Gratitude, Not Optimism

I happen to love someone who is the most positive person I have ever met. It’s a delight to be around most of the time, but it’s also a hard yardstick to be measured by. Anyone standing next to this guy will automatically look like Eeyore by comparison.

Fortunately, I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m not, in fact, Eeyore, because I used to live with an Eeyore. An Eeyore can suck the life out of any room he enters. An Eeyore is convinced that the world is out to get him.

My Eeyore refused to smile in photographs because he thinks it’s unnatural. Because of that, everyone assumes he is constantly miserable. I think he wears this like some kind a suit of armor. Then he accessorizes this suit of armor with every negative experience he has ever had in his life. He glues those things to his exterior like some twisted decorator crab. All this stuff weighs him down. This makes people avoid him, which, in turn, makes him more miserable.

An Eeyore likes to insult himself out loud, and is under the mistaken impression that others will find this funny or charming. In fact, it makes people extremely uncomfortable. It also makes them feel sorry for him. It’s very hard to like someone whom you feel sorry for, at least for long stretches of time. It’s exhausting.

When I tried to address this negativity in my Eeyore, he would get very defensive, and accuse me of trying to force him to put a plastic smile on his face. I could never understand that. I was trying to say that your attitude, the lens through which you view the world, impacts your emotions. Attitude is everything.

But now I realize he extrapolated a false conclusion from that. He believed that I was trying to force him toward optimism, which is nearly impossible to achieve if you don’t come by it naturally (speaking from personal experience).

Actually, that was not my intention at all. Optimism is about expectations for the future. I don’t think you can predict the future, and therefore optimism kind of feels like magical thinking to me. I hope for the best, yes, but no one knows what will happen down the road. As we’ve learned from all the false election fraud claims, wishing doesn’t make it so.

Instead of optimism, what I was trying to get across, rather ham-handedly, it seems, is the notion of gratitude. Gratitude focuses on the present. It’s about appreciating the good you currently have in life, rather than focusing on the negative aspects. This is more realistic, but it also seems a bit magical in the best sense of the word, because when you give more energy to the good that is around you now, somehow more of your future tends to become positive as a result.

I wish I had tried harder to get this point across to my Eeyore. But in retrospect I realize that he was too heavily invested in his own unhappiness to hear me. I’m sure he’s still unhappy to this day, and that makes me sad to contemplate.

To hell with optimism, frankly. But gratitude is an extremely valuable commodity. It might take some practice, but it’s a state of mind that is available to all of us. I may not always be Little Mary Sunshine, but I am grateful for so many things that it has been known to bring tears of joy to my eyes. That’s a gift I keep being given.

Gratitude, like negativity, tends to perpetuate itself. And gratitude allows you to smile in photographs. Which is another thing to be grateful for. See how that works?

This may be great camouflage, but in the end, you’re having
to carry a bunch of crap everywhere you go.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

þetta reddast

It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to live in Iceland. Harsh winter weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, severe storms, avalanches, isolation from the rest of the world, and days with only 4 hours of sunlight are just a few of the challenges that Icelanders have faced. According to this article, the country’s founders arrived in open boats in the 9th century, fleeing Norwegian slavery. With no maps or navigational devices, they braved the harsh North Atlantic, and their descendants have thrived.

After enduring so much, it’s really impressive that their unofficial motto is þetta reddast, (pronounced thet-ta red-ust), which means, basically, everything will turn out okay.

Are they foolish, cock-eyed optimists? Not exactly. They just have confidence that they can fix things, combined with a capitulation to the fact that so much is out of their control. It’s a comforting phrase that helps them get through the harshest conditions. Perhaps we all need to adopt this attitude during these trying times.

Once we realized that our trip to Italy had to be cancelled, we considered Iceland. That was in the early days. But at the time of this writing, Iceland had reported 890 cases of COVID-19 and two deaths. I’m sure by the time you read this, those numbers will have increased. May their positive attitude see them through.

thetta-reddast-filosofia-de-vida-dos-islandeses

My motto is “An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along.” Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

You Just Can’t Satisfy Some People

Over the years I’ve blogged numerous times about my love of the National Parks here in the United States. And what’s not to love? Every American owns 84 million acres of land that gets maintained by the government for our enjoyment and education.

I’ve visited, and subsequently blogged about:

I look forward to every visit.

So when my husband sent me this link entitled “I Illustrated National Parks In America Based On Their Worst Review And I Hope They Will Make You Laugh (16 Pics)” I did have to laugh. It’s an artist who illustrated posters for each of the national parks with a hilarious twist. The posters are based on one star reviews that the parks have received.

Yes, there will always be people who can be put into the most gorgeous places on earth and still find something to complain about. I suggest you check out the link to really get a feel for these beautiful and comical posters, but here are some of the one star reviews that she used.

  • “There are bugs and they will bite you on your face.”

  • “Trees block the view and there are too many gray rocks.”

  • “No cell service and terrible wifi.”

  • “All I saw was a lake, mountains, and some trees.”

  • “Nothing specific to do.”

  • “Scenery is distant and impersonal.”

All I can say to the above is… wow. I’m so glad I am not these people! I can’t imagine being presented with such natural beauty and still managing to find fault with it. I can’t imagine being so full of negativity that I couldn’t see the closest things to paradise that we have on earth for the priceless thing that they are. You just can’t satisfy some people.

Subpar-Parks-8x1011-5e5ae820dde2b__880

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

“What’s Your Problem?”

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. I’ve learned a great deal about communication from my healthy relationship with my husband. It makes me realize how messed up all my past relationships have been.

Years ago, pre-husband, when I had something that (I thought) was interesting to share, I’d say, “Hey Bob!” (Name changed because, to be honest, I really don’t care.)

He’d respond, “What’s your problem?”

That would take the wind out of my sails. Here, I wanted to tell him this cool thing I’d heard on NPR. I wanted to share a moment. A laugh. A smile. Instead of responding with enthusiasm, he’d come at me with his typical negativity.

For Bob, everything was a problem. Being alive was a problem. You’ve never met a sadder sack in your entire life. It made people uncomfortable. They wanted to avoid him. I didn’t realize how much his horrible attitude weighed me down until I got out from under it.

Who wants to be in a relationship where everything you say is interpreted as some sort of problem? I certainly didn’t. And even more insidious is the fact that clearly there was a lot under the surface that he was failing to say. He’d much rather be a martyr than assertively communicate and work out issues. No positive growth to be had there. Instead, I got the passive aggressive, “What’s your problem?”

Oh, I tried to talk to him about it on multiple occasions. He didn’t seem to think that any changes were needed, so I was left to realize that the problem was, in fact, his. I hope he hasn’t carried that on to future relationships. I would wish rather more for him than that.

But his Facebook page indicates that he’s still unhappy with life. It’s an endless litany of complaints, negativity, bitter humor, deep cynicism, and depression. Every once in a while there will be something pleasant in there, but if you count each post as positive or negative, the negative stuff outweighs those things ten to one, and half the time the positive things were posted to his page by someone else. It makes me sad just to look at it. It also makes me relieved that I’m no longer breathing that toxic air.

Now I’m married to someone who is interested in what I have to say. He also happens to have a lot of interesting things to say himself. I look forward to talking to him. It isn’t a chore for either of us. I save up stuff to tell him at that happy moment when I finally get home, and we communicate positively throughout the day. And now I realize that’s how it should be. How lucky am I?

Yes, life will throw its fair share of problems at you. There’s no denying that. But that’s not the lens through which I choose to view the world. It’s not my automatic assumption. I also happen to think that negativity is learned, and can be unlearned, but some people would rather wallow. I have no idea why. Clearly wallowing hasn’t made them happy or they wouldn’t feel the need to wallow.

I have this theory that people like this think that their attitude is something that they are helpless victims of, rather than it being a conscious choice. I would hate to feel that helpless. Yes, I struggle with depression, and there are days when I feel like crying, but for the most part, I spin my world rather than letting it spin me.

Your existence should not be a problem to overcome. There is so much to see and do and learn and be inspired by! There’s so much beauty and wonder! Life is such a gift and such an opportunity. It shouldn’t be squandered.

It’s delightful to be in a relationship that isn’t covered with a wet wool blanket of despair. My husband can put a positive spin on just about anything. If he sees dog poop in the road, he’ll say, “Thank goodness the dog wasn’t run over!”

I love that about him. So, so much. Life is good.

communication-pattern

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It’s All about the Spin

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.

Looking at the storm

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Extra Gratitude for Thanksgiving

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.

Gratitude

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.

sun-gratitude

News Blackout

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.

whisperings_by_slshimerdla-day6ubp

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Put down Your Baggage

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!

It’s amazing what an attitude adjustment can do.

emotional baggage

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

On Being Willing

“I need you to palpate me,” I said.

“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.

So, are you willing?

ithinkican

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

 

Reclaiming the Day

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.

Moon Phoenix

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