“We can’t all be as positive as you!”
“Ugh, she’s always so cheerful”
“Being optimistic is just being naive”
I’ve heard all the above about myself, and about friends. One friend in particular was facing real pushback and scorn from new workmates on her optimistic approach to life and began to wonder if her positivity was really that annoying. I told her the truth – that it was one of her most endearing qualities, that her joy and laughter and boundless optimism had lifted up so many of us and we missed it every day now she no longer worked with us.
I like the way my sister once described my positive approach to life, she said: “When you meet people, you’re kind of like a big bouncy friendly puppy and no-one can quite bring themselves to kick you away”.
I like puppies.
One of the nicest things about dogs is that they’re always ready to be pleased with whatever situation they’re in.
One of my go to quotes – Neither optimism or pessimism will change a situation, but one way you’ll just feel better. For example – every teacher has to write reports. No teacher enjoys writing reports. Moaning about it doesn’t make it go away, and just adds to the stress.
It isn’t naive to seek the best in each situation. Trying to be positive doesn’t mean you are oblivious to the difficulties or stresses of life, in fact I’d argue the opposite – we try to be positive precisely because we’re aware so much of life can be crap.
“Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative. there’s a big difference between the two.”
Marc and Angel (from marcandangel.com)
When I was younger, much younger, maybe early teens, I used to have recurring fears and anxieties at night. Sometimes it would stop me from sleeping. I began using a visualisation technique borrowing imagery from one of my favourite fiction series at the time, the Dragonlance saga. I would actively visualise the negative thoughts taking physical shape as dark demons, lumpy shapes of darkness and gloom. Slowly they would take over the sky and the field in my imagination, covering all with a blanket of dread. Then I imagined a glorious golden dragon swooping down, pushing all darkness before it and shooing away the dark and negative thoughts, which, one by one, would grumblingly take off, leaving the field under bright sun and covered with daisies. Sometimes I had to do it several times (there was often a draconian or two who tried to hide behind a clump of flowers), but it worked. Positivity and optimism seem much the same to me. It isn’t as if I don’t know the dark gloomy demons are there, but I arm myself in positivity and try to battle them away. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes they leave and are gone for a while, sometimes they just hover above, waiting for a moment of weakness.
Last week i had to take a relief lesson. It was an afternoon lesson for maths and it was a fairly low ability class. I’d heard that they could give some of their teachers a tough time. I had two options: go in expecting them to be awful and with guns a-blazing, or to be relentlessly positive. Now this didn’t mean that i didn’t enforce rules and make it clear that a) they shouldn’t talk when I was talking and b) the work would be done (I am, after all, known to be one of the strictest teachers in my department… I’m nice though, really). It meant that i showed them I was willing to help them, to be nice to them, and to see them above all as people. It was such a delightful lesson. I brushed off some rusty maths and worked things out with them. When I told them what a lovely class they were, one girl looked at me with shining eyes.
‘Do you really mean it, Miss?”
“Absolutely!” I answered. “Look at you all doing your work so well, and your lovely smiling faces and your good manners! You’re a really lovely class!”
You could almost see them take that statement, wrap it carefully, and keep it for later.
If i had gone in there with a different attitude those same kids would have responded differently. As would we, as grown adults, if someone came in to our space with a negative attitude ready to expect the worst from us. My decision to be positive, to be my best self, allowed them a chance to be their best selves. We all benefited.
Being a Pollyanna can get on other people’s nerves, but more often than not it is helpful. I have reached more people through my positivity and overt cheer than I would have had I been quiet or let my inner cynicism take over and bleed into my interactions with others.
Life doesn’t throw us what we want. Sometimes we can work to change that and other times we can’t. What we do have control over is how we feel and how we behave. Rose tinted glasses can’t always counteract the gloom of cynicism when I read the news, but I remember the people I follow on Twitter who fight back with words and deeds against a tide of darkness. I remember the people I see every day on my way to work who brighten my morning with our chats. I remember the strangers in the street who have leaped to my assistance for everything from a flat tyre, to running out of petrol at the lights in the rain, to trying to get heavy shelves from my car to my house. The nearly 2000 students I’ve taught over the last 12 years and the many, many more I see every day give me tremendous hope for the future. Teenagers are pretty genuine. They haven’t always learned to modify all of their behaviours and thoughts. Especially our kids. They’ll tell you that they think your eyes are really blue, they’ll show when they’re bored, they’ll offer to help carry things, they offer compassion and understanding and express a real joy in being loved and respected. I’ve always figured that they just can’t be that different from the majority of the population. That means I do have a nearly endless optimism when it comes to humanity – so important in the face of the comments section of the internet.
It’s a bit different when you’re battling demons. Positivity takes energy, and depression and burn out sap that energy and warp your perception so that positive things are hidden from sight, obscured by glasses so dark the rose can’t shine through at all. I’ve felt that way and I’ve seen how it affected others. This is another reason I like my positivity – because I don’t take it for granted.
It feels so much better to have a primarily optimistic view of the world. To be prepared to be happy and to be lucky enough for happiness to be a default rather than an exception.
Positive Pollyanna-ness makes me happy, and helps me cope. What’s not to like?