Recently life handed me the occasion to contemplate two words, mood and attitude. Curious about the nuances between their meanings, I looked them up. According to the Newbury House Dictionary of English 4th Edition, mood is defined as an emotional state or feeling, such as happiness or sadness. Attitude is a view toward something, an outlook or stance. Years ago my step father helped me learn the important difference in practice.
I was 18 years old and thought I knew everything about myself. I was working in my first real job out of high school, where I hoped to earn enough money to pay for my college education. I had worked in the grocery store deli all summer. Slicing cold cuts and cheese and dishing out potato salad became the monotony of my adolescent existence. I thought I was better than that job. I wanted desperately to be doing something else. I told myself every day both on the way to work and on the way out that it was menial and I was smarter than that. Looking back, I am still surprised by how long it took me to see the error in my own outlook.
I complained regularly to my step father who would listen empathetically, then offer his few words of perspective. Finally one day he reminded me that all kinds of menial jobs make this world go around. He chastised me for not looking at my situation to find the positive. It was a means to an end. It was a paying job, a way toward what else I wanted.
In the mean time, he assured me, that if I could just make someone else’s day a little better, no matter what job I was doing, that I would have done it well. Convinced that a change of attitude was what I needed, I worked hard at making it. Every day became a chance to put myself fully into what I was doing and make someone’s day a little better for our encounter. It worked. For six years it worked, until I graduated from college and moved on to my chosen career.
Since that time, life has handed me far greater challenges than finding happiness in the grocery store deli. Sometimes I have forgotten this lesson for a time. But eventually I remember.
Today I am living by this old and friendly truth, that attitude is powerful. It can be easy to forget when life’s circumstances hand me heavy blows, when emotions are devastating and the mood is one of disappointment or sadness. However, attitude implies that I have a choice, a chance of deciding how to react to even my own mood. It’s possible to put on a brave face and return to basic goodness and strength even when times are tough.
This is my decision today. This is my stance.
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