I stand accused of having become too negative. Me, little Miss Glass-half-full. Me, who sang Bing Crosby’s song, Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive, to my university’s former VP Finance, encouraging him to stop spending so much time dwelling on the negative side of things (which in that job, admittedly, was understandable). What happened to me?
I think we all know. It’s a modern disease that results from spending too much time reading or listening to news and wondering how the world got to be such a mean, angry place, even among people who have no personal complaints. It’s a disease that has infected all of us who had naively thought that beneath all the rancor there were people in charge who believed that kindness and decency to all were accepted aspects of living in a civil society. But, it turns out that from time to time some of these assumptions are sorely tested, and, sadly, this is one of those times. And news junkies like me, who have 24/7 access to over-the-top stress-inducing world news thanks to our advanced technologies, are left in despair over the state of the world. And despair for the world, it turns out, does have an impact on one’s usually positive attitude!
I haven’t lost my positive attitude about my own life, the lives of my family and friends, or my corner of the world. Not in the slightest. But apparently my preoccupation with the extraordinary disruption of 70 years of an integrated and cooperative world order has coloured my overall tone. I guess it makes some sense than in posting articles on FB that bemoan the current state of the world, albeit with compelling arguments ;), I have been perpetuating the stress-inducing despair that has turned me negative. Hmm. I’d better do something about this.
It was just a few years ago that I was serenading my UNB colleague with the following advice:
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-between.
Time for me to take my own advice.
In googling “positive attitude” you can find lists of 11 tips to create and maintain a positive attitude, 18 tips, 21 tips, 7 tips, 8 tips, or even 100 tips. Take your pick. I’ve made my own list of just 3 tips for restoring and maintaining my own positive attitude. I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to have success with three tips than 11, 18, or 100. A lot easier to remember, for one thing.
1. Don’t become overwhelmed by problems that you have no possibility of changing. Concentrate on what you can help change.
Things we can change: Depending on your particular concerns, as long as you’re living in a democracy one thing you can do – and should do – is to be sure to vote. Volunteer in elections if you have strong feelings about what’s going on where you live. Every voice should count. Also, of course, there are many politics-free volunteer activities you can get involved with to help make your community, region, or country an even more caring place.
Things we cannot change: I can’t change the US becoming a more insular and less civil society, nor can I change the lose-lose situation of Brexit. “Things I cannot change” is a long list. I need to stop spending so much time reading world news and spend more time on positive, constructive activities.
Now that I think of it, this sentiment is effectively captured in the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
2. Remind yourself that your attitude has an impact on others.
It’s not just about you. Just the fact that you approach things with a positive attitude can have a positive impact on those around you. (Thank you for reminding me of this, Keith.)
3. Live with gratitude
This recommendation appears on most lists of tips for maintaining a positive attitude.
I tried something like this a few years ago. I read about someone who kept a Good News Jar, into which the author inserted slips of paper that described good news each time there was something to celebrate. I think I was setting the bar too high for this to work. My problem was that I was looking for good news for the world rather than good news in my own life, and my jar only contained two pieces of paper at the end of the year!
I think I need to take a leaf out of the book – I mean blogs – of some bloggers I follow.
- LA at Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50 has a post every Saturday called Gratitude Saturday. I don’t think I need to necessarily post my gratitude highlights each week (although that’s a good motivator for actually going through the process), but recording what you’ve been grateful for each week has to be a good thing. Who knows, it might even include good things happening in the world!
- Tim and Joanne Joseph at A Note From Abroad end every post with a short section called Gratitude Moment, where they describe what they’re grateful for from that day. I always look for it.
- Cynthia Reyes, a Canadian author and former journalist with CBC, found at cynthiasreyes.com, is one of so many people who live with chronic pain and PTSD. Most of her blog posts deal with her writing and her exquisite gardens, but every once in a while she includes her struggles on bad days. Her graciousness in the telling and her gratitude for the good things in her life shine through as an inspiration for those of us who don’t have any such struggles. I learn lessons in gratitude from Cynthia and also from
- Lilie at Tea and Toast with Kindness, a poet in Montana who, like Cynthia, lives with chronic pain. Lilie posts beautiful poetry that speaks to everyday experiences. But every once in a while she also writes about her struggles with illness and chronic pain, and through her descriptions shine her strength and positive approach to living her life on her own terms. She is another inspiration about gratitude and defining your life around what you can control, as opposed to what you cannot control.
So, I have been learning from fellow bloggers about impactful ways to reflect on the positives in life and to express your gratitude for them. Now to put those lessons and ideas into practice.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my desire to help make the world a kinder place, but I have been reminded that there is nothing stopping me from doing this in my own backyard.
P.S. Having said all this, in looking for the picture of my Good News Jar, I just came across it in my blog post from New Year’s 2016, entitled Resetting the Optimism Button for 2017. Very similar sentiments to what I’ve just written. It seems I’d better try harder!