Tool For Tuesday: George Eliot’s Guide To Happiness.

Last Tuesday I had no tool to offer you—I had no tool to offer myself. It was just one of those lousy days that I had to sit out.

Mama said there’d be days like this. Actually, my mother rarely had a day that wasn’t like this. She always said that only stupid people can be happy in life.

Fortunately, I don’t agree. I like the free-floating joy that I can usually find inside me if I go deep within. Just a genuine feeling when I don’t let my brain get in the way.

Happiness is an inside job. We can focus on what we have—not what we lack. What we were given, even if that was too soon taken away.

This is easy to say…hard to do when we’re in the thick of sorrow. Sometimes we just have to sit there and do nothing, remembering that our feelings aren’t facts. A bleak view of the world will always pass. And, force ourselves to get busy. Do something. One thing as George Eliot says in her amazing poem, “Count That Day Lost.”

I helped a student memorize the poem the other day and I’m reprinting it here:

Count That Day Lost

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went —
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay —
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face–
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost —
Then count that day as worse than lost.

Tool For Tuesday: We can do one act most small, as George Eliot said.

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
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10 Responses to Tool For Tuesday: George Eliot’s Guide To Happiness.

  1. Turnip Times says:

    George Elliott was one smart lady. At the end of the day I frequently review the day with the question, “Have I helped someone today.” If the answer is yes, than I am happy.

  2. juliabarrett says:

    I think I’ll memorize the poem too.

  3. Thank you for bringing back the memories of this poem, Diana. One of my mother’s close friends suffered from depression. Her favorite healing activities included two walks every day: one in the early morning to color her thoughts with the sunrise; and one in the evening when she recited (from memory) this poem and then focused on the differences she had made somewhere, some how, in the lives of others. I always thought it was one of the most beautiful rituals I’d ever heard.

    • dianabletter says:

      That is a wonderful ritual, Marylin. I’ve got the first bit down to memory and now I’m aiming for the last part. Memorizing poems is a great way to internalize rhythms. Do you ever have your students memorize poems? Is it done anymore? I can barely memorize my children’s phone numbers!

  4. Diana, the poem is so true and I love your positive attitude. 🙂

    • dianabletter says:

      Hi Tracy, Thanks so much for your comments on both these posts. I appreciate your cheers! By the way, I sent the card I bought from you to a dear friend for her birthday and she LOVED it! Thanks again!

      • Hi Diana, I tried leaving this comment on “How Do You Stop the Pain of Being Alive?” — A lasting solution is to reach out to God. He’s the only one that can heal our hurts and wounds. God also uses “healthy” people to hold our hand, and professionals to guide our way. Erica, I wish you nothing but the best. Great post, Diana. 🙂
        And you made my day, know your friend loved the card you purchased from me. I wish you could see me grinning. 🙂

      • dianabletter says:

        Thank you, Tracy. You are so right – we can turn to the God of our understanding to fill up that emptiness. As you say, we are God’s hands on earth. Thanks!

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