From: The True Citizen How To Become One
Cheerfulness is the best promoter of health.--Addison
Give us, oh give us, the man who sings at his work.--Carlyle
Age without cheerfulness is like a Lapland winter without the sun.
An ounce of cheerfulness is worth a pound of sadness.--Fuller
The habit of looking at the bright side of things is better than an
income of a thousand a year.--Hume.
We all love the company of cheerful people, but we do not think, as
much as we ought to, of the nature of cheerfulness itself. Because we
find that some people are naturally cheerful, we are apt to forget that
cheerfulness is a habit which can be cultivated by all. Whether we do or
do not possess a cheerful disposition, depends very largely upon our own
efforts; for if we will endeavor, while still in our early years, to
form the habit of looking on the bright side of things, and then persist
in this course as we grow older, we shall certainly attain to that
habitual cheerfulness which makes the lives of those we admire so sunny
and so pleasing.
Even the smallest matters may aid us in forming this habit. Perhaps you
have heard of the little girl who noticed, while eating her dinner, that
the golden rays of the sun fell upon her spoon. She put the spoon to her
mouth, and then exclaimed, "O mother! I have swallowed a whole spoonful
of sunshine." Some children even take a cheerful view of their
punishments, as seen in the following incident. "Little Charley had been
very naughty, and was imprisoned for an hour in the kitchen wood-box. He
speedily began amusing himself with chips and splinters, and was playing
quite busily and happily, when a neighbor entered the house by way of
the kitchen. 'Charley,' he cried, 'what are you doing there?' 'Nothing,'
said Charley, 'nothing; but mamma's just been having one of her bad
Cheerfulness consists in that happy frame of mind which is best
described as the shutting out of all that pertains to the morbid, the
gloomy, the fretful, and the discontented. The perfection of
cheerfulness is displayed in general good temper united to much
kindliness of heart. It arises partly from personal goodness, and partly
from belief in the goodness of others. Its face is ever directed toward
happiness. It sees "the glory in the grass, the sunshine on the flower."
It encourages happy thoughts, and lives in an atmosphere of peace. It
costs nothing, and yet is invaluable; for it blesses its possessor, and
affords a large measure of enjoyment to others.
Cheerfulness bears the same friendly regard to the mind as to the body.
It banishes all anxious care and discontent, soothes and composes the
passions, and keeps the soul in a perpetual calm. Try for a single day
to keep yourself in an easy and cheerful frame of mind; and then compare
the day with one which has been marred by discontent, and you will find
your heart open to every good motive, and your life so greatly
strengthened, that you will wonder at your own improvement, and will
feel that you are more than repaid for the effort.
Goethe once said, "Give me the man who bears a heavy load lightly, and
looks on a grave matter with a blithe and cheerful eye." And Carlyle has
pointed out that "One is scarcely sensible of fatigue whilst he marches
to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in
their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness; altogether past
calculation its power of endurance. Efforts, to be permanently useful,
must be uniformly joyous--a spirit all sunshine, graceful from very
gladness, beautiful because bright."
This spirit of cheerfulness should be encouraged in our youth if we
would wish to have the benefit of it in our old age. Persons who are
always innocently cheerful and good-humored are very useful in the
world; they maintain peace and happiness, and spread a thankful temper
among all who live around them.
"A little word in kindness spoken
A motion or a tear,
Has often healed a heart that's broken,
And made a friend sincere."
Cheerfulness does not depend upon the measure of our possessions. There
is a Persian story to the effect that the great king, being out of
spirits, consulted his astrologers, and was told that happiness could be
found by wearing the shirt of a perfectly happy man. The court, and the
homes of all the prosperous classes were searched in vain; no such man
could be found. At last a common laborer was found to fulfill the
conditions; he was absolutely happy; but, alas! the remedy was as far
off as ever, for the man had no shirt.
The same truth may be illustrated by a reference to the life and
character of the Roman emperor, Nero. Few persons ever had greater means
and opportunities for self-gratification. From the senator to the slave,
everybody in the empire crouched in servile subjection before his
throne. Enormous revenues from the provinces were poured into his
coffers, and no one dared criticise his manner of spending them. He was
absolute monarch, holding the destinies of millions at his will. He came
to the throne at seventeen; and during the fifteen years of his reign he
exhausted every known means of passionate indulgence. He left nothing
untried or untouched that could stimulate the palate, or arouse his
passions, or administer in any way to his pleasure. After the great fire
in Rome, he built his golden palace, and said, "Now at last I am lodged
like a man"; but alas! his search for happiness was in vain. During his
later years he never knew a really cheerful day; and, at last, he was
forced to flee before his outraged people, and took refuge in a
miserable hut, trembling like a base coward, where, at his own request, a
slave did him the favor to end his miserable life.
In one of his famous essays, Addison says, "I have always preferred
cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as a
habit of the mind. Mirth is like a flash of lightning that breaks
through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps
up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and
Cheerfulness and good spirits depend in a great degree upon bodily
causes; but much may be done for the promotion of this frame of mind.
"Persons subject to low spirits should make the room in which they live
as cheerful as possible; hanging up pictures or prints, and filling the
odd nooks and corners with beautiful ornaments. A bay window looking
upon pleasant objects, and, above all, a large fire whenever the weather
will permit, are favorable to good spirits, and the tables near should
be strewed with books and pamphlets." "To this," says Sydney Smith,
"must be added as much eating and drinking as is consistent with health;
and some manual employment for men--as gardening, a carpenter's shop, or
a turning-lathe. Women have always manual employment enough, and it is a
great source of cheerfulness." For children, fresh air, occupation, and
outdoor sports are great helps in overcoming depression and gloom.
There are a few noble natures whose very presence carries sunshine with
them wherever they go; a sunshine which means pity for the poor,
sympathy for the suffering, help for the unfortunate, and kindness
toward all. It is the sunshine, and not the cloud, that colors the
flower. There is more virtue in one sunbeam than in a whole hemisphere
of cloud and gloom.
A man of this stamp is found in Sydney Smith, an English clergyman and
writer of great distinction, who was born in 1771, and died in 1845. His
was a sunny temperament. Noted for his wit, he was equally famous for
his kindness. He hated injustice; he praised virtue; he pierced humbugs;
he laughed away trouble; he preached and lived the gospel of Christian
Smith helped to found the _Edinburgh Review_, and he advocated
putting on the title-page this truthful, too truthful, sentence: "We
cultivate literature on a little oatmeal." Poor but happy, this jest is
characteristic of the man. His name became known: his society was
sought. Macaulay and he were called "the great talkers." He moved to
London, and gave lectures on moral philosophy that drew crowds, so that
the carriages of fashion blocked the streets. He was the charm of every
circle. His pen was always on the side of progress and good fellowship.
At every turn in life he made light of vexations, and never allowed
himself or those with him to indulge in morbid ideas, imaginative
forebodings, or resentment. This is what he wrote to his daughter: "I am
not situated as I should choose; but I am resolved to like it, and to
reconcile myself to it; which is more manly than to feign myself above
it and send up complaints of being thrown away." One of his favorite
expressions was, "Let us glorify the room"; which meant, throw up the
shades and let in the sunshine.
The following anecdote will help to show his bright and sparkling
disposition: At dinner with a large party of famous men and women, a
French scientist annoyed all the rest by loudly arguing for atheism, and
proclaimed his belief that there is no God. "Very good soup this,"
struck in Sydney Smith. "Yes, monsieur, it is excellent," replied the
atheist. "Pray, sir," continued Smith, "do you believe in a cook?" The
ounce of wit was worth a pound of argument.
He is one of the very few men whose names have been handed down to us by
reason of the possession of this gift, and his career should be more
[Footnote: See "Wit and Wisdom of Sydney Smith," by Duyckinck (1856);
"Memoirs of Sydney Smith" by his daughter, Lady Holland (1855); "Life
and Times of Sydney Smith," by Stuart J. Reid (London, 1844).]
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