“Optimism is something we can improve with practice.”
Are you a glass is half full or a glass is half empty kind of person? Really think about it. For some of us the answer to that question may come easily, others may have to sleep on that thought for a while. Then there are a handful of us who may believe that that question cannot be approached in an “either/or” kind of way.
That’s where I fall. I’ve spent many a sleepless night thinking about this question, thus the blog. I’d like to think I’m a pretty positive, pretty optimistic person most of the time, but I’ve always said, “It’s so much easier to be negative.”
Don’t believe me? Think about it a little bit. You consider yourself a pretty optimistic person. You don’t get discouraged easily, you’re everybody’s biggest cheerleader, and you can look at someone like Ted Bundy, Osama Bin Laden or Saddam and find some positive characteristic about each of them, even if it is only, “They have nice teeth.”
But come on. Even the most optimistic person in the world has to admit that if we were sitting around having a conversation about any of the above persons it would be pretty hard to stay positive about the topic.
OK, so that example is the extreme, and anyone in their right mind would have a difficult time finding something nice to say about a group of mass murderers, but let’s give a more common example.
You’re sitting around with a group of friends having a beer or a glass of wine. Someone brings up the topic of a dinner party you were at the week before, and the embarrassing schmuck who passed out in his soup bowl, apparently hitting the cocktails a little too hard. You know this person, you even like this person, and have a lot of things to add to this conversation that would turn the conversation around to your friends wonderful accomplishments. How he came from nothing, but managed to start his own software company after he worked and paid his way through college, and is now sitting on a multimillion dollar gold mind. But do you say that? Especially when there are nine other people joining in on all of this guys obvious faults, and documenting his most embarrassing moments. Do you join in and add your own “drunk Bob” anecdote? Or even worse, do you sit there silently cursing yourself for not having the balls to speak up and support your friend, who you know is having difficulties with his wife and takes it out on the bottle every once in a while?
I know many of us would like to think that we are above that kind of drama and pessimistic, negative kind of conversation, but when you really dig deep and think about it, are you? I’m not.
In fact, I had a friend who I used to call when I was in one of those moods to vent about my husband and didn’t want to hear about my role in our current relationship problems. She and I would take turns one-upping each other, “Well you think that was bad, guess what my husband did last night?” And on and on it’d go, until I had virtually no hope whatsoever of ever turning things around with Mark. After those conversations I might scan through the list of lawyers I knew in my head wondering who I’d use if we ended up divorcing, or even glance through the yellow pages in search of someone he had never come across in all of his business dealings. Then I would kindly tell my friend, “I think we need to take a break from each other. This can’t be good for either one of us,” and I’d call in a week or so.
I HATED living like that, and I hate being a part of those conversations. I’m getting better at speaking up when I disagree, instead of sitting back silently saying nothing, or even worse, nodding my head in agreement and given one of my “Oh yeah, well guess what else he did” statements, but its not always easy. What’s that little saying, “It takes a greater number of muscles to frown than it does to smile.” If that is, in fact true, then why is it so easy to be negative?
I don’t have the answer, but I do know that since starting this blog and really focusing on myself and all that life has to offer, I have become much more positive and optimistic about my outlook on life’s happenings. But as I began to feel that negativity creeping in this weekend, carrying through to yesterday morning, I knew I needed some help. So I was happy to open my inbox yesterday and find my daily “Thought for Today” newsletter from Oprah that told me it was possible to improve optimism with practice. Really? I was intrigued!
According to author Susan C. Vaughan, MD, there I five things people can do to help them see the world in a more positive way. Ever played interpersonal ping-pong? Dr. Vaughan uses that term to describe the same premise Rhonda Byrne dedicated an entire book to. Basically, you get what you give back. If you put a smile to the man at the deli or the woman in the tollbooth (my husband makes fun of me for striking up cheerful conversation with the tollbooth personnel always ending with a “Have a nice day!” because I read once that people who work in tollbooths have a high rate of suicide), then usually they will smile back. Moods are contagious. Any mother can attest to that.
I’ve said it before in previous posts (I think), “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” When she is in a good mood, the energy in the house is much less toxic, and everybody is a lot nicer to each other. And apparently my pessimistic mood is rubbing off on my family, because I just got a call from a teacher this afternoon informing me that my son, who saw that his twin sister was outwardly upset about a test grade, was repeatedly berating her, and teasing her about that fact. Nice! After I ream him out this afternoon, I promise I will kill him with kindness and great big smiles for the rest of the week.
Dr. Vaughan also says that putting on a happy face can influence your brain in a positive way. Apparently when you feel down your brain responds by causing your facial muscles to react in a particular way, usually with a frown. But it is possible, Vaughn writes, to trick your brain into being happy by using that information in reverse. If you cause your facial muscles to smile you can actually trick your brain, and thus yourself, into thinking that you are happy, and continue through your day in a more optimistic fashion. Pretty cool, don’t you think?
The next one is a little tricky for me, because it involves changing your conversations with yourself, specifically around your success and failures. For instance, I began this blog yesterday with hopes of getting back to my daily blogging routine. My first thought was, “You’re returning to those lazy ways again, Kelly. You’re clinging to the all or nothing way of careening through life. You suck!” And what happened? I continued through the day feeling down, useless, a little lost, and in fact, I still felt that way this morning. It may have something to do with having a fever and feeling nauseous, too, but I decided to change my thought processes, and told myself today “Apparently the universe felt you needed to accomplish a few other things yesterday, because it knew you would be sick today. You’re a good blogger. Even other bloggers think so.” I was able to add that last thought because right before I sat down to blog, I received a message from Danielle at Things Carter Says blog, and she nominated me for a Liebster Award. I will explain more in tomorrow mornings post.
Now, if I can change the way I am thinking right now about how poorly I am going to handle this whole bad grade and teasing thing when my son gets home, I’ll be on my way to eternal (well, at least a few days of) optimism.
Now the next suggestion in the article is pretty much summed up with the statement “No matter how bad things get, there’s always someone who’s worse off.” So basically, get over yourself! You’ve got it pretty good so move on, and appreciate what you have. Enough said.
Lastly, Vaughan reminds us that we are in control of ourselves, and so only I have the ability to control whether I live my life pessimistically or optimistically. I’ve always believed there are two types of people in the world: those who have things happen to them, and those who make things happen. I don’t think I have to tell you which ones are the optimists, and which ones I identify most with (usually).
So for the rest of the week I’m going to drown people in positivity. I am going to smile my way through the week whether I’m blogging, sick, breaking up a fight between siblings, disagreeing with my husband, picking up people’s crap strewn throughout the house, or (ugh) doing laundry. I am going to imagine all those parents who have it worse than me and be grateful for what I have. Sucks to be you parents with triplets, or more than three children! Or (ugh) how would you like to be Mrs. Duggar? (Joking aside, I know how lucky I am to have healthy, happy, fighting, children, and living in a country where they can practically do and become anything they set out to do).
So the next time you see me, and I smile my full set of pearly whites at you and then ask about your day and wish you well, don’t think for an instant, “Wow, that was really nice/sweet/thoughtful (insert your own adjective here).” Nope, sorry. It’s just me selfishly working on my own optimistic outlook on life. So there.
But, have a nice day anyway! **Imagine big toothy grin, being smiled at you right now***