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Just dropping by ... Happiness is a choice

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairy Published on 23 August 2019

I recently had an opportunity to teach a grandchild about the truth of this statement: As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.

My adopted grandson has been struggling with the loss of a father and the eventual marriage of his now-widowed mother to another man. He has been weepy and throwing temper tantrums, hoping to change the outcome of the situation. It isn’t that he doesn’t like the man his mother has chosen to marry. They get along great. They’ve gone on outings and played games together. However, my grandson is obsessed with the thought of moving from his home and losing his one-on-one relationship with his mother. He is terrified of the unknown.

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My grandson doesn’t like change, and it certainly is understandable. No one enjoys change. He was recently yanked away from his birth mother because she was unable to care for him. He was adopted into my daughter and her husband’s home but, in less than a year, his new father passed away, leaving him alone with his new mom (my daughter). That is a lot for a little guy of 9 to process.

It hasn’t been easy for my daughter either. She just lost her husband and needs a companion, and she realizes my grandson needs a good dad who will love him. She found someone to fill the empty spaces in her heart and be a kind father to her adopted son. She is ready to move on. Chances for happiness in marriage are not easy to find – and when you find it, you need to seize the opportunity. She could postpone the wedding until my grandson gets settled in his mind, or she can get married and have someone to help in settling him.

While we understand and have compassion for the individuals involved in an unfortunate situation, and though it makes them feel good, it doesn’t solve the problem. Life needs to move on to get better. You cannot stagnate and grieve over the cards you have been dealt forever. That doesn’t change anything. Yes, grieving must take place. It is healthy and healing, but grieving must not block the happiness and progress of another, and it must not shadow and destroy the rest of your life.

What do you do to help a 9-year-old who is throwing temper tantrums, storming around like a tornado, making everyone miserable in a time when preparations should be filled with joy?

We could tell him, “You should be happy. You should act your age. You should let your mother be happy. You should put a smile on your face and quit trying to destroy the happiness of others. This should be a happy time for us.” That should work, but there is trouble embedded in the word “should.” Should means you are not good enough where you are. Your actions are not acceptable, and you need to magically change. Only trouble is: Even adults can’t magically change. We can’t expect a 9-year-old to rise to the occasion. Often, we expect just that. We say, “Put a smile on your face or else … Go to your room until you can put on a happy face. Fake it until you make it.”

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Telling someone to “act the part” is dangerous. “Acting the part” is what hypocrites do. Hypocrites are dishonest to the core. They learn to act the part someone else has given them. They learn to be emotionally dishonest, as their emotions and feelings are not validated. They learn to deny their true feelings. They reason, “I should not be feeling this way. If I have those emotions, they must be bad. If I am feeling those feelings, I must be bad.” Gradually, they learn to espouse the expectations of others for fear of rejection or punishment. It becomes a burden they carry for the rest of their lives. Emotional honesty is the hallmark of a well-adjusted adult, and it takes time to get there.

So what do you do? You can’t hold the entire family hostage to the temper tantrums of one. Unbridled anger is destructive and dangerous. It’s probably more dangerous than emotional dishonesty because unbridled anger usually hurts others and destroys property.

When I was in college, pursuing my theater degree, I learned some things about anger. In a play, you often must display anger. I was not good at displaying anger. In fact, it was a struggle for me, but after a few classes, I got very good at it. I could be happy one minute and a raging inferno of anger the next. I could be laughing joyfully and crying real tears of sorrow the next. It was quite a shock to realize that emotions are created and do not sneak up on you without warning. Emotions are a choice.

Yes, emotions are a choice, and as with all choices, they can become habits. If you become really good at displaying anger, it becomes an automatic response to anything you don’t like. The more you use it, the stronger it grows. You learn that raging anger can manipulate people and bring them into submission. Not a good choice, but many use it. If you are not careful, anger can control you. Just like anger, self-pity, sorrow, depression – and, conversely, joy, contentment and happiness – are all choices.

One evening, I told my grandson. “I have a secret that can make your face look happy.” He was interested because he was miserable, and people had told him they didn’t like his grumpy face, and he needed to get it fixed. He had no idea how to do it.

I didn’t tell him what to do. I said, “You can make your face change by what you think about. Grandma is very sad now that everyone is moving away. I hate being alone. I don’t have any grandkids here to come and visit me. I am very lonely. I don’t think anybody loves me.” Because they were real emotions and something I was experiencing, tears came to my eyes, and my voice started to quiver.

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Then I switched, “But I am so glad that I have time to do my quilts and my gardening. I have time to write. I can talk to my grandkids on Marco Polo and read them stories. I am able to go when I want to. I have so many things to be thankful for.” My voice began to change, and I smiled.

Then I coached him, “What is one good thing about having a new dad?” He hesitantly answered, “We can play Legos.” “What else?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he frowned. I gave him a few ideas for what to do where he was going to live that he couldn’t do here. “You can Goofy Golf. You can go to the park.” As we talked, he started to smile. It wasn’t a made-up smile. It was genuine, filled with hope. “Can you see how that works?” I asked. “When you have happy thoughts, your face naturally shows it. Your thoughts control everything.”

The next day, I asked my daughter how it was going. She smiled, “Really well.” My grandson had bounced out of the house that morning. His broad smile would rival the sunshine. I asked him if he had been thinking happy thoughts and he said, “Yes!” I said, “I can tell.”

Now I am not naïve enough to think he will always be happy and be able to control his thoughts, which in turn will control his emotions, but he has a tool that will help him make better choices.

Thinking happy thoughts boils down to gratitude and positive expectations. If we look back on the blessings we have, we can literally change sorrow into contentment. If we look at the future with positive expectations, it fills our minds with hope. That will change how we feel about the present. There are always two ways to look at any situation. We can choose everything that is wrong, or we can choose everything that is right. Our face will follow suit. Every good deed and every violent crime begins in the mind. Literally, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.

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