Health & Fitness

Aging Matters: Sometimes, maybe it's OK to pretend to be happy

"I want to be happy, but I can't be happy, till I make you happy, too" we sang back when popular music came via radio and Fred Astaire was a just another aspiring hoofer.

We were all in the same boat, but most of us tried to walk "on the sunny side of the street" to help "keep your sunny side up."

Those were just lyrics penned by some struggling songwriters, but they fed that germ of optimism that has lifted our nation out of more than one depression.

Doom and gloom is contagious; we catch it whenever our innocent "how are you today?" releases a recital of ailments in explicit detail. But the good news is, we catch happiness the very same way.

Happiness is more contagious than we might think. Some months ago, a study by a Harvard Medical School physician and social scientist were published in Britain's prestigious medical journal, BMJ.

"How happy you are," the report begins, "may depend on how happy your friends' friends' friends are, even if you don't know them at all. And a cheery next-door neighbor has more effect on your happiness than your spouse's mood."

What?

People you don't even know can affect your own sense of well being? How can this be? And can we incorporate this principle of caught happiness into our daily lives? We can, to the extent that we change ourselves.

We can decide to be happy.

The quickest shortcut toward that destination is an outright lie: just ACT happy.

Granted, there's plenty of unhappiness among us, particularly those of us whose "golden" years turned out to be gilt-edged and tarnished.

I've never met anyone from my generation who hasn't gone through trying times and mourned losses — some recent, some long ago but never abandoned.

Grief is part of life, but it, too, has a life span. To move grief into the attic of our memory is not to disrespect the memory. On the contrary, when we can move it into safe, out-of-sight storage, we can visit it any time.

The key word is visit. Visit the grief, then return to the now.

This may take some play acting — living a lie, if you will. A little well-intentioned fakery can go a long way toward achieving real happiness. Serious actors temporarily become the role they are playing. They think like their character would think, react the way it would. If we act like we're happy, and do it with some fervor, we can force some of that leftover sorrow back up to the attic.

A speaker I heard years ago engraved this catchy phrase into my mind:

Acting the way to better thinking works better than thinking the way to better acting.

Trying to think your way to happiness seldom moves you there. But start acting happy, and your thinking will tag along. It may take awhile, but pretty soon, you'll realize you've become a rosier version of the old you.

What's more, your friends will rejoice in that new you.

If happiness is, indeed, contagious, think what that could mean within our own circle. What if we pursued that theory on a global scale.

All together, now let's hit it: "I'm gonna be happy, so you'll be more happy, then we'll all be happy, too!"

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