Take a keen interest in other people, a desire to make everyone happier, a newspaper, and stir gently…
I do try to be optimistic. I’m sure that’s healthier than worrying about things which might never happen and not risking something which could bring us joy for fear it would go wrong.
Even so, at 7.23am, I already had that Monday morning feeling. Looking around at the gloomy faces of my fellow commuters convinced me I wasn’t alone in that.
Most had put up some kind of barrier. Headphones, tapping on phones or newspapers shaken out and pointedly angled away from those sitting alongside.
It seemed they were all reading or listening to bad news.
Those who had only their thoughts to occupy them didn’t look any happier.
Why was everyone so miserable?
OK, so it was raining. That does more to make my red hair frizz and fill the train with a wet-dog fragrance than to raise anyone’s spirits, but surely some of us had things to be cheerful about.
Using myself as an example, I thought it through. I’d had a good weekend visiting with family.
That included playing games with my brother’s three boys, so I got plenty of fresh air and exercise.
As a result I’d slept well the previous night and enjoyed a good breakfast of fruit, high fibre cereal and fresh coffee.
Definitely not a case of getting out of bed the wrong side, then. Actually I’d been quite happy when I got out of bed, and looking forward to the day ahead when I left home.
Although I’m a woman who’s no longer really young and perky and who never did look like a fashion model, I’m comfortable in my own skin.
I’m not famous or hugely important, yet still command a certain amount of respect.
My job is generally rewarding. There’s the satisfaction of knowing I always try, and sometimes succeed, in helping people.
Plus there’s salt-and-pepper guy.
I mean his hair by that description, still thick but with a scattering of white hairs amongst the black; not that he’s the sort to eat in a crowded carriage.
About my age, not handsome exactly but nice to look at.
He doesn’t smile a great deal on the train, but has the kind of face which looks as if it smiles a lot. (Oh, I hope he interprets my own lines and creases in that way!)
The smile when it does come is slightly lopsided and totally lovely.
I know because sometimes he’s given it when he’s caught me glancing in his direction.
So as I boarded the train I should have been happy; optimistic even. Probably I was when I approached the station.
All those sad faces, grey in the early morning light, and all those sombre clothes – either that way to start with or darkened by the rain – sapped the joy from me.
And I was one of the lucky ones. I’d remembered to pick up fresh milk the day before, I was healthy, could afford decent food and somewhere to live. There was my job and family.
Who knew what some of these people battled?
Perhaps there was perfectly good cause for the gloom radiating from some of them, but surely not all.
Probably it’s unfair, certainly it’s unkind, but I resented them spoiling my good humour.
I was irritated by the fact that later in the day they, or people like them, would come into my place of work and drip their discontent all over me.
I don’t mean those with real problems who needed my help and would act upon my advice, but those who didn’t seem to want to help themselves.
Not many are like that thankfully – but those few are the hardest to assist.
One girl stood out a little from the others on the train.
It was partly her shiny pink boots, but more her hat with its array of woollen flowers. I’m not sure if they were knitted or crocheted but they were certainly bright.
In common with half the train, she was flicking through the free paper so I felt it was OK to watch her.
Why not? She was the least miserable thing in view and I’d not yet spotted salt-and-pepper guy.
The girl’s expressions went through a rapid series, from surprised to thoughtful to amused. She looked up and around her and then grinned as though recognising a friend. Whoever she was looking at wasn’t visible to me until she gestured at the paper in an enquiring manner, presumably got a response, and beckoned him over.
There was just time for me to glimpse the boy’s floppy hair and hopeful look before I busied myself with my own copy of the paper.
Mostly that was to stop myself staring at them – but it soon occurred to me to hunt for whatever had got them together.
The personal ads were the obvious place to start and it didn’t take me long to read Pink boots girl, maybe we could walk together? Dodgy green trainer man.
To me he looked some years short of being a man, but his footwear was certainly green and dodgy-looking.
And yes, I know because although I didn’t actually stare, they drew my attention again. Not just mine, quite a few people were watching the young couple who were now chatting away – or maybe flirting would be more accurate.
There was some giggling; they stood closer even than the crowded conditions demanded.
There was a great deal of playing with their own hair interspersed with lightly touching the other person’s arm or playfully slapping their shoulder.
There were mixed reactions from the audience. All, I felt, were positive in some way, even those who were just cynically amused – or feeling smug for, like me, having checked the paper and discovered what was going on.
I shared the little anecdote at work, raising a small chuckle from my colleague. I reckon we both faced the day’s workload just a little more cheerfully as a result.
That got me thinking on the journey home. One brief message in the paper had brought happiness to the couple.
Sure, mismatched footwear wasn’t a guaranteed basis for a relationship, but it might work.
Or they might enjoy some time together before deciding it wasn’t meant to be.
Those of us who shared the carriage with them were temporarily cheered and I probably wasn’t the only person who’d passed that feeling on to the people I came into contact with that day.
It was possible the happy ripples of that small incident had spread a long way.
What we needed was for more pebbles to be thrown into the pond. That newspaper message was, it seemed, a gift sent to brighten a miserable Monday.
Maybe a higher power caused it to happen – but dodgy trainer guy had actually written the message, or more likely tapped it into a smart phone and emailed it off.
He wouldn’t do anything like it again – not for a while, anyway. Yet other people would, and maybe the result would be the same. It wouldn’t happen where I could see it though, would it?
An increase in happiness would be good for anyone, anywhere, but selfishly I wanted it to happen where I personally would benefit.
Well, if you want something done, do it yourself.
I studied those around me and sent in appropriate messages. Or maybe they were inappropriate in some cases. Anyway, I sent them.
Curly-haired man in orange jacket and supermarket girl with plaits, I’ve seen you smile at each other. Why not say hi?
Lady in red coat with brooch, that new hairstyle really suits you.
Very shy boy with spots, there’s someone who really likes you.
There were a lot of shy boys with spots and I was sure someone did like most of them, even if it was their mum.
I hesitated over my choice of nickname for myself.
Although I felt a tiny bit like a messenger from God, the messages were about them, not me.
My name is Debbie Rose and I nearly settled for just my initials. But I decided something a bit more interesting might improve the chances of publication and chose Dr Happiness.
Every day I observed the passengers and sent something to the paper.
They weren’t all published and not all got a reaction – or at least, not one I was there to see – but often my tiny effort was rewarded with a huge smile, or small grin, or a couple talking to each other.
When I felt a bit down, especially at work, I’d remind myself that I was Dr Happiness with the power to make some lives a little better.
It helped me deal with the times I felt powerless.
I began to enjoy the commute to work far more than I’d thought possible.
On Monday mornings I was eager to see if pink boot girl and dodgy green trainer man were still a couple; to look out for other people I could write messages for; and to risk a glance at salt-and-pepper guy.
Almost always when I looked in his direction he was looking in mine.
Sometimes he frowned as though wanting to ask what I was doing. I’m sure it was that and not just concern I might turn out to be a stalker.
Sometimes he gestured at the paper, just as pink boots girl had to green trainers when she’d started me off on this whole thing.
The obvious thing to do was send another message to the paper. I did.
Salt and pepper guy, if you want to know what I’m doing, why not ask? This time instead of Dr Happiness I signed it Frizzy Redhead.
I had to send a version of that three times before it was printed – and the day it was, salt-and-pepper guy wasn’t in the same carriage.
He saw it, though, and came to find me.
“I think I’ve worked it out,” he said. “You’re Dr Happiness, aren’t you?”
I admitted it.
“I like your name for me… I’m hoping I am salt-and-pepper guy?”
“Sounds so much better than ‘going grey’. I’m not keen on yours, though. For one thing, your hair is curly, not frizzy…on dry days anyway.”
I was pretty sure then that we’d get along for more than one train journey.
“So, Dr Happiness, do you have a prescription for me?” he asked.
“What you need is a nice meal out and some cheerful red-headed company,” I said, my voice far more confident than the rest of me.
“In that case, will you come to dinner with me tonight?”
Obviously I said yes; we doctors know what’s good for us as well as our patients. I grinned all the way to the clinic and dispensed soppy smiles all day.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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