For many people, their happiest day was a momentous occasion. Life-changing events, such as meeting or marrying the love of their life, the birth of a child, or reaching some personal or professional milestone, stood out clearly from the millions of moments that make up a life. But for Monty, each day was the happiest day he’d had.

It hadn’t always been sunshine and sweetness in his world. Quite the opposite. And he’d spent the first few decades of his life pushing back against the world with a scowl on his face and a heaviness in his heart. He probably would have continued on in this way, dissatisfied and generally unpleasant to be around, but for a chance encounter with a stranger.

Monty had been near the front of a lengthy queue, waiting to pile onto the next bus which was, of course, late and quite packed when it finally pulled up. He reckoned there’d be room enough for him – just – and was about to push his way through before the driver closed the door when a teenager, barely more than a wisp of a boy, swung in from the left and beat him to it. The driver had closed the door in Monty’s face, shaking his head at the roar of anger that seeped through the reinforced glass and metal. As the bus chugged away, Monty was on the balls of his feet, body arched in the direction of the departing bus as he let rip with what he thought about kids today, the bus driver, and society in general.

He was so intent that he didn’t see the line of people behind him shuffle back a step or two, unwilling to engage or encourage him any further. Well, everyone stepped back except a middle-aged woman. Monty finished his diatribe and swung back around, expecting some support from the people nearby. But they were all looking elsewhere, absorbed with their phones with headphones clamped tight against outside interference. He looked past the woman, who had stepped closer still, hoping to make eye contact with someone which would reignite the burning coals of resentment which were smouldering. She edged closer still, getting up close and personal and Monty stepped back with a start. He was getting ready to unleash another round of invective against humanity when she held her hand out, palm towards him and started to talk.

‘Stop this.’

Monty rocked back on his feet and then shifted forward, his eyes glinting with a new target for his rage. The woman didn’t step back. She looked at him, really looked at him, and he opened then closed his mouth, suddenly lost for words.

‘Will this matter tomorrow? Or in a month’s time? It’s unlikely. All of this futile rage eats you up inside.’

At this, Monty leaned towards her, ready to roar that what would she know? But there was something in her manner that pulled him up.

‘What you think, say and do matters. It impacts the people around you, but it also affects you and your happiness. If you want your life to be something more than rage against things outside of your control, you need to choose how you react.’

Monty shook his head. The woman wasn’t dressed like a hippy but she seemed to be sprouting some kind of new age claptrap. This he could respond to. But the woman had turned away and was walking slowly towards the back of the queue. He called out a few insults, but she didn’t turn around or acknowledge them, and no-one else paid any heed. Then another bus was trundling towards him and Monty shoved his arm out, half hoping that someone else would queue-jump. He’d be ready for them.

Seated on the bus, he’d kept an eye out for the woman, keen now to respond to her so-called suggestions. But if she boarded the bus he didn’t see her. He struggled to remember what she looked like. It didn’t matter, just another nobody sticking their nose into something that had nothing to do with them.

Over the following days and weeks, though, her words rattled around his mind. He still chaffed against the world in general, but in quieter moments, began to wonder if maybe there was something to what she’d said. Monty found himself keeping an eye out for the woman, especially near his bus stop. He was more curious than cranky, and he sometimes repeated the words that she’d said like a mantra.

Slowly, as habits are hard to change, he began to see the world a little differently. Incrementally, Monty started to think a bit more before he shook his fist at anything that frustrated him. One day he found himself smiling at a stranger, for no reason at all. What was even more surprising was the way that he felt when the stranger smiled back. There was the flutter of something in Monty’s chest, a lightening of his spirit. It encouraged him to try a little harder, to listen to what people were saying to him, instead of tuning into the internal monologue that had been his companion for so long.

Family and friends noticed the change too. Instead of the usual wariness when they crossed paths, there were moments when Monty found himself enjoying their company, not merely enduring them. He offered to help do things that a year ago he would have snorted at, and was nearly as surprised to find himself enjoying doing things which weren’t of benefit to himself. When asked what had changed, or what was it that was making him smile so much more than he used to, Monty gave an enigmatic grin.

Sometimes he’d share the words that the stranger had said to him, if he saw someone that reminded him of how he used to look at the world. Because he knew now that every day has the potential to be the happiest day of your life. It’s a matter of choice.

I’m participating in this blogging challenge for the month of January, which supports starting the year on the “write” track. You can find other posts with #bloganuary and join in the challenge.

Photo: three wise owls