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Positive or Pollyanna?

I'm an optimist; always have been. Don't get me wrong: I've experienced plenty of trauma and struggle (albeit from a location of relative privilege as a white, straight, cisgender woman). Pretty often when I'm focused, during trying times, on finding ways forward, some folks (ok, mostly older men) accuse me of being "unrealistic", or a "Pollyanna", maligning the hero of the 1913 book by Eleanor Porter (made into a movie with Halie Mills in the 1960s!).

"The Truth is . . ." those folks usually begin, with an unspoken "little lady". Now I'm not little and I'm no lady, and my life has taught me that I can create my reality or let others do it for me. I've managed to survive abuse and childbirth and miscarriage and cancer and the suffering and death of loved ones. Not by blithely skipping along, or by accepting platitudes from (probably well-meaning) people who chirp about "God's plan", but rather, when I'm ready, to find positive, creative opportunities and use them as handholds to climb out of despair. As Pollyanna says, "it helps!" In my theology, Gd offers life abundant and does not wish anyone to suffer but stays with us always.

In this week's New York Times' review (October 4) by Irina Dumitrescu of the new book Life is Hard by Kieren Setiya, both authors push back against the "self-help culture" of positive thinking. Trouble is that they conflate two very different notions: the practice of doling out harmful, empty platitudes to someone who's grieving (everything happens for a reason, look on the bright side, etc.) and a different kind of self-practice that has been proven effective for those trying to move ahead in their lives: not ignoring the difficulties, but building on their strengths. This approach works in social services, in counseling and yes, in coaching.

Professor of positive psychology Barbara Frederickson studies and writes about the effectiveness of noticing and enhancing positive emotions to solve problems and achieve results. Science has actually proven that "what we appreciate appreciates"! It makes sense, and it can be a powerful tool for healing.

If you come to me in pain, I'll just listen, and stay beside you while you grieve. When you're ready to try taking some steps forward, I'd be honored to help you find your own handholds and climb on up. Together. At your own pace. Just let me know.

So: is that proverbial glass half empty or half full? You can decide. For me, at least half of it is filled with hope and possibility, so technically, it is completely full!

Yours in compassion, gratitude and optimism,



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