It's all captured on film, the grainy home-movie variety. My shiny red purse sways from side to side, bright and jaunty. But it's swung by my 2-year-old brother.
He was always the happy one. I was Eeyore from "Winnie the Pooh" - somber, tentative, even ponderous. A comment on my third-grade report card said it all: "She needs to be more outgoing, not so serious."
You can argue that people come packaged with individual styles, some happy, some less so. That's what I thought. But I suffered from comparisons to my carefree brother and stung from that first-ever criticism from a teacher. So I decided at that young age to take her advice and smile more.
It didn't help. Happiness isn't something you pin on your face. Even my approach to overcoming a glum attitude was serious. So my questions remained: Could I change something about myself that felt so built-in? Or should I accept the somber disposition as just who I was?
Wrong questions, it turned out. Both assumed my native character to be melancholy and sentenced me to either false hope or resignation. I learned instead that joy was within my being all along, integral to my spiritual makeup - my likeness to Spirit, God.
The awakening to my native joyfulness and spontaneity happened over time. Step one was the desire to feel more joy. Step two was a willingness to admit that I could. These prepared me for the real leap, to perceiving happiness as God's will for me - not a choice, not subject to any outward condition, and not dependent on me.
It is God's nature to endow His creation with buoyancy, contentment, and gladness. That's because of a simple fact of being: God is good and includes all good. So each of us, as His expression, embodies every good quality and idea without fail. Joy is so clearly good, it's included as one of the Godlike characteristics that are part of everyone.
So what about that less-than-lighthearted temperament I seemed to come with?
My spiritual journey was spurred on by some arresting words by Mary Baker Eddy. In an 1886 sermon she explained: "If you wish to be happy, argue with yourself on the side of happiness; take the side you wish to carry, and be careful not to talk on both sides, or to argue stronger for sorrow than for joy. You are the attorney for the case, and will win or lose according to your plea" ("Christian Healing," page 10).
A watershed experience in college helped me understand this passage. As a junior, I began to have mood swings. I could almost predict the biweekly plummet from high to rock bottom and the inexplicable rise back up. I couldn't find a way to control - let alone stop - this pattern. Even the lighter periods were overshadowed by the fear that my happy days were numbered.
I welcomed the idea that I could argue for happiness. By this point, I was no longer satisfied with whatever bit of joy my daily life brought. My efforts to manage my attitude, or stave off the blues, weren't effective at all.
I could see that when I viewed myself as joyless, I was arguing against my spiritual nature as joy-filled.
The resulting periods of downheartedness corresponded with this view. Consistent happiness began to fill my life when I argued for it - when I insisted on understanding and feeling this God-endowed quality as my right.
Arguing with myself "on the side of happiness" became a regular way of thinking. As I accepted joy as God-bestowed, I got better at rejecting the temptation to feel low. Embracing lightheartedness as normal, I more regularly refused thoughts of sadness.
This discipline was much more than positive thinking. With its basis on God's good nature and my likeness to Him, I was assured of success. Not only was I soon no longer plagued by mood swings, but also I became a happy person. Today most people who know me would be surprised to learn that I struggled with periods of unhappiness or a morose temperament.
Capturing a cheerful attitude isn't a chore or the result of a mental pep talk. It's an awakening to one's divine heritage. As the Bible promises, "The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (Isa. 51:11). That's a guarantee even the shiniest red purse can't match.