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Saturday, April 22, 2023

It's Up to You: Choose to Be Happy!

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

I used to know a woman at my parish in Alexandria, VA who was always grumpy, always complaining, and as rude as could be to those around her. I'll call her Grumpy. She was elderly and no doubt had medical issues and other problems. But she wasn't, as far as I know, mentally ill or suffering from dementia. She just seemed to revel in being miserable and spreading her misery to others. And then she wondered why people avoided her. It was a head-shaker. Really, Grumpy, you treat people with disdain and rudeness and wonder why they don't want to spend time with you? Hello? Reality calling!

Another friend at the parish whom I admired greatly was a kind and loving person who never gave up on Grumpy. How much I wanted to be like her with the Grumpys in my own life. We all have them and, often, they are people to whom we have a duty to love (more or less related to their family proximity). 

I consider my order of duty to be this:

  • GOD! Always first and includes praying for the pope, my bishop, and my parish priests;
  • My husband; we have a duty to help each other get to heaven;
  • My children and their families for whom I pray every day by name;
  • Our godchildren and their families (all nine of them);
  • My extended family: siblings, nieces and nephews and cousins - often prayed for generally because of the numbers;
  • My co-workers and friends - who move up higher in the duty line depending on the intimacy of the relationship. Some friends are spiritual sisters, brothers, or children.
One of my prayers for everyone is that they cheerfully accept the will of God and delight in His many blessings. If Grumpy teaches us one thing, it's that we are responsible for our own happiness. If we "Rejoice in the Lord always," how can we not be cheerful and spread it? St. Philip Neri, saint of good humor, pray for us.

Fr. John Hardon, S.J. often said that the muscles that control the mouth are voluntary muscles. In other words, unlike the muscles that control the autonomous nervous system that keeps our hearts beating and controls our breathing, we control those muscles. I can choose to smile or I can choose to frown. Personally, I'd rather smile and give a cheerful hello, even to strangers I pass on the sidewalk.

I have to remember to be cheerful when I speak to my own Grumpy several times a day. It's a challenge She, unfortunately, chooses to be miserable most of the time. Her life is difficult, so I try to be understanding, but I often fail. It's hard to be patient when she tells me her caregivers don't deserve to be thanked or treats me rudely.

Years ago, a friend of mine who was going through depression, called me almost every day just to touch base. I had cancer and was in the middle of chemo at the time, and I think he was offering his own struggles for me and my young family. How grateful I was for that. He fought against the darkness by taking walks, calling and talking to friends, and trying to think positively. 

I've suggested prayer and positive thinking to Grumpy whose default response is, "That won't do any good." Of course, she's right. If you won't try to solve your problem with God's help, nothing will do any good. Despite being a Catholic, she doesn't pray and resents suggestions that it might help. Each of us can choose to make our life here the anti-room of heaven or make it hell on earth. How sad when we choose anger, bitterness, and resentment. They pin us to the earth like the cords the Lilliputians used to bind Gulliver. 

Grumpy teaches me something important. I can choose the face I show to others. I can smile, listen, encourage, and offer my own sufferings to relieve theirs. Or...I can choose to wallow in my own challenges and difficulties, obsess on all the wrongs done to me, nurture grudges, etc. 

Life is too short for that, in my opinion.

Today I will be praying for Grumpy who has called me once already and will call at least one more time, perhaps two, and then stay on the phone in silence expecting me to entertain her. May I put a smile in my voice and try to encourage her by thinking of a memory we can share. "Do you remember when we went camping at Sherando Lake? I caught a baby trout with a piece of cheese. Did you fish? I can't remember." Maybe a walk down memory lane will spark a happy thought. One can always hope even when past experience teaches it's not likely to do any good. Nevertheless, I refuse to embrace her fatalist mantra and will continue to hope. Neither of us is dead yet.


  1. Grumpy old people were grumpy, unhappy young people.
    I am an old person and steer clear of these rainclouds. I know how short that life is getting and prefer to go out with as good of an attitude as possible.
    Being unhappy becomes a bad habit, just like being pleasant becomes a good habit.

  2. I do agree with the above comment to some extent. I try to avoid conversing much with the Grumpies. However, during a cheery conversation with reminiscing of past good times, your friend might mention that she's tried prayers and prayers don't help. But if we believe in God, we must know that he expects a few things from us, such as verbal praise, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving. We don't have to feel those things. But if we really believe in God we must believe that about Him, and we must offer those things to Him as his due. Daily. I have to admit that I learned this in my university days, when I was struggling with belief. I admitted that I believed in God and that if I were He, I would expect those things from my people. Even in my darkest days I was able to offer those things to Him.

  3. I don’t remember the exact quote, but St Therese said that she went out of her way to greet and say something kind to those who were unkind to her because she might be the only one who was kind to that person and that might make all the difference in their day. I try to remember that and to be gracious to anyone I meet so as to possibly serve as God’s tool and help them to see Him through me.

  4. “Happy people make the world better and unhappy people make it worse, so it’s your moral obligation to be happy”.
    - Dennis Prager.
    His happiness hour is a weekly feature of his radio program, I can’t remember which day, but I think it’s the 2nd hour of his show.

  5. God bless you. Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. I am praying for you in your endeavor to visit the sick and spread the Gospel to this person whom you must love / owe some fraternal debt--it's hard to know. It's easy to lose patience/kindness w/others and yourself so don't beat yourself up for not being perfect or let the devil tempt you to abandon the person to save/spare yourself. Sure the person is very grateful to you even when sometimes you lose patience. Sometimes people have no one to talk to so the person they do talk to hears all their complaints/venting which can be a relief for them. It appears that this person is lonely and has nothing to occupy them so nothing to talk about and then calls you and wants you to help them occupy their time. I think writing a list of good memories; what they like, etc. is good. Also, maybe you could try calling them (not sure if you are able to visit). [Also don't know if you can lean other people to call/visit who owe this person some debt.] You could also plan a little surprise/good thing for them by sending cards, surprise little gifts or flowers just something to let them know you don't forget them but are thinking of them/praying for them. Not sure if the person likes/is able to do crafts / enjoys puzzles/word search / cd / music. By your example maybe you have taught this person more than you will ever know and that's why they call you. Rather than tell the person how they should behave (which they probably already know) maybe when they are particularly suffering tell them they remind you of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste laying on a frozen pond naked until they died which you heard about from a priest (if they're amenable to priests) who said those who are bed ridden, unable to do anything, not even pray could earn many graces for others by just offering to God their sufferings like these martyrs. Ask the Holy Ghost to guide and enlighten you and to enkindle in you the fire of His love.

  6. Thanks for the suggestions; I've tried many things. Today I reminded her of the story of the man who was in a nursing home and entertained his roommate by describing what he saw out the window. The roommate became jealous and when the man by the window had a heart attack he didn't call for help because he wanted to be moved to the window. When he was, he saw that the only "view" was a brick wall.

    When I suggested making up a story, she said she had no one to tell it to. I said she could tell it to me. She doesn't like me suggesting anything and immediately said, "I want to get off the phone." She'll call again later and it will be the same thing. So sad. She's a smart woman. But the conversation is totally one sided with me talking trying to entertain her and then dead silence for twenty or thirty seconds. I'd appreciate prayers for her, and for my patience as well. Two or three phone calls a day like that wear very thin. Frankly, I think she resents my good health since we are only two years apart in age.

  7. I don't know if you knew her when she was a child (grew up together) and if she was different then. If you ever had fun together and what did you do. My little sister used to watch tv together w/her best friend every night for 1-2 hours. They would watch the same show and talk while watching it. I don't know if this person ever was a talker/had good conversational skills/enjoyed life. That might be why she has poor health--stressed/ tense/not able to enjoy things. I don't know if there's something you could do together over the phone (like play a game battleship /computer game or say the rosary or sing karioke or discuss books; virtual vacation); not sure if person is computer/phone savvy (you seem to have interest in religion/church/politics which maybe the person doesn't share; not sure if you have family in common) or you could take a walk and describe your garden/chickens while speaking w/her.

    You seem to have subscribed to some site that could give you conversation ideas.

    Many people do daily holy hours/attend daily mass, but time like this w/another person trying to comfort them makes one really understand "i am sorrowful unto death; will no one watch w/me?" and standing under the cross. Truly a holy hour to offer God. He created her so know she's infinitely precious to Him and that for some reason He has her calling you. I will pray for you both.