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Happy Thoughts

by Carolyn Henderson on 6/14/2011 10:28:26 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. She is a Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews and her  freelance writing appears in regional newspapers, online magazines, and her humor blog, Middle-Aged Plague.


Several weeks ago, in a comment thread to Making a Million Is EZ! EZ! EZ!, Sandy Askey-Adams recalled watching a television minister speak to a rapt -- but curiously unsmiling -- crowd about the importance of thinking, and acting, positively. No doubt the minister was happy because, as Sandy observed, he was receiving monetary compensation for each warmed seat, but far be it from Sandy or me to think such uncharitable thoughts.


At the end of Sandy's comment, she concluded:


"Have not become a millionaire through my art. Whoops, that is negative. Change that to ... I will become one thru my art. :) :) SMILES. "

And there-in, this direct-speaking, no nonsense, businesswoman artist with a sense of humor nails it, tongue in cheek:


Positive thoughts are good: no doubt they set in motion endorphins or Indie dolphins or whatever those chemicals in the brain are called (did you know that I am the child of a scientist, a world-class microbiologist researcher? Doesn't it show?).




Happy thoughts, and a good attitude, are just that: they make you more pleasant to be around; they make living with yourself, and your circumstances, easier; they reduce your stress level and no doubt set in motion a series of chemical reactions in your brain, but, in and of themselves, happy thoughts and a good attitude, as Sandy obliquely observes,


Do Not Have Intrinsic Power to Change Circumstances.


Happy thoughts are not magic.


Happy thoughts do not unleash the power of God.


Conversely, if you do not have Happy Thoughts, this does not mean that everything in your life will go wrong, and all your work and carefully crafted infrastructure will crash mightily to the ground.


Not only is it okay to have an Unhappy Thought, it is a necessary part of moving forward and establishing a sense of honesty with yourself.


You can't fool me: I know you're human. The Men in Black movie is not a documentary.


On the whole, it's good to operate on the sunny side of the street -- pessimists generally don't make it to centenarian status -- but part of maintaining a positive outlook on life is stopping now and then, when circumstances pound and pummel us to a state of semi-consciousness, and saying (to oneself, to one's close friend/confidante, to one's God):


"I am discouraged.


"I don't know where to go now.


"Nothing seems to be working.


"I'm tired.




Now admittedly, that last plea is easier when you are asking Someone who is stronger and bigger than you are for some guidance, but if you don't have a Someone like that in your circle, it helps at the very least to admit it to yourself, because, quite frankly, even when we are talking to a higher power, the statements we come up with are no surprise to Him -- although they probably are to us.


Have you heard this one?


"Unless you recognize that there is a problem in the first place, you can't go about solving it."


And so we unearth the issue with never letting the smile off your face, never allowing yourself to reflect honestly upon the way things have been going: Unless you admit that something needs to be changed, you can't go about changing it.


Some people are so adamant about the power of Happy Thoughts that they consider the very process of admitting that something might be going wrong to be a form of blasphemy, so egregious that its very utterance will cause the doom they fear to unfurl itself around their ears.


If you ascribe to this belief, then you believe in a god of your own creation -- one that will eventually disappoint you because it is little more than rank superstition.


Free yourself.


By all means, be upbeat -- train yourself to be so if your natural tendency is the opposite -- but allow yourself the full range and spectrum of being transparently honest:


Not on Facebook.


Not in a public forum.


Not in meltdown at an artist's reception.


But to yourself.


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Related Posts:

Right Brain. Artist. Left Brain.

The Crossroads

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Artistic Maturity Enables Growth

Topics: Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews | inspiration 

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mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Thank you for your good kind words. I will admit however, that sometimes when you do feel blue, it feels good to have someone say "No, I disagree, this is REALLY nice, keep going!"
It would be very hard for me to paint in a vacuum.

I read a book about Vincent VanGogh's letters just recently and I was so impressed with how upbeat his letters were less than a year from the time he killed himself!!! I was astonished at how kind he was to his artist friends and how he mentally processed art.
So maybe a little bit of commiseration is a good thing too?

gabriele baber
Thank you Carolyn for posting this. I needed to hear it. With out a long explaination, know that you touched someone, and helped someone today.
Blessings. Gabriele

Maren Phillips
I am one of those bazillions of artists that have tried everything to be discovered, short of actually going out there and getting my feet wet in the arts communities! HA, who was I kidding. I definitely believe in keeping my chin up, a smile on my face, and positive thinking, but it also takes hard work, foot work, and lots of WORK!

I also believe that your words have POWER, power to move mountains, all that sort of thing. Think positive, speak positively, make more art and stick your neck out on a regular basis. This is my new mantra... JUST DO IT!

I am so happy to see this post!

Marian Fortunati
Since we have to live with ourselves more so than with ANYBODY else... spouse, lover, parent, child, etc.... If we can be REALLY honest with ourselves, then we'll NEVER be honest at all.

But I do agree that being positive makes us much more pleasant and easy to live with.

George De Chiara
Well said Carolyn. As artists I think it's important to let yourself feel all of the emotions, just try to end on the positive ones.

Now what's this business about the Men in Black not being real...

Carolyn Henderson
Mimi: Good comments are indeed so important, which brings up something that we can all do: encourage one another.

It is such a small thing to say, as you mention, "Good work! Looks good!" and yet, it can make such a difference to someone on a very bad day.

Gabriele: Thank you. No long explanations needed. When all is said and done, our finest hours come when we help another along the way, and the oddest thing is, it's usually the little things -- not our great, amazing accomplishments -- that do that. Blessings to you as well, along with patience, perseverance, wisdom, and hope -- the things we need to get through the day.

Maren: Hard work and hope -- as you say, they keep us moving forward and up. Celebrate the small things, and take time away to pick up the kitty, plunge your face in its fur, and breathe (I do this, even though I'm allergic to cats. Stupid, I know, but at least the sneezing gives me a break from constant left brain analysis).

George: How perfectly you encapsulate it all: let yourself feel all of the emotions, and try to end on the positive ones. Very, very wise.

I'm sorry to break the news to you about Men in Black so suddenly. I recognize that you need time to process this, so I'll give you some space . . .

Virginia Giordano
Thanks Carolyn for this good message. Mimi what is the name/author of the book on VanGogh's letters? Also, any other books on artists, I'm looking for a good read - anyone?

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
the book:

Vincent Van Gogh, Painted with Words The Letters to Émile Bernard By Jansen, Leo (Book - 2007) 759.9492 G5578J 2007

I loved his descriptions of paintings and ideas!

Esther J. Williams
Carolyn, I tend to be a more optimistic person about life and nature, BUT I have had very trying times in my life. I felt those times with all the sad thoughts one can feel. From the pain comes wisdom to deal with problems. If we believe we can get through hard times, we become all the more happy people.
Being a mother you know that everyday we can not be happy. Mothers are counted on to solve their children`s problems. We can do that with speed and grace most of the time. I certainly believe we can not fake happiness all the time. Extenuating circumstances that we do not have control over will upset the apple cart. Nothing in our wisdom bank will help solve the crisis. It is then we need help from other resources and people.
To me, it all comes down to people need people, we are here to all survive in this great big melting pot of a world. So, if something becomes overpowering, go outside yourself to find help.
I feel most content and happy when I have exhausted myself after hard work. I might grumble that I am working too hard, but in the end, we created something new, something positive that brings happiness.

Donald Fox
I enjoyed your article for it brought many thoughts to mind. Mostly, you seem to be arguing against a simplistic approach to thought and feeling. With this I would agree. On the other hand, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the idea that thought has impact on our body, mind, and spirit, and, to be fair, you aren't completely dismissing it. Certainly the "happy thought" concept is a form of denial in itself - someone subscribing only to the positive and denying the negative. That's a foolish overreaction that could jeopardize one's health, mental or physical. There is, though, a fast growing field of medicine called mind-body medicine or epigenetic medicine that fully embraces the connection between mind, body and spirit from a research based perspective. Neuroscientists, immunologists, and psychoneurobiologists are finding mind-body connections at the cellular level that give credence to such ancient healing practices as acupuncture and spiritual practices like meditation and prayer. A good place to begin exploring this area of thinking is Dr. Candice Pert's book, Molecules of Emotion (1997) or Dawson Church's The Genie in Your Genes.

Sue Burns
As always, I enjoyed your post is hard to remain enthusiastic (happy) but you rightly reminded me to isn't everything--but art is! I am learning that creating in whatever mood I'm in (including sadness),it can be just as great as creating in happiness...color and mood blend beautifully into masterpieces and speak to those who are observing it just when they need to hear it. If art imitates life, why should we only paint half of life, when there is so much more depth in painting ALL of life?

Bonnie Samuel
So true, so true. A positive, can do attitude makes for forward progress. I think of friends I've known from childhood to our so-called golden years (sorry that WAS negative...) -- almost without exception, those grumbling and woo is me comments are just about the same place they were way back. Those with the "I can do" personas have done so and more.

Joanne Benson
Carolyn, Thanks for this post. I needed it today. I'm sitting here checking email to put off my standard Tuesday task of taking my 88 year old mom for her grocery shopping. It's raining out and she moves very slowly and I seem to get down when the weather is down. I love mom and do many things for her since I'm an only child. Sometimes I wish I had a clone to send off on all the errands, etc. I've already had a very busy day but your post has forced me to think a little more positive today. I'm glad mom is still around and I know she appreciates my help. So off I go. Perhaps I'll work on that painting I started over the weekend a little later tonight!

Laurie Finkelstein
Feeling all emotions leads to great creativity, and as artists, great creativity will lead to success. And, some positive thinking can't hurt!

Phyllis O'Shields
Thank you for the encouraging and realistic post. I think as we move away from self-centeredness in life and focus more on others and the world around us, more of a balanced state of mind comes into our life. The balance of positive and negative is always there and we need to face realisticly each day with it's blessings and it's challenges.
Phyllis O'Shields PhD O'Shields Fine Art

Carol Schmauder
This is a great article, Carolyn. I am a person of many emotions and my husband is a man of one emotion; happy! He is genuinely that way all of the time, and has been the whole 18 years I have been with him.

I agree with Laura that feeling all the emotions leads to creativity. So when I cry at the next commercial on TV I will remember that.

Carolyn Henderson
Esther: Life does, indeed, present us enough opportunities for sadness and grief, and we do ourselves a disservice to not allow ourselves to fully feel these emotions and work ourselves through them.

There are a number of people out there -- both religious and irreligious -- who ascribe an almost omnipotent power to thoughts, but, as I observe in the article, happy thoughts have no power in and of themselves. We can free ourselves, as you have, from the obsession that thinking the "wrong" thoughts will make bad things happen. That's superstition, and we can move beyond that.

Donald: I agree -- there is much research to be done yet, and much to discover about, the power of good emotions to our physical being. Common sense tells us that constant stressful, negative thought can't be good for us, and I'm glad that researchers are delving into this abstract area.

I am, as you observe, trying to free people from the notion that ANY bad thought is a no no -- a sure means of bad things happening to them because they put their guard down. Again, that is superstition, and it does us a great disservice.

I really do not like seeing people in bondage to and held captive by nonsense.

Sue: As you observe, life -- like art --isn't clearly black and white, happy and sad -- but a nuanced blend of emotion and color. As we are in tune to our emotions and feelings, so we will be able to communicate those emotions and feelings through our art.

Bonnie -- not so much negative as observant. My mother is fond of quoting Wilde: "youth is wasted on youth." The older I get, the more I see what she is saying!

Joanne: I empathize with your frustration at not being able to get to the painting that you so want to do. I was kicking my heels at a city park this afternoon, 20 miles from home, no laptop in the car, local library closed, nothing to do but scribble notes in a small notebook stuffed in my purse -- a 2 hour swathe chunked out of my day. But it was what it was. At least I arranged my thoughts for some portfolio work I have ahead of me (I was not, however, cheerfully singing away at the time.)

Carolyn Henderson
Laurie: Artists are uniquely poised to feel, analyze, and interpret those varying emotions into their creative outlet. Yes!

Phyllis: I am reading through the Tony Hillerman mystery novels, and he makes much of the Navajo sense of balance, of rightness with nature and the world around us. You are indeed right that balance is key, because we just won't find that incandescent total abandonment of happiness down on this little earth of ours, and we can spend a lot of wasted time trying, instead of living.

Carol: Who are these nasty commercial makers who cause people to CRY? I recommend an evening session of watching one Wipeout after another -- pure, unadulterated, mindless, drivelly amusement -- I love it!

Barb Stachow
Man is an animal of feelings, and the key to our own happiness is in our living it! Life is what you make of it, just as with our creations we work on we call "art". Without one's emotions there would be no chance of creating great works!

Donna Robillard
We all at one time or another have the different emotions from very happy to very sad or even hurt. I find whenever I do have one of the negative emotions, it may hang around for a while; but I do have a choice of whether I want to wallow in self-pity or look forward. They latter always takes place, because I am a positive person.

Carol McIntyre
Your article reminded me of a boss I had many years ago. He was HAPPY HAPPY all of the time and it drove me nuts because I his dishonesty was so blatant. He figured out that I could see right through him so he then tried to pin me down for a $60K mistake in his budget. Looking back, I can only feel sorry for a person that has to use such a persona to hide his pain. What is the name of the song about the clown?

Thank you.

Sharon Weaver
Admitting that there is a problem can often lead to growth and a better artists but that perspective only comes with experience. It seems the more I know, the more I need to learn. But this isn't really a negative after all.

Brian Sherwin
I have happy thoughts even when I'm being cynical.:)


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