Embracing Pollyanna

Happy people are sometimes derided as unrealistic Pollyannas, other people’s way of bringing them down to earth. I’ve heard it from people who don’t yet understand how I can be so optimistic. The dictionary defines “pollyanna” as an excessively or blindly optimistic person. Curious about this, I requested Eleanor Porter’s book Pollyanna from the library. In the pages of this easy-to-read book, I discovered a philosophy similar to the one I live.

You see, Pollyanna’s life centers on the Glad Game that she plays – the game of finding at least one thing to be glad about in any situation. An orphan taken in by her stern aunt, she inspires the town and eventually her aunt into playing this game. Invalids are comforted, quarrels are patched up, life gets better all around. When she runs into her own challenges, the whole town pitches in to help her play the toughest Glad Game she’s ever faced.

I play something like the Glad Game too. Grew into it unknowingly, took it as my own. It becomes easier – almost instinctive – as you do it. In the book, Pollyanna says:

“Why, Nancy, that’s so! I WAS playing the game—but that’s one of the times I just did it without thinking, I reckon. You see, you DO, lots of times; you get so used to it—looking for something to be glad about, you know. And most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it.”

The game I play isn’t quite the Glad Game, though. I don’t stop at being glad. I guess I play the Learn-Share-Do Game. What can I learn from this situation? How can I share what I’m learning? How will I respond – what will I do about this situation? This turns every joy and success into something greater, and every heartache into part of the story.

It’s a blend of the infectious optimism of the 11-year-old Pollyanna and the resolute freedom of the Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who wrote this:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

There is no shame in being a Pollyanna, on facing life with conscious optimism and deliberate gratitude. Optimism can be firmly rooted in reality, finding nutrients in its depths, using the rocks of life as anchors.

I play the Learn-Share-Do game. What game do you play with life?

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  • http://accidentallyincode.com Cate

    Have you read the luck factor yet? The idea of finding the positive in any circumstances is a key characteristic of “lucky” people. I think you’d find it an interesting read :)

  • http://countablyinfinite.ca Quinn

    I’ve always wanted to ask you — how do you deal with systemic injustice and the helplessness that comes from seeing what results from that? Problems older than you are, perpetuated by those whose motives you can understand but which seems immovable by sheer mass of people, history, and culture? I remember with much clarity the one time I saw you blog about inequity and I’ve been hoping to hear more from you on the topic.

    I know many in my profession who suffer from something resembling the Cassandra complex.

  • http://baonkobento.wordpress.com Patricia

    Thanks for sharing this about Pollyanna! I haven’t read it before, and I promptly went to Gutenberg and read the whole thing. I like it a lot, and it has a lot of similarity with the other classic series that I also like, the Green Gables series.

    It is indeed very hard to be optimistic these days. This is why I really like to read people’s stories, especially those of overcoming great odds without sacrificing character. It strengthens my belief that people can achieve their dreams and still remain good.

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