Good Cheer

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   July 26, 2018

If you ever see a sundial inscribed with a Latin expression, it will probably say:

HORAS NON NUMERO NISI SERENAS, which can be translated as “I count only the happy hours.” This is highly appropriate for a sundial, which tells the time only when the sun is shining. 

But the idea of always “looking on the bright side” is, of course, an old one, though I can’t help thinking of the cynical Monty Python version (in The Life of Brian) which is sung while Brian (a sort of stand-in for Christ) and his associates are being crucified.

When people ask me if I am an optimist or a pessimist, I usually reply that I am a realist. Is that a cop-out? Reality, one might plead, is neither good nor bad. Any difference, as Shakespeare has Hamlet tell us, is only because “thinking makes it so.” But there is the beauty of it. If we are free to think (which admittedly is a very big IF), then we might as well think good thoughts.

If you need cheering up, I can tell you several cheerful things about yourself just based on the fact that you are reading this (which is a good thing in itself). Number one, it proves (if anything can) that you are alive. Most of us would give that a big plus right there. It also tends to indicate that you are not blind, not illiterate, and not without intelligence. And it shows, by inference, that wherever you are right now is not on fire, that no other immediate catastrophe is threatening your tranquility, and that you have enough leisure and health to enjoy an essay in the paper. In fact, if only you could go on reading my Thoughts indefinitely, you need not have anything to fear for the rest of your life.

But that brings us to a sticking-point – a little nuisance called mortality. Possibly just when you are getting used to being alive, along comes the Big Nothing. Could anything be more unfair or pointless? Quick! Bring in the optimist! He or she (who, of course, is just as mortal as the rest of us) will tell us that we should not be thinking about the incalculable future. The only time that truly exists is the present moment.

You and I have, all our lives, been relentlessly exposed to this kind of claptrap, often disguised as “Religion.” (Even Jesus taught us to “Take no thought for the morrow.”) But how can we buy it, when our minds are full of ineradicable memories of the Past and anticipations of the Future?  (And incidentally, how can one major religion worship a fat smiling Buddha, while another worships a gaunt bleeding man nailed to a cross?)

Still. we encounter people to whom “Be of Good Cheer” is not just a dogma, but a way of life. What is their secret? Some of them will tell us “Keep busy!” “Exercise!” “Health is Happiness!” Many will insist that it all depends on your relationships with other people – listening, learning, lending a hand, and, of course, loving.

Then we must consider that life-enhancing quality called a sense of humor. If it’s funny, it can’t really be so terrible, can it?  Yes, but there are limits. Fortunately, we live in a time when those limits are being stretched. For example, I would never have thought that someone’s beloved pet dog being suddenly crushed by an enormous weight dropping on it could be funny. But I found myself laughing heartily when this happened in A Fish Called Wanda. (The same movie also makes blatant fun of people with speech defects.)

And don’t forget the cheering power of music and song. Millions of soldiers have faced imminent death singing “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile!”

Forgive me, but I can’t resist concluding with the supposed last words of the English bishop Hugh Latimer, to a fellow “Heretic,” when they were both being burned at the stake in 1555 just outside that great seat of learning, Balliol College, Oxford:

“Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.”

“Be of good cheer!” That’s what the man said. But you don’t have to be a martyr in order to maintain a cheerful disposition. A good supply of chocolate can also help. 


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