“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.” — Martha Washington
This has been a favorite quote of mine for a while now, one that I often like to share when the opportunity presents itself. Funny thing though, is that I just today saw the first part of this quote. I always knew the second sentence, but didn’t know what came before that. I actually like it even more now that I see the first part. Although I always felt that the moral of the quote was in fact to “be cheerful and happy in whatever situation” you are in.
This is something that people in modern society– and especially in the U.S. and other wealthy nations– seem to have a problem with. The truth of this is easy enough to see: depression, suicide, anxiety, and other similar mental health disorders are rampant. Mental Health America reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans age 15-24. About 17% of the U.S. population will suffer from depression at least once in their lifetime. And proving that even a ‘paradise on earth’ is not enough to change someone’s happiness, the state with the second highest rate of depression is Hawaii. *
When I was in high school I remember some friends went on a Christian mission trip to Mexico. Coming back, the biggest thing they talked about was how happy the people they met were– people who were incredibly impoverished and essentially had nothing except their family, if even that. It’s a story I’ve heard often repeated among those who have visited third-world countries: finding people who are happy despite their dire circumstances. I guess it just goes to show, money and a life of privilege don’t equal happiness.
As a Muslim, the idea of being content in your situation, despite what may befall you, is incredibly important. I believe the same is true for many faiths, including Christianity. Reliance on God, trusting that you are in His hands, and having an understanding of your purpose in this world make it easier for you to remain happy despite your circumstance. In our sobhet group, we discussed this issue a few months ago while reading The Words by Said Nursi, in his chapter “The Second Word” (see the whole book here). Nursi gives the parable of two men who are traveling in the same world: one essentially pessimistic and finds a horrible, sad world; the second is optimistic and finds a wonderful, happy world. Nursi explains that for the first person, “his unbelief and misguidance breed great anxieties that torture him.” In contrast, Nursi states that “believers see all things as obedient servants, friendly officials, a lovable book of their Most Generous Master and All-Compassionate Owner.” (16) (The first person here also reminds me of the character May in the movie The Secret Life of Bees– a great movie by the way if you haven’t seen it).
The fact of the matter is, life is rough. And it’s rough for everyone. There will always be some unhappy circumstance that offers one the opportunity to wallow in self-pity. The challenge for all of us is to rise above these challenges, see the good in every situation, understand that there is a purpose for everything, and know that you are in God’s loving hands.
*http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/state-ranking and http://www.nmha.org/go/mood-disorders