'A Snake Named Emily Spinach'
I recently came upon a Facebook post that talked about the ‘antics’ of President Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. It painted a wildly delicious picture of a young woman from the early 1900s who owned a variety of pets - including a chihuahua named Leo, a small bear called Johnathan Edwards, and a garter snake known as Emily Spinach.
Alice drove cars, went to parties, spoke her mind and (*gasp*) was often seen wearing pants!! She was clearly labeled as a wild child and her father was quoted as saying “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”
Of course, I read this post and cheered for Alice and her ability to embrace her independence and individuality. I admit, I smirked thinking that she and I could have been great friends way back in the day.
It wasn’t until I got to the end of the post that a comment, she had made about, herself hit me. During an interview in 1974, Alice referred to herself as “hedonist.” I admit that a few months ago I too would have needed to look that term up in my dictionary app…so I’ll save you the time.
According to Merriam Webster, a hedonist is someone who “is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure.” In other words, she made decisions for herself that would lead her to be happy, joyful and increase her life satisfaction. While many of these decisions were not ‘traditional’ or ‘normal’ for a lady of her time, Alice knew what made her happy, loved a good laugh and embraced decisions that made her smile!
Like so many of us, Alice’s life wasn’t all sunshine and opportunity. She was the oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife - also named Alice. Tragedy struck the family when Alice’s mother passed away shortly after giving birth. President Roosevelt remarried; however, his new wife did not appreciate or accept Alice’s independent nature and their relationship suffered.
Sure, Alice could have taken this unfortunate situation and plummeted into a pit of despair, blaming the world for dealing her such a rotten card. However, she chose to find the light in the little things, chose to take a stand for things that were important to her, and chose to decorate her path with laughter and smiles.
Alice found that little delights would help to balance out her life obligations and challenges. One such delight involved stowing Emily Spinach away in her pocketbook and bringing her along to aristocratic events and parties. Upon arrival, Alice would bring her out, wrap her around her wrist and simply wait for the squeals, shrieks and giggles.
Research shows there are a variety of factors that contribute to our overall happiness. While 50% are based on our genetic set point (how we are inherently wired) and 10% are due to our life circumstances, a notable 40% is determined by our intentional activity. In other words, how we choose to react to a situation or explain to ourselves why it is happening to us strongly impacts our wellbeing. This is GREAT news y’all: we have a decent amount of control over how “happy” we are!
How we choose to react to a situation or explain to ourselves why it is happening to us strongly impacts our wellbeing
Dr. Sonja Lyubormirsky (a renowned psychology professor at Harvard and all-around happiness guru) found that regardless of the situation, incredible or dreadful, the ability to construe it in a way that can help promote happiness will increase your overall well-being. Dr. Martin Seligman (the founding father of positive psychology) also agreed that adopting an optimistic style of explanation towards events that are happening to us will promote wellbeing as well. He says, “the basis of optimism does not lie in the positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about the causes.” Plainly put, how we explain the reasons behind the things that happen to us directly affects the impact they have on us, and our overall happiness.
So no, things don’t have to be perfect all the time. In fact, they really shouldn’t be. Our ability to navigate through both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions in a way that enables us to process and grow from them helps tip the scales towards happiness. Alice accepted the uncomfortable emotions but chose to create an optimistic explanation for them and finish out with a smile. Showing us that a proper balance of hedonism can help create joy, happiness and laughter.
I believe we can all take a nod from Alice’s “untamed” and “hedonistic” ways…and realize that the decisions we make for ourselves and the way we interpret a situation could make us smile, grow and thrive. I’d say Alice had it figured out…she died in 1980 at the age of 96.
So... the next time you find yourself in a situation…comfortable or not…Think about Alice Roosevelt and savor the joy surrounding YOUR “Emily Spinach.” Try to create a positive explanation for the situation and pull that little green garter snake out of your pocketbook, wrap it around your wrist and enjoy the delight you’ve created for yourself.