Last night, I went to a surprise birthday party for one of my best friends. Her husband arranged for everyone to meet for dinner, then to go to Madison Square Garden to see Barry Manilow. (My friend loves Barry Manilow.)
I had a terrific time at the concert, and the night’s experience led me to do a lot of thinking about happiness.
First of all, it struck me that my friend shows considerable strength of character in being such an avowed Barry Manilow fan. After all, Barry Manilow is…Barry Manilow. It’s so much safer to criticize or to mock than to embrace; enthusiasm is a form of social courage.
And her enthusiasm made me very happy. Being at the concert, and seeing how much she loved the music, made it possible for me to tap into that feeling. One of my personal limitations (which I’ve come to accept, in keeping with my resolution to “Be Gretchen”) is that I don’t have much affinity for music. And I have no particular feeling for Barry Manilow. But this context allowed me to enjoy his music wholeheartedly.
It also occurred to me that the evening’s novelty was part of the fun. I’d never been to a concert at Madison Square Garden before. I didn’t know there’d be a light show, dancers, video screens, and even free souvenir light sticks. Studies show that people who take the time to do new things (who make even minor changes to their routines) have a greater sense of well-being than those who don’t. I certainly experienced that.
And when the evening began, I was very distracted and troubled. I couldn’t stop thinking about something that was bothering me. But eventually the music, the show, the novelty, and most of all, the company of other people, worked to boost my mood.
As I began to cheer up, my self-absorption lifted (a good example of why there’s a duty to be happy). The words in the songs led me to a meditation on happiness, and I began to ask myself:
Like Mandy, do I give without taking?
Is there tenderness any more in my fingertips?
Yes, I have the magic at last—am I living up to it?
And so Barry Manilow, with his greatest hits and his favorite songs from the 40’s, 50s, 60’s, and 70’s, worked on me as a call to greater love. I left vowing to live up to my Twelve Commandments, my Four Pillars of Happiness, and all my sub-resolutions. I comforted myself with the words of Samuel Johnson: “I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions.”
I just wish I’d bought a souvenir “Music and Passion” t-shirt.
How exciting — I just found out that the Times (London) blog, Alpha Mummy, included The Happiness Project in a list of “Ten blogs every working mum should read.”
“Mum.” Fabulous. That sounds so much more glamorous than “mom.”