Melancholy is such a great word. When Smashing Pumpkins released their double LP Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, it quickly became one of my favorite albums. To this day, every time I listen to it I'm inspired to write.
I remember sitting in my American Literature class with their songs stuck in my head. I was supposed to be reading The Scarlet Letter, but I all could think were the words "Tell me I'm the chosen one, Jesus was an only son for you." Nearly 20 years later, that album still remains one of my all time favorites.
But that younger version of me, the high school junior distracted by music, didn't fully understand the meaning of melancholy. I thought of it as something bittersweet. Only a hint of sadness. At that time, I didn't even realize that I had a melancholic disposition.
As years have passed, I have come to better understand the meaning of the word. Gloomy. Somber. Pensive. Lost in thought.
I don't see melancholy as a bad thing. Even though it makes certain tendencies a little more viable - depression, despair, pessimism. It has it's trade offs. It's given me compassion and empathy for those that are hurting - the outcasts, the misfits. It's forced me to be a little more deliberate than most. And I'm learning to be happy in times of mourning and infinite sadness.
However, that learning takes a considerable amount of effort. Knowing that my coping mechanisms are either mockery or grumbling, knowing that my default response to stress is to retreat, knowing that happiness is impossible by doing the things I've always done, I'm making conscious actions to change some habits.
To combat negativity in the workplace, I've put together a "Happy @ Work" playlist. It's on my iPod and I will turn it on in my office to help keep my mood positive. I'm surrounded by people who constantly whine and complain so my musical therapy is a pleasant counterbalance.
The quest for happiness is not solely internal; there is an external component. It's about the way I interact with others. It's the way I present myself in social media. It's about the topics I chose to write about and post to this blog.
Last spring, I mentioned that I'm not a natural encourager. To be honest (and those who know me can confirm) I tend to be more of a grouch. Like Oscar. One of my greatest fears is that I'll age into a grumpy old man, standing out on my porch shaking my fist at those darn kids and yelling at them to get off my lawn. In hopes to avoid that fate, I'm finding ways to compliment, motivate, and encourage those around me. I'm trying to envision the positive side where I would not normally see it.
For example, a few months ago I overheard a conversation between two ladies complaining about parking outdoors in North Idaho. One of them griped about the trees at her apartment complex shedding needles and how she's sick of sap dripping onto the hood of her car. The other said she hated pine trees.
Something seemed tweet worthy. My instincts wanted to make fun of them. Don't park next to trees, you wouldn't have that problem if you didn't park under a tree branch. Don't like evergreens? You're living in the wrong part of the country. Pine sap dripping on your car? At least it's not bird poop.
Halfway through composing that tweet, I stopped myself. 'Naw,' I thought. 'It's not worth it. I shouldn't be mean.' Instead, I tweeted the following: "I prefer pine trees to palm trees." The result to this more positively minded tweet garnered genuine responses that affirmed my opinion including a Texas friend reminiscing how much she missed living in the northwest.
Over the summer, I observed a peculiar neighbor while driving to church. He was dressed in tube socks and flip flops, shorts and an ill fitting t-shirt. He appeared to be at least my age, if not older. And he was spinning in circles at the end of his driveway with a Bubbles wand in his hand. Not a kid in sight, just him. When I got out of my car, I started typing a description of what he looked like and his choice in activity. It started with the intent to make a joke, but then I realized that he was enjoying himself - and probably more so than me. Instead of being cruel, I ended the post commenting that I bet he was having more fun than anyone who was reading my update. Once again, the response was positive. One even alleged that I was jealous of my neighbor - which was definitely a possibility.
Lesson learned. Intentional efforts to be positive are far more rewarding. But lets be real, I'm not perfect. It takes a lot of work, and I don't always get it right. Mockery is far easier. But there is a shift going on; I call that progress.
I am convinced our world would be a better place if more people made the effort to embrace the power of positivity.