P.T. Barnum on Happiness

by Dan Walsh

I’ve almost finished reading The Life of P.T. Barnum (Barnum & Bailey fame), and I’m sure the following passage will rank as one of my favorites. In it, Barnum recounts how he felt at the moment just before departing New York and his family for a 3-year European tour with General Tom Thumb.

At half-past one o’clock the bell of one of the steamers that towed our ship down the bay, announced the hour of separation. There was the usual bustle, the rapidly-spoken yet often-repeated words of farewell, the cordial grip of friendship–and I acknowledge that I was decidedly in “the melting mood.”

My name has so long been used in connection with incidents of the mirthful kind, that many persons, probably, do not suspect that I am susceptible of sorrowful emotion, and possibly the general tenor of these pages may confirm the suspicion. No doubt my natural bias is to merriment, and I have encouraged my inclination to “comedy,” because enough of “tragedy” will force itself upon the attention of every one in spite of his efforts to the contrary; yet I should be either more or less than human, were I incapable of serious thought, or did I not frequently indulge in the sober meditation which become the solemn realities of life.

While, perhaps the sentiment to “always look on the bright side of things” isn’t new, I think his eloquence in expressing why is the important take away. Bad things have, and always will, happen to everyone. It is possible to choose how we combat these situations. Barnum chose comedy, instead of succumbing to tragedy. This choice is available to everyone.