"I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."
--- Martha Washington (1732 - 1802)
You might be scanning the news wondering if another article has anything positive to offer in your day. The answer, of course, is yes!
I often wonder about the positive things going on in this country right now. These circumstances could be a strong encouragement to many people if they were made into a daily focus. It doesn't take long to have this type of a positive thought, and it doesn't cost anything.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the news about tragedies, disasters, and scandals is not important, but there is a concern that I have that many Americans - myself included - simply focus more than we should on what will not really help us to live better lives.
You might be asking what that looks like.
Well, consider a 24-hour news cycle on all the major networks. How much of what we see is about things that are going wrong? How much is about things that are going well? Murders, arson, natural disaster, improper words spoken, poor choices, and crises are written about to an exponential degree. But what about hope?
Imagine things a different way altogether.
A recent episode of Dr. Oz recently captured this idea of positivity in reporting on the Sparkle Effect, an amazing cheerleading program created by Sarah Cronk which involves youth with disabilities.
Also, who could not be burdened with sorrow for the terrible actions at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston? And yet out of this awful tragedy, look at the fruits of positivity:
• That courageous congregation modeling for our country what forgiveness looks like.
• Non-AME church goers visiting AME churches to lend support and care.
• And many others care too, like three Muslim charities humbly choosing to pay it forward in a wave of other church calamities that occurred after the Charleston shooting.
And there are many more examples of good things that are happening across the U.S., even in the face of adversity and tragedy. The choice of focusing on these positive things is ours and ours alone.
Martha Washington was the first FLOTUS in America. In other words, she was the first, First Lady of the United States. The quote attributed to her paints a picture of endurance that should often be remembered. She said, "The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."
And what is our disposition? According to Merriam-Webster, a disposition is the typical attitude or mood we have each day. Also, this important quality reflects the tendency for how we act in life's circumstances.
The questions we should all ask, then, are (a) what are the inputs in our lives (our circumstances) and (b) how are we responding to them? A third question also deals with whether or not there is a way to change our disposition once it is set in place.
If our inputs include a daily focus on many of the negative things in the news, then we might be missing out on many of the joys of life. On the other hand, if we make an optimistic hope to find a positive in every sorrow, a point of happiness in every suffering, then we might have the chance to change our disposition in a positive way.
Three lessons can guide us on focusing on positivity.
Lesson One -- Life is Hard
Twenty years ago, I was sitting in the kitchen of an elderly friend, and she looked across at me while wistfully thinking about the lessons of her life. Three words were all she had to offer about her life's lessons. She said, "Life is hard."
Tamara Anossow was she, and in the late 1990s, she left this world. But indeed, she knew the truth behind those words, growing up and becoming educated as a math teacher in Belarus, Russia. Her home was also a shrine to a different era, with memorabilia and family photos spanning the decades. I occasionally accompanied her to a Russian Orthodox Church in Syracuse, New York where she worshipped.
I took her words into my career in math education, knowing that difficulties would come. Yet I always remembered the sparkle in Tamara's eyes when she shared about her past. Thus, her disposition was of endurance and resilience despite her hardships. That is a lesson for all of us.
Lesson Two -- There are always more people doing good than those committing harm
Make no mistake, you will not find very many news articles in the national sector about the nurse dedicated to helping patients, the emergency worker who made the decisive difference, the parole officer trying to keep a reformed person from committing a crime, or the parent of a rebellious teen trying to create a happy home. Simply, the national sector of news is concerned with other things.
And here is a zany working example of how the positivity in the world does not get much press. Consider the next time you are driving and decide to change lanes. When you signal for the lane change, check your mirrors, and then slowly ease to the adjacent lane, you might seldom see people in the nearby cars giving you a thumbs up, a fist-pumping high five, or even a shout of "Great signaling there -- keep up the good work!"
It is surprising how seldom positive events make the news when compared with an avalanche of errors that are quick to fill the airwaves. After all, when people do what is right, it is often expected of them. And not many people go out of their way to congratulate other for doing what is expected.
But imagine a different world. It is a place where we thank people frequently for doing good and simply focus on the positives we see - what is going right. We make an effort to recognize what is good and give it prominence compared to the shortcomings that also exist. This practice is something that could help change our life's disposition.
After all, the negative examples of failure and lost opportunities might always be there, but the positive habits that people are engaging in daily need to be encouraged if we want to see them increase.
Lesson Three -- If we find a positive in every crisis, we might have the joy we long for
Recently, I had the misfortune of chasing my cat who was also chasing a bunny in order to harm it. As my hands reached out for the cat, I lost my balance and fell -- breaking my collarbone into at least three pieces. Of course, the bunny made a safe getaway.
Recovery has been slow. Worse, the orthopedist reminded that I am at risk for the bone fragments not becoming rejoined. Imagine this, a single act of misaimed public feline safety that brings a smile to most people when I share the story.
But I continually choose to be positive. In the midst of this crisis, I have had the opportunity to slow down, to trust others to help out, and to continually learn new ways I can improve in my job. Rather than let weakness be an excuse, I am choosing to make it into a strength.
You see, our disposition is not influenced by what happens in our life. Instead, it is influenced continually by how we respond to our life.
In closing, I would like to ask a favor of every reader: consider strengths instead of weaknesses.
• Consider a person who is close to you and reflect on three strengths that they have.
• Consider the family members you have and three strengths they each have.
• Consider the coworkers you daily engage with and three strengths they have.
• Consider a situation you struggle in and three strengths that can come from the struggle.
By considering the strengths in your life, I am confident that you will find the joy that surrounds you.