The Happy Texts

If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.
– not Abraham Lincoln

I tend to be a serious person. I revel in revolution and speak in snark. Blame it on the Millennial era. I like making unexpected connections and spotting fallacies. Blame it on my hyper-analytical INTP personality. But critical thinking is, like, my favorite pastime. It’s easier for me to identify patterns and criticize problems rather than communicate gratitude or emphasize good things.

I’m better at pointing out blind spots than enjoying the view.

This is okay, usually. The world needs critics; it needs speakers of sadness, tellers of hard truths, challengers of status quos. I aspire to push the world ever so slightly toward good and toward God by speaking up against badness. But sometimes I get weary of rethinking and wary of negativity. I want to articulate joy sometimes, too.

I want to write toward a better world not just by pointing out the corruption of what is but also by rejoicing in moments of beauty and singing of what could be.


Growing up, one of my favorite movies was “Pollyanna.” The story goes something like this: Orphaned missionary kid with a heart of gold moves to a small town that is essentially ruled by her austere aunt. Pollyanna (played by Hayley Mills), with precocious positivity and determined gladness, changes her aunt – and the town – for the better. Along the way, there are turn-of-the-century hijinks, some tragedy, a happily ever after or two, and tears all around. It’s the sort of mushy live-action fare that defined midcentury Disney, and I adore it.

There’s this scene where Pollyanna comes upon the town reverend rehearsing a sermon out in a meadow.  On the street, the reverend is a nice guy, but in the pulpit, he’s a hellfire-and-brimstone screamer with trademark phrases like “DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!” None of the townsfolk are big fans of Sunday mornings.

So Pollyanna saunters out to see the rev and casually brings up her late missionary father’s love of “the happy texts”:

Reverend: The happy texts?
Pollyanna: Yes. Like, um, ‘Shout for joy,’ or, ‘Be glad in the Lord.’ You know, like that… There are eight hundred happy texts, did you know that?
Reverend: No, I didn’t know that.
Pollyanna: And do you know, my father said that if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it.

Now, the world isn’t all pretty prisms, giant slices of cake, dreams come true, and The Glad Game. Even in Disney movies, there’s death, broken hearts, depression, paralysis, divisive politics, and comically grumpy old people. In real life, we need to talk about those things. But the world’s not all bad, either, and Pollyanna and her dad, and, uh, God, have a point. There’s a lot worth rejoicing about.

But I’m not naturally inclined to rejoice. Pollyanna wears a necklace engraved with that quote above (in the movie, it’s attributed to Lincoln, but he never actually said it). I think of that saying sometimes, and I see myself. When I look for the bad in people, or the church, or culture, expecting to find it, I always do. And while it’s a worthy desire to identify and rid the world of badness, focusing on that all the time can, well, be a downer. I am afraid of protesting too much. I am afraid of only writing anger, dissatisfaction, injustice.

But I want to be glad, too. I want to speak goodness. I want to share good news and happy thoughts.

I am going to be intentional about blogging with positivity, partially by writing an occasional series called The Happy Texts. It will cover some of the original Happy Texts – those uplifting Scriptures Pollyanna talked about – but also passages from other sources. The Happy Texts will be stories about good words and their meaning to me, or their ability to change the world for the better. Words that look for the good in life, expecting to find it, and surely, surprisingly, sweetly do.

You can totally watch Pollyanna in all its schmaltzy, uploaded glory on YouTube, in English or in Spanish.


  1. I really identify with what you’re saying. I know sometimes I get so busy refuting the bad, I have no time left to dwell in and enjoy the good. Always the search for balance. Oh, and now? I really, really, really need a slice of yellow cake with thick chocolate frosting. Aaaah! (The craving never fails to appear after watching Pollyanna.)

    1. For me it’s the giant slice of watermelon she eats! That town bazaar looks delicious all around.

  2. I am appreciative of your use of semicolons. I enjoy your reference to Pollyanna (a childhood favourite of my sister’s). I definitely have a problem with finding myself “writing anger, dissatisfaction, injustice.” I like this.

  3. […] and brimstone kinda preacher. I saw him more like Pollyanna’s dad…preaching the “happy texts.” That’s the kind of dad I have…very positive, very loving in his approach to […]

  4. Good article. God bless you with your writing.

  5. I resonate with what you’re saying. Maybe you could write an article about each happy text. I guess that would be about 800 articles? :)

  6. […] naive enough to believe that it is going to be truly addressed with a little Bob Marley song (or Pollyanna’s “Happy Texts”), but I have tried lately to try on this song as a kind of mantra and/or reaction to circumstances […]

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