A friend of mine was recently venting woes to me in the midst of his bad day. Grumpily recounting his attempt to cool off by walking to a nearby store to buy a soda he said, “I got halfway there and I realized, ‘I don’t have my mask!’”

His frustration over this last straw was too much and I burst out laughing over the absurdity of his situation and everything else that is wrong with the current world. My laughter was infectious, and his grumpiness melted away as he joined me in a hearty chuckle.

I think we’ve all been in my friend’s grumpy shoes far more than we care to admit in recent months. I know I can shamefully raise my hand and admit to being guilty as charged. Sheltering in place, worrying about the virus and chaos destroying our nation, dealing with new responsibilities like homeschooling children or trying to work from home – all of these things make it difficult to approach life with a cheerful attitude and refrain from snapping at those closest to us.

Unfortunately, the strain is beginning to show. American divorce rates have skyrocketed in recent months. Suicide rates have soared. Chaos in our streets suggests a deeper chaos of the soul.

It’s easy to look at the problems of the world and wonder what we, as average citizens, can do to improve life. The answer to that question is “not much” – at least on an large scale. However, we can do a lot in how we live our own lives. For starters, how do we handle our own grumpiness, in our own homes, among our own families? Are there simple ways we can brighten the world for them, causing them to head out in the world and brighten others’ lives in their own turn?

This question entered my mind after I read a book called Retroculture: Taking America Back. Author William Lind discusses the revival of interest in all things retro – furniture, architecture, and even travel – while suggesting that a love for retro needs to extend to our families and values as well. At one point, he quotes the following passage from an old etiquette book:

I remember a prominent woman… saying to me once, ‘Oh, how much pleasure I get out of remembering the breakfasts of my childhood! There was a rule that all members of the family had to come to the table. We had to be neat. We greeted our parents and each other. We were allowed to take part in the conversation and express our opinions. We never thought of complaining about the food, and of course a cross word or look was out of the question. If such a thing happened, it was flatly declared that we were ill and could be excused from the table. Everything looked so pretty, too – the colored china, the shining silver, and always a little flower. Because Mother said pretty surroundings made a great difference in how we faced the day. It was like starting out in the morning with everything rosy and beautiful. And if ever any of us had to miss breakfast, if we were really ill, we felt cheated. [Emphasis added.]

I stopped when I read that passage, especially the emphasized part, and I couldn’t help but delight in this lovely thought. Personally, I have never been a huge breakfast fan. I would rather get it over with quickly and move on with my day. But how much do those first hours of the day affect families? Furthermore, how much do our surroundings in our homes affect our attitudes as we go out into the world?

If we make our homes happy places to be – not only through furnishings and food, but through our own attitudes – might we not change our own outlook on life, along with our families’ outlooks and the outlooks of those our loved ones come in contact with?

We may not be able to immediately right the chaos in the world, but we can make life a happy experience for those around us. Average people doing average things can do a lot to turn the world right side up.