Stewart, my paternal grandfather, had a sunny disposition. He was forever whistling – even on his way to do chores in the barn at 4AM. When my siblings and I were little, any of us could climb up into his lap, assured of a cuddle and a peppermint from his pocket.
My maternal grandmother was the same. Edna (we called her Grammy Ed) always had a smile for everyone, regardless of plenty of personal troubles and tragedies. She would sing, or hum, or whistle while going about her day. She had an abiding faith in the goodness of people, who rarely proved her wrong.
On the flip side, are purveyors of doom and gloom –where nothing seems right, nor will it ever be. I worked with a woman once who had more negative charge than all of the batteries in the world combined. She was the black to my white.
Although I’m blessed with a positive nature, I spent much of my childhood living in a state of sadness; I felt unloved and mostly worthless. It took some concerted effort in my 20’s to dig my way out of that dark pit so that I could dust off my cloak of optimism. It felt great to be back in the sunlight!
Recent research shows that the bug of pessimism is contagious. The studies indicate that when we’re surrounded by people who are stressed out, our stress levels rise as well. Yikes – where are my anti-depressants! But, wait a minute, research also shows that the bug of optimism is just as contagious. If you surround yourself with optimistic people, it rubs off on you.
Then why, I wonder, do we default to the dark side?
You only have to read a newspaper or watch the evening news to be exposed, over and over, to negativity. (We’ve long known that good news does not sell newspapers!) Grammy Ed used to say, “I’ll watch the doom and gloom before I go to bed.”
We seem to get a perverse pleasure out of the “ain’t it awful” talk, which spreads like wildfire when it’s repeated. For example, children old enough to have learned about the Cuban missile crisis in the ‘60’s, were soon infected with the fear that world destruction was imminent. Talk about stress! Yet the world is still here, fifty years later.
When I finally realized how much all of that negativity distressed me, I put myself on a “negativity diet”.
I rarely watch the news, and I avoid violent or gruesome content on TV and in movies. If the conversation around me gets too bleak, I either tune out, steer the conversation in a different direction, or I walk away.
Now, don’t get me wrong, awful stuff happens.
I’ve fretted and shed plenty of tears with friends and relatives when life got too tough for any of us. But we didn’t want to stay in that pit of darkness; we talked each other out of it, so that we could move forward to a brighter side.
When I examine the times that I’ve spiralled down into worry or despair, I realize that my fears had the upper hand. “Making mountains out of molehills,” is what my grandmother would have called it. Too often those fears, revealed in the light of day, had no substance whatsoever. That old quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt, “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself” certainly applies.
It seems that the bug of pessimism has infected us to the point where the stress levels in society have risen to epidemic proportions. The sale of anti-depressants has never been higher.
But really, how much truth is there in what we believe about how bad things are?
I know people who refuse to travel because of the crime portrayed on so-called reality shows. If there is little truth to any of it, why are we spending so much time believing what’s shown, or believing our negative thoughts?
Could it be that an injection of optimism is the antidote to the poison of pessimism?
What if we spent more time noticing what’s great about life and what’s great about each of us?
What if we envisioned an even better future?
I have a great plaque on my wall that says, “Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.” Whenever I feel tempted to hang out in doom and gloom, I stand in front of that saying and breathe it in.
My grandpa used to sing that old song, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.” You don’t have to look any farther than children for a dose of the sunny-side up bug – simply smile, giggle, or laugh out loud with them and watch that bug spread!