When he lost the presidential election to Eisenhower in 1956, Adlai Stevenson spoke to his discouraged followers. One of the things he said that night was this:
“Be of good cheer. And remember, dear friends, what a wise man said—“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Stevenson knew he couldn’t change the situation. Defeat is defeat.
But he could try to spare his followers some of the lingering bitterness of defeat.
It raises the question: What is the value of working to cultivate a “cheerful heart” even in the face of defeats, failures or setbacks?
What is the value of seeking to be a cheerful presence at home, at work, in the community?
Today, when we seem to hear so much bad news, is cheerfulness simply an old-fashioned notion? A forgotten antique gathering dust on the shelf?
Is cheerfulness just sticking our heads in the sand?
There is a kind of cheerfulness that’s fake, of course. We’re not talking about that.
But here’s one way to think about it: a person can choose whether to be a thermometer or a thermostat.
A thermometer simply reacts to the temperature in the environment; it tells you whether it’s hot or cold. But it doesn’t change anything.
A thermostat knows that the environment is “hot” or “cold.” It can read the situation. But then it responds by setting its own temperature—making things more comfortable for others in the room.
It’s easy, of course, to be cheerful in good times.
But the “thermostat” person cultivates an aware cheerfulness not in spite ofthe problems around us but because of them.
As someone has said: the best gift you give to the people in your life is a you that’s fun to be with.
Which gives new meaning to the words: “Be of good cheer.”