In a world of negativity, we’re drawn to the bottom of the pile when all we’re trying to do is get to the top.
It’s rubbish, really, and it stinks. Bad. We work hard and, despite the promises of fairy tales and storybooks and cartoons of our childhoods, our expectations are often smashed. And I’ve been to a few graduation ceremonies in my life (as short as it’s been so far): middle school (still don’t understand that one), high school, college, some for me and some for loved ones. They all have that sliver of hope stitched into their details. The “don’t give up” and the “dream big” and the “work hard and you’ll get ‘there'”, wherever the proverbial “there” may be.
I’ve heard some people in the crowd giggle a bit. Do they roll their eyes in a Charlie Brown “Good grief!” fashion? Hang their heads, trying not to let anyone see the doubt in their eyes? Or do they divert by checking their phones? By taking the opportunity to go to the bathroom?
Sometimes, when you’ve lived out in the world for a little bit, reality can make you cynical.
We may no longer believe that hard work results in reward; that the good guy always wins; that there’s going to be a toy at the bottom of the cereal box; or that the hero gets the girl (or vice versa). We may have been through situations where the liars and cheaters got the prize we were slaving for and we were left wondering, “What did I do wrong?” We may have run into uncontrollable circumstances that are simply unfair: sudden illness or cancer, life-changing accidents, the unexpected loss of a loved one, a layoff, a natural disaster.
For those sitting in the audience listening to speeches about “the greatness up ahead” and the “amazing things to be accomplished”, personal experiences may have taught them (the hard way) that sometimes, really, life just sucks.
And people just don’t want to hear that bad stuff.
I once read somewhere: “When you make plans, God laughs.”
And, I don’t imagine (or imply by repeating it) that our Heavenly Father guffaws a tirade of Doctor Evil-esque laughter, twiddling his fingers at the delight he has in burning us like insignificant ants under some heavenly microscope of cruelty. Though, having lived a little, I can see why some people’s cynicism might have gotten the best of them.
(And that’s a hard thing to battle: cynicism. It’s easy to be overcome by feelings of defeat, embitterment, and frustration. Anger breeds anger and silver linings are hard to find when all you can see is red. Not that life’s injustices aren’t worth being upset over — some are! — but we mustn’t let them take charge of our lives.)
I imagine God is looking at us as an adult looks at a child who dreams of being a super hero, and believes it. Who smiles and laughs and watches as the child ties a towel around his neck and runs around making whooshing flying noises.
Patronizing? You might think so, if you’re prone to self-doubt. But you’re missing out on the love and endearment there. No bitterness, no disappointment. Just an appreciation for wishful thinking, for dreaming big, for fighting the bad guys and winning.
Simply: an appreciation for happiness.
(And when your plans fail, God isn’t laughing at you… it’s meant that He laughs with you!)
If you’re suffering a chronically cynical outlook on life, shame on you.
You’re the adult who scoffs at the kid for wanting to be Superman. Sure, he’ll never grow up to be Superman, we all know that… but what does that matter to you? His happiness doesn’t make your life worse. His joy didn’t get you in a fender-bender, didn’t spill your coffee, didn’t get you in a fix at work. That kid didn’t do anything to ruin your life’s plans. Have you ever considered that your plans were never right anyway?
Don’t be a fool, delighting in your scoffing (Proverbs 1:22), always expecting to be ridiculed for little things (i.e. always on the defensive, the Victim) and always losing your temper (29:11).
Don’t become Billy Bedlam of Conair:
“He’s a font of misplaced rage… so angry [that] moments of levity actually cause him pain; gives him headaches.
Happiness, for that gentleman, hurts.”
We all start out in life enjoying being happy. Babies and children experience a deep joy in merely being joyful. As we age, life sets in and we harden. Truths pound upon us full force and we’re hit with a number of unpleasant realities that make us yearn to be ten years old forever. We can become heavy, weary, grumpy, mere shells of the people we thought we would become…
That is, if we CHOOSE to let cynicism defeat us.
And, like I said, it’s a hard battle. Cynicism is a persistent SOB, but so are we. Many of us believed in the “dream big” speeches and the “bright hopes for the future” talks when they were directed at us. We believed we could be something important, someone important. I believe many of us still believe in those words of wisdom, except now we’re afraid of being wrong, so we become cynical instead, because it’s easier, and we’re weaker in spirit than we used to be.
Joy knows no wrong. It only knows happiness.
Like any muscle, the spirit just needs a little exercise to get back into shape. It may be difficult at first — painful, even — but it’ll get there and you’ll find happiness in simplicity. Find your joy. Take up your super-powered sword and chop away at the callouses adulthood can layer on over the years. After a while the things which once stirred you into simmering and festering discontent will pass by with little more than a hiccup and life’s acid will have lost its sting
And, like any exercise program, joy requires conscious effort. Some of the happiest people in the world work very hard at being happy. It disappoints me when people assume happy people must have everything in life going their way. That’s rarely the case. Happiness, especially as a grown up, doesn’t come easily. Burdens and responsibilities fight to take over our lives.
Look back at the image if the ball pyramid for a few seconds. Ask yourself:
- Do you identify with the reds, or the green?
- When you look at the green, do you share in his joy or are you resentful because of it?
- Notice that the ball on top of the pyramid — the Guy with a capital ‘G’ who has somehow managed to climb his way to the top — notice that he’s not happy, either. In fact, he’s no less happy than all the balls on the lowest rung. Do you think, then, that being the Guy at the top is all it’s cracked up to be?
The best remedy against unhappiness? PLAY.
Go play. Revisit something you did as a child. Finger paint. Draw chalk on the driveway. Ride a bike. Cannonball into the swimming pool. Have a sleepover party. Flag down an ice cream truck (better yet: chase one). Ride a roller coaster. Build a sandcastle… or a fort.
Simply: be a kid. You know you miss it.