Certainly if there is any worldly talent worth cultivating, it's a sense of humor. To possess a cheerful outlook may be the greatest gift of the gods, the distant second best being a taste for irony. Such temperaments allow one to step back from painful situations and view them with a little detachment. Why else do we live, concluded Jane Austen, but "to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in return"? To the genial-spirited anything that happens can be shrugged off as yet another part of "life's rich pageant."
But how can one acquire such an upbeat attitude? In the same way we acquire all our habits--through practice. Psychologist William James discovered that if one pretended to be happy, this "going through the motions" would by itself lead to an improved mood. In other words: Act as you would like to be. It pays to picture the sort of character you present to the world. Do you want to be regarded as a whiner, a self-pitying hypochondriac, a man without backbone, a woman without pride? We all admire those who can control themselves, who--to use cliches--look on the bright side or possess a sunny disposition. The world, it's said, may be a tragedy for those who feel, but it can be a comedy, or at least of comedy of errors, for those who think.
--Michael Dirda, Book by Book: Notes of Reading and Life
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