Cheerfulness by Mr. McLaughlin

Posted on: 22/01/2021

I have always felt that cheerfulness is an underrated quality. We have all been at awards ceremonies where the prizes for effort, enthusiasm and cheerfulness are somewhat scorned in favour of the more tangible titles. Optimism can sometimes be derided as empty cheer or mistaken for naivety. However, it can play a vital role in enabling people to achieve happiness and contentment, perhaps the most prized feelings of all. In the current situation, this intrinsic fulfilment is more important than ever. Children seem to be born with an abundance of cheerfulness, and it is important to model, encourage, maintain and applaud it as they grow up.

Most people think of cheerfulness as a feeling or temperament, which means that cheerful people are those who got lucky genetically and are blessed with an ‘upbeat personality’. 

Instead of viewing cheerfulness as a trait or feeling, what if we thought of it as a behaviour or a set of actions? A verb rather than a noun? What if we thought of cheerfulness as a habit of thinking and behaving?

We all know the frustrations of waiting in long, slow queues at the post office, of losing connection at the key moment of an important presentation or business meeting, or of turning up at the supermarket and realising that you have left your face mask at home! When these things happen, the cheerfulness with which a person may have entered the day can vanish quickly. But why? Did these events suck up all the cheerfulness?

Of course not. It vanished because the person started thinking and behaving differently:

  • S/he started looking at the time and worrying about being late.

  • Then s/he began castigating himself or herself for not picking another checkout line, or for being forgetful.

  • Perhaps s/he started to direct anger towards the postal workers, or the internet provider, or anybody else to whom blame could be allocated.

In these situations, whatever cheerfulness existed at the start of the day diminishes because of the way a person chooses to think, directly influencing their feelings.

In psychology, there is a set of principles called Cognitive Mediation Theory, which says that our thoughts always mediate the relationship between external events and our emotional reactions. A little old lady taking a long time in the checkout line doesn’t cause frustration, but the interpretation of her being too slow does. An implication of this theory is that we cannot directly control how we feel. We cannot simply dial up our joy levels any more than we can turn down our levels of sadness. We can only change the way we feel indirectly by changing how we think and behave, two things we actually have direct control over.

This leads to a bit of a paradox: if we think of cheerfulness as a feeling or trait - something we just have or happen to feel sometimes - we’re giving up responsibility for and control over it. This means we’re only allowing ourselves to feel cheerful when things in our life are going well. On the other hand, if we think of cheerfulness as an action - something we do or think - it becomes something we have control over, regardless of our circumstances.

So how might we practise cheerfulness?

1. Gratitude. You have to truly appreciate everything you have in life in order to be satisfied with it. If you don't feel grateful, you're always going to be looking for more, no matter how much you already have. Forget what you could have; try to focus on what you do have.

2. Present Focus. Cheerful people tend to live in the moment. They aren't preoccupied with things they've done in the past, and they aren't constantly thinking about the future. It's important to remember the past, but it's harmful to dwell in it, just like it's important to plan for the future, but it's harmful to obsess over it. Focus on being happy right now.

3. Humour. Cheerful people are typically able to find humour in almost anything. Laughing is shown to be beneficial not only for your emotional health, but also your physical health. It releases endorphins and helps you to relax. Even the simple act of smiling can carry some of these effects, so if you want to be happier in your own life, start laughing and smiling whenever you can, and surround yourself with others who appreciate humour.

4. Self-Confidence. Having faith in your own abilities can make you less stressed - you spend less time worrying about whether or not you're good enough to accomplish something and more time actively trying to do it. When you feel confident, your doubts and apprehensions don't weigh you down, and you can focus on what's in front of you. Building confidence can be difficult, especially in adulthood, but it is possible to train yourself to be more confident by practising positive thinking and remembering your skills instead of your faults.

5. Adaptability. Life changes frequently and it is more unpredictable than many of us would like. The most cheerful people in life aren't the ones who focus on the interference or the obstacle, but the ones who focus on finding the best way around it. 

6. Optimism. Optimists find the best in everything and aren't ever consumed with the need to search for faults. Fostering optimism can be tough, especially if you're used to a cynical line of thinking, but, with practice, it is possible to change your outlook.

7. Intangible Values. Most happy people are not obsessed with tangible rewards or destinations. They aren't as concerned about getting to a certain position, making a certain amount of money, or having certain material things. They're more concerned with the intangible parts of life: friendship, fun, and family. 

Cheerfulness allows for progress when things are going well, and for mistakes and forgiveness when they are not. If you or your child are finding cheerfulness hard to come by during this lockdown, know that there are people out there ready and willing to help you in and out of our school community, and please do not hesitate to contact us for support. 

So, if your child ever receives the ‘always smiling’ medal, the ‘looking on the bright side’ shield or the ‘glass half full’ cup, do not feel disappointed - feel thankful instead. Simply take a leaf out of their book, cherish the fact that they hold a vital and sometimes elusive quality which will set them on their way to future success and happiness, and share in the joy of cultivating it. 

Mr. McLaughlin