I know several extremely negative people. Naturally, they’re all miserable. But the funny thing is, I don’t think they even realize how negative they are. I can practically see the storm clouds over their heads that follow them everywhere they go, but to them, that’s just the typical weather. It makes me feel sorry for them. It also makes me avoid them.
I used to know one guy who would always say that he refused to paint a plastic smile on his face. He liked to wear all black. There’s no photograph of him on earth in which he’s smiling. That’s the legacy he will leave behind: the message that he was never, ever happy. It’s much more important to him to make sure that everyone knows he’s miserable. It doesn’t occur to him that that’s why people sidestep his invitations. Who wants to be around that?
Sad sacks seem to be under the impression that if people feel sorry for them, those people will befriend them. In reality, the opposite happens, and that feeds into their negative outlook, which then feeds into their becoming social pariahs, and so on, and so on. An extremely vicious cycle. More like a downward spiral of one’s own making. Friendships born of pity never last. And why on earth would anyone want that type of relationship in the first place?
I know one woman who can read a positive news article (which is hard to come by, even I have to admit) and she’ll say, “Yes, but…” and throw a huge bucket of ice water all over your warm fuzzy, making you feel all wet and soggy instead. I swear, she could sandblast the cute right off a kitten video.
Why is that necessary? It’s not as if we aren’t pelted with bad news most of the time as it is. She’s not performing a public service. She isn’t changing the situation. She’s basically saying, “Come on down and wallow in this mire of depression with me.”
There are certain people in this world who make me tense up the moment their fingers hit the keyboard. I mean, it’s one thing if you’re an activist pushing for change, or an educator attempting to enlighten. At least you’re trying for a positive outcome. But if you’re just gratuitously pooping in everyone’s punchbowl, that’s just selfish.
From personal experience, I know that the world can be a very harsh place. I know that there are plenty of justifications for feeling gloomy. But when it becomes a lifestyle, when your only purpose in life is to slather your crappy attitude over the world like peanut butter on Wonder Bread, you are wasting the precious gift of being alive.
I genuinely believe that negativity isn’t a character trait. It’s an extremely bad habit that can be broken. It just takes practice. It’s a matter of identifying a thought as negative, and then trying to reframe it. If you see dog poop in the road, instead of focusing on how disgusting it is, or how irresponsible the dog’s owner is, instead try thinking, “Thank goodness the dog wasn’t hit by a car!”
There are several angles from which to view the world. It’s all about the spin.
One of the recurring themes in this blog is gratitude. I write about this topic so often because I genuinely believe that attitude is everything. I think that even in our darkest hours, there are things to appreciate if you look hard enough. Even bitter lessons are worthy of gratitude because they help you grow and survive.
There is so much in this world that we take for granted. Sometimes it’s worth stopping and taking a breath and appreciating the sun on your face and the wind in the trees. It’s such a gift to be alive and able to think and reason and exercise free will and create beauty and give and receive love.
I think the unhappiest people are those who focus on the negative in their lives. They may be unhappy because of their negative focus, or negative experiences may have made them unhappy, but either way, until that cycle is broken, nothing will change. It makes me sad to see people trapped in that way.
I’m not saying we should all wander around like Stepford Wives. And yes, bad things happen to us all. It’s just that the way you frame things matters. It takes practice. Some days will be a lot harder than others. But there’s good out there, if you only look.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it’s fast approaching. I wish we didn’t need a holiday to remember to give thanks. I think gratitude should be part of our daily lives.
I feel so strongly about this topic that I published an anthology of my essays on gratitude. It’s called A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude. I’m really proud of it. I think it would make a great Thanksgiving gift, or, for that matter, a gift any time of the year for a loved one who could use a little positivity. And can’t we all use some of that? Think about it.
As always, I’m grateful that you take the time to read my blog. As a little bonus, below is one of the short and to the point essays that you can find in the book. This one was originally posted on this blog on November 29, 2015.
Ever since I moved to Seattle, I’ve sort of felt as if my heart has come to reside outside of my rib cage. Vulnerable. Exposed. Sensitive. It’s kind of a crazy feeling. I need to develop a thicker skin.
I’ve just been through so much in the past couple years. I’ve given up so much, sacrificed so much. I’ve taken some insane risks, some of which have paid off, and some of which have blown up in my face.
But on a positive note, this has caused me to appreciate all the good in life so much more deeply. When I think of my friends and loved ones, near and far and old and new, I often well up with tears of joy. A good sunrise can take my breath away. I can be walking down the street and suddenly it hits me how lucky I am to be where I am, and I have to stop dead in my tracks for a second and gather myself.
In essence, I’ve become a sentimental old fool. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The entire two weeks of my Alaskan vacation, I did not access the news. Not once. No newspapers, no radio, no streaming media. Nothing. Aliens could have invaded the planet and I wouldn’t have known. Cheeto-head had to fend for himself. The human moral compass no doubt continued to spin erratically in search of true North. I was not subjected to the vertigo that that can cause.
It was pure bliss.
Oh, I was already aware of the stress that news causes me. I knew that not a day goes by without my feeling frustrated, helpless, and outraged because of the things going on in the world. I knew I needed a break.
But as they say, a fish doesn’t know the quality of the water it is in until it jumps out of it. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t expect to feel my blood pressure drop. I felt physically better. More rested. My attitude improved. People didn’t seem to suck nearly as much as they normally do. (Well, most of them, anyway.) It was cleansing.
I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand as a general rule. Our leaders must be held accountable. We must bear witness. We have to strive for change or else society will sink to its lowest common denominator.
But every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded that the earth is going to continue to revolve around the sun with or without my help. It’s good to take time to reassess and revitalize. It’s important to live to fight another day.
A friend of mine told me recently that it’s really hard to find love later in life because we all accumulate so much baggage. Well, yeah, if you choose to look at it that way.
Personally, I’ve always hated the term “baggage”. It implies that as we go through life, we take on an ever-increasing amount of emotional burden that we can never shed, and it eventually weighs us down to a debilitating degree. Why not call it “life experience” or “lessons learned”? That reframes the whole concept.
Instead of being crushed under an unbearable weight, you are instead strengthened. As opposed to being less than desirable, you come with skills. Rather than being someone to avoid, you become someone with a lot of interesting stories to tell.
I genuinely believe that we increase in value over time. Remember, whatever coping skills you’ve acquired, even if they’re not ideal, have gotten you here. You’ve survived. And that is a fantastic achievement. High five!
“Um…okay?” my husband replied, with a confused smile on his face.
It cracked me up. I knew he’d react like that. Palpate is not in the average person’s general-use vocabulary. But I really needed him to palpate me, and I knew he could be counted upon to do so, even if he wasn’t sure what that would entail. Because that’s just who he is.
I had been walking around for about a month with a sore, tender spot on my ribs. It was far enough toward the back, and high enough up, that I couldn’t really touch it myself to check for swelling or damage. I was able to look in the mirror to confirm there was no bruising, but that was about it. It hurt, not enough for a visit to the emergency room, but enough to where it had been bugging me. Hence the need for palpation.
In the end, we still couldn’t really figure out what the deal was with my ribs. But palpation did occur. At least now I know there are no broken bones. I guess I’m getting old.
But this interaction got me to thinking about willingness. There are certain people in my life, the true gems, who are consistently willing. Willing to help. Willing to try new things. Willing to spend time. Willing to make an effort, even if they don’t succeed. They are priceless.
I also know plenty of people who throw up roadblocks every chance they get. They are a hindrance. They take every opportunity to tell you why you can’t achieve your goal. They see problems rather than opportunities. They look for ways to do the bare minimum. They cannot be counted upon. These are the people whom it’s best to avoid.
I think the quality of being willing is one of the best ones to look for in a human being. That quality, or the lack thereof, tells you all about that person’s loyalty, attitude, enthusiasm, kindness, dependability, and compassion.
Have you ever had one of those days? A day of traffic snarls, annoying errands, clerical stupidity, unwanted expenditures, stupid people and disappointing friends. I was tired, hungry, I had to pee, and I was annoyed at the world. That’s never a good feeling. Even while it’s happening, I realize that that is not a headspace for making major life decisions.
When I’m in that state of mind, I have awful thoughts. People suck. Why on earth did I move out here? I don’t belong in Seattle. I don’t understand people out here. Nobody likes me. They don’t give a sh** about me. I hated Florida with its horrible politics and its oppressive heat, but at least there things made sense, and people could be counted on. There are too many people here. I feel like I’m suffocating. I want to go home.
I felt like crying.
Instead, I text-vented to a good friend in Florida, who had the sense to just listen and not try to talk me out of it. He knew I already knew I needed to pee, eat, and be around the one person I can count on out here: dear husband.
And sure enough, Hubby was on his way. And he had some idea what he was driving into. Storm clouds on my horizon.
There’s a reason I chose Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as his ring tone. That man could put a positive slant on the four horses of the apocalypse. And he does it in such a charming and sincere way that you can’t even get annoyed. He also does that “I’m a guy, so I’m supposed to solve stuff” thing. Which must be upsetting from his perspective, because not everything can be solved.
But in this case, he handled my mood with aplomb. He drove up, wearing a bright, sunny, yellow shirt, and had my favorite Jason Mraz album playing on the radio. “Hey there, Sunshine!” He said. “Let’s find you a bathroom.”
After accomplishing that mission, he took me out for seafood. He made me feel special. He made me feel heard.
I could see what an effort he was making to be positive, and that naturally made me want to be positive, too. So I started saying things like, “What lovely weather we’re having,” and “Look at those beautiful flowers.” All while grumbling inside. But I was trying.
Your attitude impacts your outlook. If I had continued in “people suck” mode, the evening would have gone completely down the drain. Instead, I decided to follow his positive lead, rather than make his day as awful as mine had been up to his arrival.
After that, we went to see Wings Over Washington, which was so much fun it got a blog post of its own. And then we went home, watched Handmaid’s Tale, hugged the dogs, and went to sleep smiling.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we resurrected the day. And that made me realize that looking at days as a solid unit can be a mistake. A day doesn’t have to be all bad, from beginning to end. It’s possible to live in the moment. It’s possible to turn things around.
I hope I remember that. If I don’t, I have someone walking beside me who will remind me by example. And that’s pretty darned amazing.
More and more studies are showing that how you answer that question will accurately determine whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. If you accept that as a given, then we are in a very scary point in history, because I can’t imagine anyone or anything that would make any of us change your mind about how we answer that question.
If you think the world is not a safe place, well, then, it wouldn’t be very safe for you to change your mind, now, would it? On the other hand, if you think it is a safe place, then you are more flexible about new concepts, new knowledge, new ways of seeing the world and the way we choose to live in it, and I can’t imagine anything making you give that up, either.
Think about this from a political standpoint. If the world isn’t safe, then immigrants can’t be trusted and should be walled off. Vaccinations can’t be trusted. We should stick with age-old traditions. Gender roles should remain rigid. We should all have guns. These are all political issues that stem from our worldviews.
And once you’ve read that, hop on over to take this intriguing test. It consists of 27 questions that have nothing to do with politics, but your answers will quite accurately predict your politics regardless. It’s pretty much based on the same theory, only it determines one’s level of disgust. And that’s a little scary, don’t you think? (The results said that my brain is 74 percent Democrat. That’s because the only thing that disgusts me to any degree at present is the current administration. I’m surprised that I didn’t show up as 110 percent Democrat. Still…)
So, if the way we all see the safety of the world isn’t likely to change, and if it’s true that that pretty much spells out our political party, then that means we can count on being polarized from here on out. Because we’re already polarized. That means that this divisiveness and gridlock will be nearly impossible to get past. In essence, nothing of note will ever get done.
That makes me tired. And it makes me sad. But I’m really glad to be in the group that sees the world as a basically safe place. It must be terrifying to think otherwise.