Friday, May 8, 2009

Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

I've been thinking a lot lately about attitudes, and how my view of things, such as events and circumstances in my past, has determined the outcome of most of my life thus far.

Most of what is bringing about this little blurb was my determination to watch the special on TV last night with Michael J Fox, Adventures of an Incurable Optimist. When I first saw it was coming on, I was originally pushed to view it to give my daughter something to write about. She's been home all week with her broken foot while her class is on an extended field trip. So it's been fun pretending to be a homeschool Mom for four days and finding things for her to write that will count as assignments when she rejoins her class next week. Knowing she's been through oh my gosh I don't know how many events, yet still maintains THE most positive of attitudes, has been one of my proudest moments as a Mom. It's not the fact that she didn't cry when she got an IV, or that she sucked it up when she learned of her fractured limb and asked questions instead of getting all upset that she had to go without her friends for a week, it's that she was POSITIVE about it. She looked for ways to deal with it instead of letting it drag her down. Sure, I saw visible evidence of disappointment in all of her circumstances, but it's how she chooses to deal with it that I admire. And I am fully aware now that she is learning that kind of behavior from those around her - and from her faith.

I mainly wanted Princess D to watch the show last night to reinforce the fact that optimism is a good thing. I want her to feel that sometimes she's not alone in her various issues, and that there is ALWAYS a bright side to everything. She got the point. Matter of fact she was rather bored with it all, because it was probably one of those "yeah yeah yeah, I already know all this stuff" kind of moments, but I'm excited to see what she has to write about it.

The main gist of the show was to delve into why some people are optimistic and how their lives are different from the opposing mindset, and also if it can be a chosen way of life or if you're just stuck with what ya got. I have done my own set of not-really-scientific-at-all experiments along my life. I'm here to say it's clearly a chosen way of living, and not completely a genetic thing. Now you may disagree with me, and that's fine, but this is my blog so I'm always right. *hahaha!* Just kidding, but feel free to oppose my viewpoint. I should say, IN MY EXPERIENCE, choosing to be joyful and believe that good will triumph over evil has brought about much more good than bad. It's also lots more fun.

I recently read a list of the definitions of Pessimism. The entire PAGE made my insides feel icky. Read on:
  • A general disposition to look on the dark side and expect the worst in all things
  • The doctrine of the ultimate triumph of good over evil
  • The tendency to believe the worst in all things
  • ...a disposition to hold the least hopeful opinion of conditions or behavior
Does anyone feel a presence here or is it just me? It's an evil presence, the one who makes our minds believe that there is no good, there is no positive, there is no effect of our negativity onto others. Yeah - that guy - he's Satan. Satan is the ultimate pessimist, the greatest cynic the world has ever known. Now I beg of whoever is still hanging on here with me now... WHO would want to be like THAT? This is why I am of the belief that a positive attitude can be chosen. Just like my faith is chosen. It's not something I was born with, it isn't something my parents determined for me by their behaviors (although it certainly HELPS that they weren't constantly negative) and it definitely isn't the outcome of a zillion happy little things happening non-stop throughout my 35 years on Earth. My life wasn't like that, and I doubt yours was either.

I think back on those 35 years to the thoughts and attitudes imposed on me that shaped my mindset. Forgive me Mom, this is the part where you can peel your eyes away if you'd like because I'm going to refer to you here. My dear Mother wasn't always the most optimistic of individuals. Now she certainly wasn't, and isn't, a full blown pessimist, but she liked to refer to what she would say as being "realistic". Now realism is all fine and dandy if you're not concerned with feelings. It all depends on the ultimate goal of the conversation in the moment or whatever. I get all realistic with my husband from time to time when his interior dreamer kicks it into high gear. It's called bringing you back to earth. If you need a good reason why to not do something stupid, my Mom is the one to call though. She'll lay it all out there for ya. She and Dr Laura Schlessinger are tight. Or maybe they would be if they had ever actually met. The world clearly needs people like my Mom or we'd all be running around doing stupid, idiotic stuff and letting our emotions control all of our actions. Mainly, we'd all be in prison.

I appreciate that about my Mom. I really do (and any appearance that I'm holding any bad feelings is untrue, I forgave years ago). But remembering the lessons from those life experiences has helped shape how I tend to deal with my family and my friends over the years. I went through a period of time (not sure how long exactly) where I was compared to someone that my parents thought of as out of control, or damaged in some way. They were afraid of me ending up like her. Now they clearly did not want me to turn out like that person, and they used her as an example. The classic line, "you don't want to turn out like so-and-so do you?!?!" certainly wasn't a very positive thing to say. It has stuck with me to this day though, because NO I did not want to "end up" like that person, even though none of us knows yet how she will actually "end up", but I also didn't understand why they ever thought I would! I was highly offended by their remarks, and wished that at the time they would have been more encouraging of my POSITIVES instead of focusing on my negatives.

I couldn't really learn from someone else's mistakes because they weren't mine to learn from. Did I learn from my OWN? Oh yeah, you know it! I also learned that it has been terribly difficult to form any sort of relationship with that person my parents didn't approve of all these years later, because of the negative viewpoint I've been hauling around all this time. Sad isn't it? But I'm a grownup now, and my parents' teachings, examples, behaviors and words are all part of what I CHOOSE to learn from. I can no longer blame them for any stinking thinking, it's what I do with it now that is my responsibility as an adult and also as a parent myself.

When my ex-husband abandoned the girls and I and left us to live with my parents, it was a defining moment in my life. I was either going to be optimistic, or someone was going to die. I was incredibly and unbelievably depressed. I ended up in counseling, and am so glad I was counseled by someone with an optimistic attitude. She encouraged me to see the good in myself, when I truly believed I was worthless. She also made sure the thoughts in my head were thoughts of value and good, and not the toxic belief that I was disposable. I took a few more kicks to my self-worth before I was asked to leave my parents' home, and that about finalized the deal for me. I was teetering on the edge of good vs. evil and evil was surely going to win. I was prepared to give up and let all those negative feelings push me around and make me never want to love someone else, or trust in others again. Everyone in my life had abandoned me, it felt like, except my kids, who were stuck with me, and I really did not understand how anyone could see my circumstances as something GOOD.

Being an optimist certainly doesn't come naturally. I am quite prone to depressive episodes that I am not proud of, but that I have learned to cope with in different ways. Quite often my husband has stung me with words like, "why do you always have to be so negative?" (See, even he's not exempt from this day of public learning! And we both know the word always is always wrong at this point) But in the frustration of the moment, he sees where I'm bringing others down because I'm feeling down, and does a good job of correcting me and helping me refocus. Basically, I just tell him I'm being realistic. *grin* But I see it as he says it. There are times I do tend to fall back on what is comfortable, or what is in the moment, or what was learned, but I regret those times. I can do better than that.

Optimism is to me, like a refreshing boost of energy. When my Mom calls me now, to encourage me, it makes a world of difference in my day, and I hope I can do that for her too. Optimism truly causes others to push harder than they would have before, to reach those lofty goals, to run the race and to be and example of what God would want us to be. Striving, hoping, helpful and full of joy. On the other hand, being negative is toxic. If there's one toxic voice in the crowd, I guarantee you that even in a room full of optimists, you're gonna take someone down with you in some manner. That is clearly not what the Bible speaks of in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 where we are reminded that we do not belong to the darkness. We are all instructed to encourage one another and build each other up. When that happens, all the disappointments, become suddenly not so disappointing. All the sadness, becomes more bearable. All the frustrations be less frustrating and get this... all the happiness and joy in life, become even that much more enjoyable!

My mission in life, is to someday be that Incurable Optimist. I've got a long way to go. Sure, bad things happen, and they have been happening a lot around here lately. I guess it's how I choose to roll with it. I don't care if people are annoyed when I spread joy and a different viewpoint of how they could look at the million "bad" things in their life. My classic line about problems in our home is, "Well, it could always be worse!" I know I was annoyed when people did that to me in the past, but it stuck, and now I sure appreciate it. Bad things stick too. And like all sticky things that get licked off the finger of life, I'd sure rather be lickin' something good than something bad. Wouldn't you?


Beth E. said...

Wow...what a post! I agree with you. We do have a choice to be pessimistic or optimistic.

I've always told my boys since they were quite young - We can't always control our circumstances, but we CAN control our reactions to our circumstances!

Move over...there's room on that soapbox for BOTH of us! long has it been since you visited me on my blog???? Hmmmm??? You've got some catching up to do, girlfriend! :o)

Love ya,

Misty said...

i completely agree with you... I believe that happiness, just as optimism, is something we choose...

Mrs. B said...


Farm Chick Paula said...

I think you're already on your way to incurable optimism.... you are making the CHOICE to look at the bright side.
Good for you.