Al Capp, the cartoonist who created the strip Li’l Abner, sometimes had Hairless Joe and Lonesome Polecat brew up some Kickapoo Joy Juice. Apparently the stuff (often containing grizzly bears, anvils and horseshoes) stems from the clandestine hooch concocted by soldiers during World War II, often starting from alcohol intended for torpedo fuel. Edward, the character in Blue Rope who attracts trivia like lint, would love that!

Real happiness is creative juice in two ways. First, joy clears  the habitual focus on problems from our neural pathways like an air traffic controller clears runways. New ideas can fly. Second, choosing happiness is a creative act in itself, an I-will-make-this-happen act.

Gretchen Reuben in The Happiness Project decided to choose the theme “keep a contented heart” as a month-long project. She chose to laugh more, show more loving-kindness and enthusiasm. Part of this entailed giving more positive reviews. For instance, her mother-in-law kept the girls one afternoon so she and her husband could go to a movie. Her natural inclination was to say “well, not bad” when her mom-in-law asked later how the movie was. Instead, Gretchen answered, “It was such a treat to go see a movie in the afternoon.” The answer boosted more happiness in her and her mother-in-law.

Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, told of an experience he had as a Disney World Imagineer when a very young man. The Imagineers were trained to answer in a specific way when people asked when the park would close. Instead of replying “The park closes at 8 p.m.”, they were to say “The park stays open until 8 p.m.” Both comments were short and factual, but the smart, creative folk who ran the enterprise knew this subtle adjustment would foster a slight buoyancy in those who heard it.

Of course, sometimes a sense of happiness does depend on the situation rather than one’s response to the situation. When Dee laughs uproariously at her husband’s joke in Blue Rope and her laughter turns gradually to sobs, she knows an unconscious need for change of some kind must be addressed. But most daily happiness (via creativity) is in our hands. Gretchen Reuben was surprised to learn how much. The rest of this post is straight from The Happiness Project:

Giving positive reviews requires humility. I have to admit, I missed the feelings of superiority that I got from using puncturing humor, sarcasm, ironic asides, cynical comments, and cutting remarks. A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence–easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental.

For the first time, I appreciated the people I knew who were unfailingly ready to be pleased. A prayer attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo includes the line “shield your joyous ones”:

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ; rest your weary ones; bless your dying ones; soothe your suffering ones; pity your afflicted ones; shield your joyous ones. And all for your love’s sake.

At first, it struck me as odd that among prayers for the “dying” and “suffering” is a prayer for the “joyous.” Why worry about the joyous ones?

Once I started trying to give positive reviews, though, I began to understand how much happiness I took from the joyous ones in my life–and how much effort it must take for them to be consistently good-tempered and positive. It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. We nonjoyous types suck energy and cheer from the joyous ones; we rely on them to buoy us with their good spirit and to cushion our agitation and anxiety. At the same time, because of a dark element in human nature, we’re sometimes provoked to try to shake the enthusiastic, cheery folk out of their fog of illusion–to make them see that the play was stupid, the money was wasted, the meeting was pointless. Instead of shielding their joy, we blast it. Why is this? I have no idea. But that impulse is there.