On occasion I have been called a Pollyanna. You remember Pollyanna, don't you? She was the happy little girl in Eleanor Porter's novel of the same name who found good in everything. Haley Mills played the title role in Walt Disney's 1960 Pollyanna motion picture.
While I will admit to frequently looking at the bright side, I am not a Pollyanna. I see plenty wrong with the world and there are times when what's wrong with the world discourages me. Much of the time, however, I see a glass as being half full when some others may see it as half empty. I guess that makes me an optimist.
Perhaps I am genetically predisposed to being an optimist. My paternal grandfather was no stranger to grief and disappointment but a smile was as much a part of his daily uniform as his striped bib overalls.
When faced with a foul-up, Opa would say, "Mistakes are the reason they put the rubber on the end of the pencil." In what for Opa was as much a statement of faith as a word of encouragement, he often added to a "good-bye" an admonition to "keep looking up."
As a youngster I found myself on the positive side of life's attitude polarity more often than the negative side. I enjoyed making others laugh and found that life was easier when I was laughing. As I grew older I realized that I appreciated happy folks a lot more than sourpusses.
Unlike Pollyanna, there are days when I find it difficult to be positive, especially when it's ten below zero outside and the forecast predicts even colder temps tomorrow. Most of the optimists I know struggle with negative feelings from time to time. To ignore the obvious would be, well, it would be Pollyanna-like. While the forces of negativism may win a few battles, the optimist survives by not letting them win the war.
So what does it take to be an optimist? I can't speak for all optimists, but from my own experience I would say the first step is to love yourself.
Whoa! That's narcissistic, you say. Isn't love of self a sin? Not unless it's out of balance. You may recall that Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He didn't say, "Love your neighbor more than yourself," or, "Love yourself more than your neighbor." He told us to love our neighbor just as much as we love ourselves.
It's difficult to be optimistic if you don't have a balanced sense of self-worth. In fact, I believe the reason some folks are so negative is because they have never learned to love themselves. That cripples their ability to accept and love others.
Secondly, an optimist accepts the fact that the world is not perfect. Many years ago Carl Sandburg wrote, "In these times you have to be an optimist to open your eyes in the morning."
There's a great deal of adversity and suffering in our world and you don't have to leave your community to find it.
In the midst of calamity and chaos, however, there are good people doing good things for friends, neighbors and complete strangers.
Pessimists and optimists observe the same scene. The pessimist focuses on the calamity and chaos. The optimist focuses on the good people doing the good deeds. In both cases, the focus is a choice.
There's an old story about the parents of twin boys, one a chronic pessimist and the other an eternal optimist. One Christmas they gave the pessimist a pony and the optimist a box of horse dung. The pessimist looked at his gift and complained of the amount of work it would take to care for a pony. The optimistic boy dug excitedly into his box shouting, "With all this horse poop there's gotta be a pony in here somewhere!"
Optimism, of course, must be tempered with a sense of reality. You won't find many ponies in a box of horse manure.
Still, an optimistic outlook makes for a happier life. Think of it this way: an optimist may be wrong sometimes but he has a lot more fun than the pessimist!