When I was about 11, I was talking on the phone with my grandfather and he told me I was “his little sunshine.” He said that he loved that I was always so happy when we talked.
That comment shocked me – as a painfully shy kid, I was normally very anxious anytime I talked over the phone, especially with adults. I remember this was around the time I had been getting a little more comfortable, at least when it was Grandpa on the other end of the line, and apparently it showed…or at least he had enough grace for his odd little granddaughter to see past her social anxiety.
Somehow, his words have stuck with me in the 13-some years since then. In part, it’s because I want to live up to it. I want to be someone who is not only has a genuinely positive attitude, but shares that generously. It’s not something to keep to myself – I want to foster joy in others. And like so many good things, it sure ain’t easy. Even as a kid, I was prone to excessive worries, extreme anxiety, skepticism, and depression. For some reason, I was scared to even smile at strangers, and daycare workers had described me as “such a serious little girl.” I wasn’t exactly what most folks would consider a bright and cheery harbinger of merriment and delight.
But my grandfather knew me well, and if he saw something in me that lit up like sunshine, then I believed it was there. And his praise made me feel brave enough to maybe let that sunshine out a little more, like maybe it would even be a good thing. Smile more openly, laugh with less self-consciousness, and be less guarded in my enthusiasm. Celebrate the good in life more than worry about the bad. Chase the sunshine. And again, it’s not easy.
You know what is easy? Being a cynic. The world is full of terrifying and heartbreaking happenings, and it’s full of people who will lie and cheat and hurt you. Cynicism is a natural response, a protective armor against a world heavy enough to cut you down with one headline, one word, one slamming door. Cynicism is easy. [I should know – it was essentially my credo during my last year of undergrad and first year out of college.] Thinking the worst, looking at the negative side of life…it’s easy, it’s safe, and often it comes naturally.
But what is easy is not necessarily good. Eating gluten-free cupcakes and fried mozzarella sticks all day might be easy, but it’s certainly not good. Likewise, it’s difficult and scary to look for the positive. In a world like ours, rejoicing is an act of defiance that often seems impossible. Sometimes I dread the thought of even looking for the bright side, let alone chasing the sunshine.
What if I can’t find it?
That’s what I’ve learned, though – you can always find it. Maybe not right away. Maybe not in the places you expect. But it’s always there. [And so is He.] So when you find a crack that lets the littlest bit of sunshine in, you hang on. You hang on for dear life and you do the work – because it’s not always easy – and you pull until that crack is a little wider and before you know it, a little more light falls through. The more light you let fall through, the more likely it is someone else sees it. Whether it’s the overpowering intensity of the midday July sun or a glimmer tiptoeing across the horizon at dusk, sunshine is unmistakable. Even better, it’s contagious. When we intentionally seek out the positive and choose to be joyful, even in painful or unpleasant circumstances, we empower others to do the same.
These days, I’m still not a bubbly ball of sunshine and rainbows. My “serious” side is very much alive, and I’m probably more a realist than an optimist. But I make the conscious choice to focus on the good, to find how I can improve the not-good and bust my ass to do so, and count my blessings every single day. And wouldn’t you know, my life is better for it. The more sunshine you chase, the more you learn to love the process. It’s a habit that often takes a little courage and vulnerability and a lot of generosity and grace. It’s an act of rebellion in a world too often dimmed with tragedy and dysfunction and injustice and destruction. But before you know it, it’s a habit, and you’re happier for it.
And the thing about habits and acts of rebellion?
They’re always contagious.
Told you I’m a realist.