'Light' read offers deep insights

I brought a book with me when I traveled this summer. I was not invested in it; in fact, I predicted I'd finish it on the plane and leave it there.

It was a guilt read, meaning it had been recommended so fervently by one friend so often that I thought I'd just breeze through it to appease her. A nonfiction, self-help best-seller, it was a weird genre for fiction-loving-me.

Luckily it was slim, so I could tote it around with me. And tote it I did, because I discovered it was not, in fact, a "breezeable" book. I read "The Untethered Soul" on every day of my vacation. I read it over many meals, at the end of the day, or when the London traffic was especially bad and my sightseeing bus didn't move for 40 minutes. Every time I'd dog-ear my page to keep my place, I was surprised by how few pages I'd actually read. It seemed I couldn't make a dent in this little not-my-genre-book.

The reason was this: for me, the book was a veritable magic suitcase of insight. At this moment in time, this book seemed like an immersion into figuring life out. I couldn't read it fast. I had to read it in sections, in nibbles, and allow its meaning to ferment in my usually fast-reading brain. The friend who double-dog-dared me to read it knew me well.

And though I am a "you do you" kind of gal with regard to religion, philosophy or even simple reading choices, I feel like one tenet of Michael Singer's work deserves a bit of evangelism.

In "The Untethered Soul," he tells us that the trick to being happy is to choose happiness. He says, and I quote: "Be happy." I know, this seems trite and flippant, and it irritated me when I first read it. But he devoted a whole chapter to this concept. And with repetition, the mantra made more sense. Choose to be happy, and therein be happy.

When we dwell on unhappiness, he says, we invite more unhappiness. We reflect on our reflection, get mired in the misery, and engender even more sadness than the original situation warranted. Now don't get me wrong; we all have reasons for concern and sadness. But what Singer tells us is this: how we approach our problems is a choice, that we can approach them with a sense of optimism or fatalism. And if our journey is long, wouldn't it be much more pleasant to live each problem-filled day with joy, or at least an approximation of it?

"The cup is half-full," "Choose joy," even "Have a nice day." All digestible truisms for the chewiest, most elemental insight I've encountered in years. Genius in its simplicity. Be. Happy.

- Kelly Abate of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].