“In this little book a lesson is set for you, my reader. It may seem a hard lesson to learn; nevertheless, it is one you want to learn, and one you can learn…”
“Everyone carries an atmosphere about him”, suggests The Rev JR Miller in “The Blessing of Cheerfulness” as he puts forward ‘cheerfulness’ as a worthy component of this atmosphere.
I’m not sure Miller and I would use the word ‘cheerfulness’ in the same way. In fact, if Miller had written this today (and not in 1895), I think he would have chosen a different word. He talks about a deep sense of contentment and peace that comes from an exercised habit and deliberate relationships. I see Elle Woods from Legally Blonde as the embodiment of ‘cheerfulness’.
JRM acknowledges that the habit of cheerfulness can be difficult to form through the hardships of life, but talks about how these difficulties can sometimes highlight things that bring about a better kind of ‘cheerfulness’:
“The glare of human joy hides from our sight ten thousand blessings which we cannot see until it grows dark about us. We lose some joys, but we find others that were hidden in the light of those we lost. Where earth’s tapers burned with only flickering light, heaven’s lamps now shine. Where we leaned upon a human arm, often trembling, at last broken, we find now, instead, the everlasting arm.”
He also quotes another author, George MacDonald, who wrote about how darkness can embolden light:
“Till a man has learned to be happy without the sunshine, and therein becomes capable of enjoying it perfectly, it is well that the shine and the shadow should be mingled.”
And so JRM suggests we can make a habit of/”train ourselves” in looking for the sunshine,
“It will help us in learning the lesson of cheerfulness if we persistently train ourselves to see the good thing, the bright things, in our common life.”
JRM suggests that this ‘blessing of cheerfulness’ is “manifold. It blesses the man himself. It makes him strong. Burdens are light when one can sing under them. Battles are easily won when the heart is gold.”
There are complexities JRM doesn’t seem to have the space to explore; or perhaps things that had not yet come to join this kind of advice – particularly on mental health and how some may find it harder to be ‘cheerful’ than others.
But he also talks about the benefit of cheerfulness in how we relate to others. He sets the scene by writing about how “this world is full of disheartenment” and suggests that “there is always need for human help”. “Physical relief or comfort is not the only help one may give another. There is utility which acts on the spirit, and makes one stronger, braver, more hopeful.”
He wonders aloud how doctors (or ‘physicians’) can afford to smile from time to time, given their surroundings of pain and suffering – and concludes that it is because of how the physician looks on the pain and misery: that he or she is present as a healer, to give relief…and so is given joy by being able to bring help. Miller relates this to how God relates to the world, that in his care of us he sets a mandate for us to do the same for others. Throughout the book, ‘cheerfulness’ appears to be a duty, the embetterment of the lives of others a task all people should set out to do.
He includes a lovely thought from Kossuth who once said,
“If I had to choose my place among the forces of nature, do you know what I would choose to be? I would be the dew that falls silently and invisibly over the face of nature, trampled underfoot and unconsidered but perpetually blessing and refreshing all forms of life.”
A simple book, with some things missing and unexplored. But two helpful lessons for me – one, to pursue goodness and looking for ‘light’.
“There are nettles everywhere,
But smooth green grasses are more common still;
The blue of heaven is larger than the cloud.”
And secondly, to remember that it is not only in seeking physical freedom or aid for others that I can help them, but that in spirit, attitude and conversation, it is possible to “make it easier for others to live.”