Happiness: It’s Not an Oxygen Mask

Emma - Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan
Entered on March 19, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

The bell was about to ring, and I was on my hands and knees, frantically grabbing at all my papers scattered on the ground. I could not be tardy again for fifth hour – one more would lower my grade, but I felt confident in the fact that someone of the stampede of students and teachers passing would take a second to help this poor girl in obvious disarray. No one did. Actually, that’s an understatement – not only did they rush on by, they trampled on my papers, and my hands, and I think one even spit on me, although that might be an exaggeration. So, I was late for the class, but that didn’t bother me as much as the apathy of my fellow students. I realized that day that if one person had given me a hand, it would have made a difference.

I believe that any person can directly affect another’s happiness by a small act. A greeting, a smile, a hand, a wink, a nod – these are the kinds of things I’m talking about. It does not always help you; for example, I get a lot of weird looks when I wink at people I’ve never seen before. And only once has someone filed a sexual harassment charge. Even in these situations, however, the person appreciates the attention, they are glad to be noticed. Once I read an article about a person who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. He had promised himself he would only follow through if no one smiled at him along his walk to his death, and no one did. A smile can save a life.

Other small actions can also inspire appreciation. I have found that picking up a piece of trash might accomplish nothing, or it could make the life of a custodian that much easier. Bending down and returning a dropped pencil to its owner can be a waste of time, or it could make that person’s day. Asking someone how they are doing and actually listening to the response may be fruitless, or it could allow them to finally let out what has been on his mind. Granted, all these acts take an extraordinary amount of energy, so I can understand why some might choose not to.

People talk about happiness like it’s an oxygen mask in an airplane – attend to yours before others because otherwise you’ll pass out. However, I believe the opposite. I think by encouraging and helping and loving each other, it creates a cycle of happiness that flows through every person who participates. Every gesture counts.