Last week, we attended the soft opening of the new Bob’s Well Bread outpost in Ballard. After all, it was quite an exciting event: a new restaurant in the Valley, a second location of Bob's already wildly popular establishment in Los Alamos — now even closer to us in the charming town of Ballard.
It was especially exciting in the time of the pandemic, when so many social events and gatherings have been curtailed.
We met a lot of old friends there that day, but one interaction (masked and at a socially distant space) stayed with me. A friend, who looked lovely in a new linen dress, saying she’d dressed up for the occasion, answered my question of how she was doing with the response, “Terrific. Really just wonderful!”
I was shocked almost into silence at this response. I am definitely not wonderful. This pandemic is getting old — the isolation, lack of contact with family and friends.
There are over 210,000 dead, with no end in sight. And the economic hardships all around are truly devastating: businesses closing, layoffs and unemployment, rents unable to be paid. There is systemic racial injustice that has left most of us with discouragement and anger. Besides, we are approaching an unprecedented election with animosity and fear and divisiveness as I’ve never felt before.
With all this going on, I wondered at this extremely intelligent woman’s reply, “Terrific. Just wonderful.” Even if she had an amazing chocolate croissant on the plate in front of her, how was she able to say this?
And then, in the same week of this interchange, as I was pondering her cheerful reply, I received a one-page list from a friend titled: “Ten Tips and Tricks for Living a Happier Life.” (I am sorry I don’t have a source, it arrived without attribution.)
I won’t repeat the entire list. Most of us have seen similar ones. But edited, they included:
- Show gratitude.
- Control only your world.
- Appreciate yours.
- Smile more.
- Get active.
- Create good habits.
- Treat yourself.
- Practice self-reflection.
- Choose your attitude.
- Spread joy.
Now, this lovely woman in the linen dress was definitely practicing quite a few items on the above list and my hat is off to her.
She immediately mentioned her gratitude at living in our gorgeous Valley — waving an arm to indicate the beauty of Bob’s Well Bread, the village of Ballard and the mountains surrounding us. She smiled a warm smile at me (or at least her eyes smiled; I couldn’t really see her smile under her mask). She was treating herself (again, those chocolate croissants and a whole display case inside full of delectable bakery items). She was choosing her attitude and spreading joy. She was indeed a successful practitioner of Ten Tips and Tricks for Living a Happier Life.
Rather than talk about how contagious the virus is, consider for a moment how contagious a smile is, and how infectious emotions can be, positive or negative.
None of the usual “Ain’t it awful?” conversations I usually engage in with friends. And believe me, I am one of the worst offenders among people who begin such conversations.
After the interchange with this optimistic woman, I searched within myself (self-reflection is No. 8 on the happiness list, right?). Can I take this list of tips and become happier? I tried. I really did. But, unfortunately, I found myself rebelling. Maybe this is not the time for happiness. Maybe this is a time to feel empathetic and sorrowful for all the people who have suffered and are suffering. I had an image of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Maybe this is a time not to feel happy.
I guess I don’t understand how to feel happy and cut off the pain I am feeling for the many people around the world who are suffering right now.
I wake up with a sense of dread, hoping and wondering how we’re going to escape the mess our country is in. I want to appreciate the incredible good fortune that I and my family are experiencing. Yes, we are all, knock on wood, healthy. We all have roofs over our heads and food on our tables. But I keep seeing the images of people who cannot pay their rent, who cannot be with their children and grandchildren, who are grieving a departed in isolation, and the millions of kids who are having their schooling and childhoods disrupted.
With all due respect to the friend in the beautiful linen dress, and believe me, I do admire her coping skills, I just don’t know how to stay cheerful, myself.
Of course, the delicious chocolate croissants at Bob’s Well Bread help a little.
"...in our personal lives we place all sorts of artificial limitations on ourselves by framing things as either/or and convincing ourselves it’s one or the other."
Elayne Klasson, PhD in psychology, is a writer and recent transplant to the Valley. She was formerly on the faculty at San Jose State University. Her recent novel, Love is a Rebellious Bird, was released in November 2019.
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