The Bright Side: Is There an Optimism Gene?

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Best Day Ever

My kids, too, seem to take after their grandmother. They're learning how to harness difficulty in the service of gratitude; how to work disappointment like putty, to shape it into something new; how to see the glass as half full, even if it's not with the exact drink they were thirsty for. At my parents' house, where we spent a recent weekend, Ben was briefly sick in the night, then spent the next day under my mother's exquisite care: Coke, saltines, TV, the works. "That was one of my favorite days ever," he said later.

Of course, we would not be sighing gladly through a real catastrophe. But maybe that's the point: knowing the difference. There is always, at the very least, the miracle of pulling air into your lungs. But there's usually more: the velvet face of a pansy, the dark crescent of your sleeping child's eyelashes, starlight. There is so much to be glad for. "If he were nice all the time," Birdy says, about our often cranky cat, "we wouldn't appreciate him as much." True enough.

"If we were rich," I say sometimes, when we're feeling especially broke, "we might not do some of my favorite things!" Tent camping, picking wild grapes for jam, fixing broken items instead of buying new ones.

"I'm sure we'd find new favorites," my husband says, and I laugh. Fair enough.

But for now, Ben and I have managed to wick the water across the floor with a long rope of knotted rags. It is late. Within the week the basement will be dry again -- or as dry as it ever is -- but we don't know that at the moment. We just know that we're cold and we're tired and we're flush with our small, wet success. I kiss him in bed, and Ben is sleepy and smiling. "That was fun, right?" he says. "That was the best." And he's right. It was.

Catherine Newman lives with her family in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she looks for silver linings in every cloud she spots. One recent happy discovery: Uneaten kale turns into exceptionally rich compost.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2012.


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