friend.  I’m sure she will laugh at its dorkiness, but at least she will be laughing.

If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “a cynic can chill or dishearten with a single word,” let me choose my words carefully today.  Hope you have a “bom dia,” and thanks for showing up.

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