Pictured above: My three reasons to be optimistic
While riding my exercise bike during my self-imposed break from work over the holidays, I was able to catch the ending of one of my favorite movies, Disney's Enchanted. What I most treasure about this tale is the take-away message, that a generally cheery, optimistic attitude can change the way you view life for the better. For those blissfully unaware of the story, it involves a princess, Giselle, who pays a visit from her land of make-believe to a single father and his young daughter. After being abandoned by his wife, he has a sour view towards life and love. By the end of the movie, she's able to show him and a variety of jaded New Yorkers the way to their own happily ever after.
It seems rather simplistic, but I see in my own life how this can be true. I was brought up to be optimistic from my earliest years. My mother serenaded me with hopeful show tunes from upbeat musicals in lieu of lullabies. "You can be anything you want to be," she always told me, while my father, in the midst of my frequent moments of self-doubt, would repeat the phrase "You'll do fine. Cream always rises to the top." They believed in me and I had no reason to think things wouldn't always go my way.
Through the years, I've seen that those who are generally positive about the prospects for their own lives no matter what the circumstances are the ones I find to be the most happy. These are people who have often experienced plenty of obstacles. Of course, a glass half full attitude is hardly easy these days, and can even be naïve, when we're surrounded by reasons for disappointment. We see the smiling faces of those who put their best face forward on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, making us regularly feel deficient in comparison. We're bombarded by messages from the media about how to become our perfect selves: how to lose weight, get more sleep and find a way to prevent the stress from round-the-clock attention to our professional lives. Our young adults suffer epidemic levels of depression, fearing the many obstacles ahead of them.
My birthday is in less than two weeks. It coincides with the New Year, which always gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I wish for in the coming months, what I resolve to do that will allow me to live my remaining years to the fullest and make me a better wife, mother, sister, daughter, parent and friend. In over a half century of living, I've experienced my share of adversity. I realize my struggles are minor in comparison to so many others, but suffice it to say, my optimistic spirit has been tested. And I find myself crossing the line over into that dark place called pessimism. I worry often about what could go wrong instead of savoring the moment. I find myself having to push to embrace what's positive, even though I'm blessed in so many ways. During dinner, my husband and children used to take turns telling each other "what's new?" Invariably, it would become depressing, with each of us relaying our travails: I did poorly on a test; I got in a fight with a friend; I was disappointed by an article I wrote. Instead, my oldest changed this exercise to "What's new and good?" Immediately we were forced to focus on the positive.
That same attitude is embodied in another blog on this site, where Vic Strecher discusses how we can become happier by shifting our focus beyond self-pity. Strecher is determined to help people find their purpose: a transcendent goal greater than oneself that can lead to both emotional and physical benefits. We're a society often paralyzed by our preoccupation with ourselves. Strecher remains hopeful, despite his own, earth-shattering loss: His daughter died at the age of 19. There's much merit in what he is trying to tell us: find your passion, dedicate yourself to helping others and you it will lead you towards happiness. Like Princess Giselle, he's preaching a fundamental mantra that instinctively makes sense.
As I embark upon the New Year, I'm taking this all in. I plan to try harder to figure out my transcendent purpose, while focusing less on myself and treasuring all the special parts of each day. I'll try to be more patient, not sweat the small stuff and smile more. And I'll surround myself with people who do the same. Of course it's easier said than done, and I'm sure I'll lapse into some of my usual behavior, but I'm determined to try on a new attitude. As 2014 approaches, I wish everyone a year full of optimistic thoughts. Even if things don't always go as well as in a Disney fairy tale, perhaps that positive spirit could make our lives just a little bit brighter.