The owner of a small shop, he would greet customers with comments on how few people he had seen that day and how bad trade had become. The encounters were hardly likely to have encouraged custom, the morose reflections on business would more likely have been a discouragement to those who might potentially have returned. It was no surprise that the shop closed when he retired. The chair of a parish group, he welcomed a speaker at a meeting with the words, “You are very welcome here this evening. I’m sorry there aren’t more here to hear you. We did tell people you were coming.” It would have seemed like a comic turn, had it not been for the fact that the speaker was a person of standing with a busy diary.
One does not need to be like Pangloss, the character in Voltaire’s Candide, who sees even the most severe misfortune as an opportunity to be happy about the future, to see that an attitude of complaint is hardly conducive to success. Living life with the attitude of Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna may not ring true to the everyday reality experienced by most people, but spending one’s entire time with a long face is equally an unrepresentative expression of daily living. It seems a truism to suggest that happy people bring happiness, but, if it is, it does not seem to be appreciated.
Spending years reading church publications, there seemed to be an abiding mood of doom. News stories highlighted conflicts, letters expressed complaints, comment was on decline and closure. When there was something upbeat, it seemed to precipitate a critical reaction from voices saying that such things would never work, or that they had been tried before and had failed then, and that they would be bound to fail if they were tried again.
It seems that moods of gloom are not confined to ecclesiastical circles. Reading the Times Educational Supplement, there are teachers who seem almost as gloomy as clerics – proposals for change or reform are criticised, pessimism is expressed about the future of the profession, ideological differences are forcibly expressed.
What is notable in both contexts is that stories of success are stories of happy people. Perhaps that is what might be expected, success makes most people happy. However, perhaps the causality flowed in both directions, perhaps successful people become happy, but, perhaps also, happy people become successful.
Too often, like the moaning shopkeeper, there seem to be self-fulfilling prophecies of decline.