Happiness is Contagious

Change your perspective to see life in a new light.

This month, I would like to share a short story with you. I’m not sure where I first heard it, and can’t find an original author, but I feel the moral is important for each and every one of us as people and as small business owners. So please read it, learn from it, and share it. If you recognize it, please read it again and ask yourself some hard questions. How does my attitude and behavior influence the people around me? Happiness and negativity are both contagious; which trait do I spread more often?

Two men, who were both seriously ill, shared the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour a day to drain the fluids from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all of his time flat on his back with a spinal injury. He could not even move his head.

The men talked for hours on end every day for weeks. They spoke of their wives, their families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had gone on vacation. And every afternoon, when the man in the bed next to the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside.

The man in the other bed would live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the outside world. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake, the man had said. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Lovers walked arm in arm amid flowers of every color of the rainbow. Fathers and sons were fishing and laughing. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm summer afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man could not hear the band, he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Unexpectedly, an alien thought entered his head: Why should he have all the pleasure of seeing everything while I never get to see anything? It didn’t seem fair. As the thought fermented, the man felt ashamed at first. But as the days passed and he missed seeing more sights, his envy eroded into resentment and soon turned him sour. He began to brood and found himself unable to sleep. He should be by that window—and that thought now controlled his life.

Late one night, as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help. Listening from across the room, he never moved, never pushed his own button which would have brought the nurse running. In less than a couple of minutes, the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing. Now, there was only silence—deadly silence.

The following morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called the hospital attendant to take it away—no words, no fuss. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch and while she was having him moved, he got a glimpse out that window where he saw nothing but the wall of another building.

The story may seem sad, but choosing to be negative when we can choose happiness is even more disappointing. I once read that 99 percent of the way we feel is determined by how we want to feel. If you want to be disappointed, you’ll be disappointed. If you want to be optimistic, you’ll be encouraging. Being able to choose our mood and our destiny is a uniquely human characteristic—so is attitude.

I recently read about a politician that said “the current situation in the economy is all in our minds.” I think I’ll choose to ignore his quote while I spend $80 to put gas in my car, pay a $700 utility bill, and watch my home lose 30 percent of its value. I know it’s hard to stay positive under these circumstances, and it’s difficult to ignore negative public figures, but, in the words of the great musician Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.” And I am certain it will all be for the positive, if we can just stay positive.

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