Tag Archives: sadness

In Search of Optimism

optimism

optimismI was working with a client recently on his public speaking. As part of an exercise, I asked him to recount a sad memory.

He paused. And then he paused again. And then he paused some more.

“Wow, that’s really tough,” he said, visibly struggling to call up a sad memory. “Something sad…hmmm. Give me a sec.”

After a minute or two like this, I finally interrupted him. “Can I lend you one of mine?”

The Importance of Reframing

This guy is lucky. Clearly, he hasn’t experienced as much sadness in his life as I have.

At least, that was my first thought. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized that it wasn’t just that he’d somehow managed to escape tragedy, even well into his 60’s.

It was that he’d made a conscious choice to be optimistic.

I’ve noticed a similar quality in one of my colleagues. We will deliver a workshop together and afterwards, he will immediately declare, “Well, that should translate into a business opportunity.”

Regardless of how well the workshop actually went, I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, maybe. But what if…the CEO is felled by a tree/I contract a life-threatening case of meningitis overnight/Brexit wipes out all communications consultants now and forever more/Fill in the blank…” You get the idea.

We’ve experienced the exact same workshop. And yet one of us walks out and shouts “Hooray!” while the other one worries, “What if it all goes to sh#$?”

Choosing optimism

This same colleague has taught me a lot about the power of positive thinking.

I had already discovered the power of affirmations in my writing life — courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — long before I met him. But I’m now regularly applying affirmations to work life as well.

On a daily basis, I’ll find myself uttering things like:  “I’m a great salesperson” or “I enjoy client relationship management” and “I’m highly skilled at empowering people to achieve their full communications potential.”

Even when I only half-heartedly believe them, I find that these affirmations help.

As does meditation. One of the great virtues of the mindfulness app I listen to every morning is that it encourages me to discover the “blue sky” inside  – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill my world.

A lot of the focus in mindfulness is on accessing that blue sky feeling. Over time, you come to realize that it’s not something you need to reach for outside yourself; it’s something that’s already there.

The Power of Hope

The research bears this out. I was struck by a couple of recent experimental studies which show that if you induce people to be optimistic, they can actually change their behavior. In one such study, providing simple assets — such as a cow or other livestock — to poor people in developing countries led to increased labor and other investments on their part.

In another, respondents in U.S. soup kitchens were asked to recall a time they felt positive about themselves. This in turn resulted in more effort in playing simple games compared to those who did not receive the “optimism prompt.”

Hope, it turns out, is a powerful motivator.

Dreams of Hope

Perhaps this message is beginning to sink in.

As someone who is haunted by recurring dreams about test anxiety and getting lost, I recently had one of those classic dreams where I was in a play and didn’t know the lines.

But in this dream, the ending was different. Instead of freaking out and succombing to the performance anxiety, I chose instead to improvise the scene at hand. And, lo and behold, it worked out.

Just as with affirmations and blue sky thinking, maybe my bad dreams are trying to tell me something:  I’m actually OK. All will be fine.

Perish the thought!

Image: Sunbeam Sun Shadow Light Mood Sky by meineresterampe via Pixabay

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Why Anger is Useful

anger

angerI once took a course in college called Anger. Because I went to Brown University –  which has a reputation for being a bit groovier than the rest of the Ivies – it’s easy to mock a course called “Anger.” As one of my fellow Brunonians once quipped – “What did you do in that class? Hold hands, sing Kumbaya and pass around a ‘talking stick‘?

Sort of. There was a final project where you were encouraged to develop your own personal reflection on anger. One person did an indigenous dance. Someone else sang a song. I read aloud from a short story I’d written about discovering that my college boyfriend was cheating on me.

But most of the course was about reading. Each week, the professor would focus on one text –  the Old Testament, Moby Dick, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The students would write a one-page paper on the text and discuss it.  The punch line of the course  – but one you only came to once you’d digested all of these treatises – was that anger, in the end, was really about sadness. When we feel angry about something, it’s because we are actually hurt by someone or something. And anger is the emotion we often use to express that sadness.

That insight rung true to me then and it rings true to me now. I’ve been really angry lately. In one instance, it’s with a relative of mine who has proved to be a real disappointment. She’s done some horrible things, including to me and other members of my family, and some of those things are not fixable. In another case, I’m angry with a friend who didn’t show up for me when I asked him.

But when I sat down and thought  – and, more importantly, wrote about these experiences in my journal – I realized that I wasn’t really angry with either of these people.

I was sad. I was sad because in both instances, the people in question revealed a side of themselves that I either hadn’t seen before or didn’t want to see. And in revealing these less appealing sides of themselves,  I experienced a sense of loss. Loss for the person I thought they were – or perhaps more truthfully – loss of the person I wanted them to be.

Letting go of anything that matters to you is profoundly sad. It could be selling your childhood home or being laid off from the company you love or breaking up with your therapist. And, let’s face it:  feeling angry is a heckuva lot more comfortable for most of us than feeling sad.

But one of the realizations I’ve come to as I age is that I’m actually better off confronting sadness than avoiding it. So in embracing my own anger of late, I have tried to observe that feeling, peel it back and allow myself to feel the enormous grief of accepting what is, what is not, and what cannot be.

I won’t lie to you:  it ain’t fun. But it does feel more honest.

Image: Anger, Angry Bad, Isolated Dangerous by Geralt via Pixabay

 

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