Gretchen Rubin

Happiness, my sister’s wedding, gold stars, and the duty to be happy.

I’m back at home after my sister’s wedding in Kansas City. It was a perfect weekend.

My mother did a tremendous amount of work for this wedding to give it a lot of beautiful, original, labor-intensive touches. I have an insatiable craving for the gold stars of praise and appreciation myself, so I kept giving gold stars to my mother – saying how wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful, well-organized, etc. etc. it was. And so did my sister.

I was struck by the fact, however, that my mother seemed only mildly gratified by this recognition. She was focused on getting everything done as best she could, and on making sure that everyone had a great time – especially the bride and bridegroom.

Which made me think about the duty to be happy. For my mother, it was far more important that my sister be happy with the wedding than that my sister be grateful or appreciative. Fortunately, that was easy. My sister loved every minute.

But what if she hadn’t been happy with the wedding? What if she'd been disappointed by the flowers, by the way the room looked, by the way the wedding turned out?

She should’ve acted exactly the way she did act: ecstatically happy.

How important it is to be easy to please! We pride ourselves on our critical faculties, our discernment, the subtle touches we use to express our personalities…but it’s far more difficult to be enthusiastic, to approve, to enjoy.

And of course, my mother had a duty to be happy, too. If she’d been snappish or frantic all weekend, because she was trying to control every little detail, she would’ve dragged down the mood.

It was tough, because my mother wanted everything to be perfect. I noticed that she kept repeating certain comments throughout the weekend, to keep herself calm.

“Often, it’s the things that go wrong that make the best memories, later.”
Someone makes a wildly inappropriate toast. The cake slides to the floor. The bride steps out of her shoe as she walks down the aisle. Later, this moment will be a wedding highlight.

“I’ll notice, but no one else will notice.”
My mother has an eye that astonishes me. As we neared the actual event, she kept reminding herself that other people wouldn’t even register details that she saw as less than perfect.

“Done’s done.”
At a certain point, my mother just let events unfold. She was able to have fun and enter into the moment instead of worrying about every little thing. This is very, very tough if you’re a perfectionist.

Research shows that your thinking style makes a real difference in your happiness. If my mother had instead been repeating phrases like, “If XYZ goes wrong, the wedding will be ruined,” “People can never do anything right,” or “We’re always unlucky with weather,” she would have been far less happy, even if the wedding had happened in the same way.

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