I was talking to a friend of mine a while back about positive thinking. I caught myself saying, “I am no Pollyanna.“ My friend knows a lot about me and the struggles I went through to get to the place where I am now (literally and figuratively). As such, he agreed with me while, at the same time, acknowledging how important optimism is in my life.
Always a student of self-awareness, I could not help but ask myself, “What made me proclaim that I am no Pollyanna?” First, I did some research to make sure I understood what being a Pollyanna means.
Pollyanna Whittier is the protagonist in Eleanor H. Porter’s best-selling novels Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up. The first book is about a little girl who loses both her parents and becomes an orphan. She’s taken in by her aunt, who is wealthy in finances and poor in spirit. Pollyanna’s aunt is a curmudgeon, of sorts — one of those people with a hardened and bitter disposition. The town they live in (Beldingsville, Vermont) is occupied by many people who are dealing with tragedies and obstacles of their own. Their outlook on Life and humanity, in general, has become jaded.
Before he died, Pollyanna’s father taught her a game he called “The Glad Game.” The gist of the game is to find something positive about everything that happens in Life. This optimistic attitude becomes Pollyanna’s philosophy on Life and dealing with other people. It’s a philosophy that carries her through her own struggles (losing her parents, living with an aunt who doesn’t want her, sustaining a crippling injury herself and more). Pollyanna’s life was not a walk in the park or a fairytale life.
Pollyanna had problems too. But her optimistic outlook helped her create her own happiness; and her happiness was infectious.
What made Pollyanna’s character so unique was her ability to look for the goodness in other people and Life, in general. She searched for light in the shadows of darkness and found happiness, despite all her struggles and the demeanor of people around her who were not playing “The Glad Game.”
So, why has the phrase “She’s a Pollyanna” become more of a criticism than a compliment in our society?
When I thought about that question, the first thing that popped into my mind was a statement I heard from one of my co-workers a few years ago. He said, “I hate happy people!” At the time, I laughed. Now, it seems a sad reflection of the times.
It has been my observation that a lot of people do think that someone who is optimistic most of the time is just “crazy” or not “living in the real world.” Interesting.
We ALL live in the real world! We can’t help it. It is the essence of our humanity.
Unless you have been living in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains with monks for the last 20 years, you have seen more than your fair share of the “real” world. The real world includes the economy, the healthcare crisis, the political division that seeps through to the heart of American culture and creates disunity everywhere we turn . . . and all of the day to day stress that has penetrated our lives on the coat tails of our smart phones, two income families, and identification with the wide variety of roles we play.
So, how do we integrate optimism with reality? Why should we even try?
Life is, indeed, all about perspective. Perspective is where we are at when we observe and absorb those things we choose to see – in ourselves, others, and the world around us. Pollyanna was fortunate that her beloved father taught her the art of optimism at a very young age. She had the opportunity to choose an optimistic perspective at a young age, and she seized it.
There are many important reasons why optimism is beneficial. Some of them have to do with balancing those parts of ourselves that give rise to fear and grief. Some of them have to do with the energy we create with any focused thought – energy that follows a neutral but unwavering universal law. Others have to do with the creation of hope, which feeds faith and nurtures happiness.
But, it seems to me that the most important reason why we should strive to think optimistically is because it allows us to truly accept the “reality” that Life must include struggles, obstacles, and losses – just as it includes beauty, joy, success and happiness. This is a perspective that promotes the peace within that has become the holy grail of our era.
Much discussion has been had about the need for balance in our lives; and, yet, how easily most would deny Life itself the gift of balance by removing anything unpleasant or undesirable in the belief that a utopia is somehow better than the humanity we have actually been given.
We can accept the less desirable aspects of what it means to be human when we choose to focus on all the positive gifts Life provides us – the things we are glad about; the things we are grateful for. That does not mean that we ignore the other aspects of Life or pretend they do not exist. But, finding something positive about all of the experiences we have in Life helps us add the weight of gratitude to the scale that balances joy and suffering.
If you want to read Pollyanna online, visit http://www.planetebook.com/Pollyanna.asp.