Allow me to introduce you to Pollyanna—yes, the Pollyanna—optimism is her middle name. And no, it doesn’t wear off after she gets to know you. In fact, you will feel your optimism grow exponentially the more you get to know her. Pollyanna’s penchant for positivity has been stupefying fans ever since children’s book author, Eleanor H. Porter, introduced the eleven-year-old orphan to the public in 1913. Pollyanna’s brand of excessive optimism is so well known that her name has become synonymous with constant or excessive positive thinking. Do you know someone like this? Someone that always makes you feel better about any situation you bring to them? How do they manage to find a bright spot the darkest of skies? Exploring how Pollyanna came to embody her contagious optimism should lend us greater insight.
Let’s Play The Glad Game
Pollyanna’s father, while serving on a mission trip, conjured up the “Glad Game” one Christmas morning to teach his daughter appreciation for a disappointing accidental gift of charity, by stating “Be glad you were given those crutches, because we didn’t need to use them!” After her father’s death, Pollyanna used the game to energize the sleepy and stuffy New England town where she had been temporarily adopted. Throughout her stay, Pollyanna is often found lending positive outlooks to complaining or stressed-out townspeople. Often times she offers positive responses for situations that require none, and although she aids many with a better attitude, as you can imagine, for some, her frequently naïve, good-intentioned new approach gets old fast.
Naïve or not, our friend Pollyanna has the right idea. Even though not every situation calls for an optimistic response, positively walking with one foot in front of the other, anticipating happiness, joy, and success can lead us down The Glad Game path. And what the mind expects from life—it looks for.
Falling Off the Tree
In spite of her great optimism, Pollyanna’s fall from a tall tree later in her story demonstrates that an optimistic attitude won’t prevent lousy things from happening. If we allow ourselves, we could be surrounded by a continuous flood of bad news, bad situations, and negativity in an instant, invariably impacting our ability to find the positive. There are situations that, like Pollyanna’s fall, will impact us heavily, but pre-conditioning our responses for a positive reaction in those little daily trials can prepare us for a more positive response in the bigger falls of life. Replacing our instinctive negative thoughts with things we can “be glad” about, energizes us to seek out the bright spots and work for the personal success we seek, regardless of our varied situations. Finding something to be glad about, to be grateful for, opens our mind to the idea that happiness can be found in any circumstance. Pollyanna found gratitude in the close relationships she developed in the town, and gained happiness in how they supported her through her fall. There is a kernel of happiness buried in tragedy, and should we give thanks for it, we will soon feel the roots of optimism take place. Love her or not, there’s a reason Pollyanna was the talk of the town.
Here are some interactive strategies that you might find helpful to develop your positivity muscles:
Goal: Appreciate something positive in a “negative” situation to develop greater personal optimism.
- List the five things that bring the most negativity to your life. These can be people, situations, or larger community issues—anything that infuses your day with negative thoughts or feelings.
- Next to each thing on your list, write down one positive aspect of each.
- In a third column, write down why you should be grateful for that positive aspect—how does that aspect positively affect your life.
Keep this list with you for the week, either electronically or folded up in your purse or wallet. When one of the things on your list causes you stress or disappointment, read what you’ve written. By zeroing in on something positive, you should begin to feel the stress of that situation fade, and a deeper personal optimism will start to ignite.
Lisa Cypers Kamen is acclaimed for her engaging blend of positive and spiritual psychology coaching, workshops, and philanthropic projects. Through her books, radio show, media appearances, and inspiring documentary films, such as “H Factor: Where Is Your Heart?,” Ms. Kamen serves to educate, facilitate happiness, and cultivate greater well-being in private and public audiences around the world. Ms. Kamen recently launched Harvesting Happiness for Heroes, a pending 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation dedicated to bringing integrated psychology coaching tools and mindfulness training to Veterans and their loved ones challenged by combat trauma and other post-deployment reintegration issues. Ms. Kamen is regularly featured for her work, including on The Huffington Post, ABC and CBS television, Yahoo News, and Money Watch. She completed her Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica and resides in Southern California with her two children. You can visit Lisa on her website, Facebook or Twitter.