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Looking For The Good News to Enhance Happiness
by Jeff Rivers, The Hartford Courant

Hearing the words on my answering machine made my heart race like a schoolboy’s. "’I’m the woman in the red sweater."

Last Thursday’s column had featured a woman with a red sweater that bore the words "Happiness is a Choice." The message intrigued me. The message defiantly uplifting rejoinder to the many obscene words and actions that announce a disregard for others. I wanted to know more about the woman behind that message. I wanted to find out how she came to believe it. I had hoped she’d read the column or that someone who knew her had. I had hoped she’d call.

And now she had. But I didn’t call her back right away. I had to think about it for a while. To begin with, the woman who left the message might not really be the woman I had seen. She could just be someone playing a trick. Such a prankster would really disappoint me.

More important, I feared that she would be the right woman but not as wonderful as I wanted. It wouldn’t do for someone who I surmised spread goodwill the way Johnny Appleseed planted trees to be anything less than one of the good guys.

Suppose she beat her kids? Suppose she was mean to her husband or significant other? Suppose she was an ax murderer? Suppose she liked Kenny G?

After deciding that I could abide her liking Kenny G. – if she told me that she only did it in the privacy of her home – I called her. She had a cheerful and sincere voice. She wondered if others had called claiming to’ be the woman in red. I said she was the only one. She said she had the sweater to prove who she was. "I wear it all the time," she said.

I asked her if she beat her kids, was mean to her husband or was an ax murderer. She only answered the ax murderer question. "I’m not a convicted ax murderer," she said, laughing at the absurd notion.

Turns out she was worse.

She’s an intelligent person who doesn’t read newspapers. She doesn’t watch TV news programs either.

The woman in red explained that one way she had remained happy was by not reading newspapers, not even The Courant, not even my column, which she implied she had once enjoyed. (People who had read my column told her that I had made reference to her.)

Newspapers, the woman in red continued, were too negative.

Of course, I knew that there were people in the world who felt that way: I just never expected to encounter that attitude in someone I wanted to like so much.

This will never do, I thought.

So, I issued a challenge. Read a newspaper for a week; it doesn’t have to be The Courant. Read it carefully and fully. Don’t just skim the front page. I’d stand by her assessment of how negative that newspaper was.

The woman in red said she would. And since I’d issued the challenge, she said ’she’d read The Courant. We’re supposed to have lunch sometime next week. I guess she’ll tell me how The Courant made out, then. I made the challenge on Monday.

Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting in The Courant's newsroom writing the column you're reading. Tuesday's front page includes two stories about the unrest in Russia, a story about the violence against American troops in Somalia and a story about two Connecticut companies paying $25 million to the government to avoid lawsuits over making the flawed main mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope. Underneath that story is the headline: "Ex-priest pleads guilty to sex abuse."

A lot of negative stuff there, I agree. But stuff happens. As the gangsta rappers sometimes say, "We only report on the stuff we see."

Still, once you get past the front page, the news really starts to get much more uplifting.

On page A2, for example, there's a People in the News item that shows Sylvester Stallone -- the Kenny G. of Renaissance men -- on the November cover of Vanity Fair. He is posed like Rodin's sculpture, "The Thinker." The photo caption reads in part: He tells the magazine he paints and writes poetry, but has given up on having people take his interest in literature and art seriously.

Now that's good news, ain't it?

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