As a kid I was an optimist, a glass-half-full sort of guy, almost always looking on the bright side. That optimism included a healthy mix of naiveté. I was one chunky, happy sort of country bumpkin.

Then life happened and by the time I retired I had become much more cynical. Over the years I had to deal with a lot of unpleasant stuff and unpleasant people. Enough of that stuff will make anyone cynical.

I lived by the skeptical creed of journalists: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

For the past few years I have been in self-rehabilitation, endeavoring to look at the bright side and trying to overlook the nasty side.

One discipline that chips away at that layer of accumulated skepticism is considering all the things that make me smile. In fact, I have accrued a list. This is what makes me smile:

• A baby’s laughter. There’s nothing sweeter.

• Lambs and calves frolicking in a green pasture. I haven’t lived on a farm for decades but I have never lost my fondness for baby farm animals. I did not enjoy working with chickens and hogs but you can add a flock of baby chicks and a litter of newborn pigs to my smile list.

• Seeing an elderly couple walking hand-in-hand. Even though they may be holding onto one another just to stay upright, I smile when I see a couple who has weathered the roller-coaster of extended matrimony and still show affection for one another.

• A well-kept old car. Any make, any model, I enjoy old cars. If I had my druthers I’d own a restored ’55 Chevy like my first car but I wouldn’t mind owning a ’52 Kaiser either.

• A large Dairy Queen Blizzard. Yes, I have a weight problem, and no, I don’t need more calories. But life is short and every once-in-a-while I need a DQ Blizzard to make me smile.

• Children singing. We attended a grandson’s pre-school graduation ceremony recently and a highlight of the evening was two dozen 4-year-olds enthusiastically singing happy children’s songs complete with motions. I smiled. A lot.

• A puppy. As an adult I have never owned a dog and I sincerely don’t want a dog. But I love energetic puppies. I remember interviewing a family for a newspaper story and their little fur ball puppy jumping on my lap. When I scratched behind his ears he peed on me. I smile at puppies anyway.

• A smile from another person. Smiles should be reciprocal.

• Looking at old photographs and remembering good times and good people. That makes me smile.

• Karma. When a car speeds around me and a mile or so down the road a policeman has that car pulled over… I smile.

• Hearing a new joke. I love a good joke but at my age I’ve heard most of them. The Bible says a merry heart does good like a medicine and I believe it. Of course, not all jokes are good but I’ll be the judge of that. Then I’ll smile.

• My first full time job required me to be up at 4 a.m. and at work by 5 a.m. During those years I learned to love sunrises. Many years later I still enjoy watching a new day begin; just not too frequently. A beautiful sunrise continues to make me smile.

• A child’s hug. Our grandchildren give us good-bye hugs when we part. A hug from a little one makes this old man smile.

• The knowledge that I don’t have to kiss any more backsides. Much of one’s career involves butt-kissing. I’m retired. I smile more now.

• A familiar old song. Memories made with music remain in our hearts forever and when a familiar song resurrects a good memory it brings a smile to my face.

• Hearing the Low German language spoken. My parents and grandparents (and many other family members) spoke Low German when I was a boy. A few cousins and I can still speak and understand some of the language but most of us are not fluent. When I hear someone who is fluent, it’s like music to my ears and it makes me smile.

Life is short; I’m smiling while I still have teeth.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at