Positive On Purpose

By July 17, 2012 5 Comments

Sometimes I am accused of being pathologically positive, like Pollyanna from the 1960 Disney movie. Is this a compliment or a criticism? I wasn't sure so I rented the movie.

I remember as a child liking the movie. It seems that when I got older, I joined in with the other popular opinions that it was just corny and, well, pollyannaish. Watching it this time, I really paid attention to what Pollyanna was doing in light of my positive psychology practice.

Here is a kid who was orphaned at an age when she could understand what was going on. Unquestionably a huge and painful adversity. Her father had been a minister, and taught her a game that she liked to play whenever something difficult or unpleasant was happening Рthe glad game. The game is that you intentionally look for something to be glad about related to your situation. It is not a denial of the difficulty, but an intentional choice to focus on the positive.

At first, the townspeople are irritated and annoyed (overly so) by Pollyanna's positivity. One by one, she shows them that it is not so crazy to choose something more positive, and that there is always a choice. Some of the stereotypical antagonists seem to jealously cling to their crabbiness, making an additional challenge for Pollyanna who persists in her effort to promote positivity. As the people she touches try this new attitude on for size, they learn quickly that they actually prefer the positive. There is a ripple effect as these people start to make a difference for others, and before long the whole town is transformed.

In classic Disney style, everything culminates in a happily-ever-after ending as the whole town comes together to cheer up their hero after she is injured. I like the idea that one person can make a difference for a whole community by being pathologically positive.

The character of Pollyanna has received a bit of a bad reputation for being blindly positive, but in the context of her life experiences and her calling it a “game”, it is clear that she was¬†picking the positive on purpose and by preference from a plethora of possible perceptions. This girl was on to something, and it worked.

Don't be sad, be glad! ~Pollyanna

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • I see great value in Pollyanna’s approach, especially in today’s troubled world, and enjoyed reading your analysis of it, Dr. Paul. Our perspective and attitude about life and its happenings are often more important than what actually happened to breed those feelings and thoughts. Feelings and thoughts lead to behaviors, which add up to be our life.

    Many of today’s problems and heartaches are outgrowths of lack of hope or optimism, frustration, anger, etc. Harnessing and productively guiding our thoughts and emotions is an incredibly valuable skill.

  • Jon says:

    It is a blessing to have people around you that are pathologically positive. Thanks for your example!

  • Linda says:

    I love Pollyanna! It is a beautiful story!

    To Kent, the best way I have found to help my own daughters is to read the classic with them. This gives opportunity for discussion. We like to read together at night before bed. This is a chore for me, as this is my worst time of day and my energy is low- when I do it the rewards are very high and our relationship is strengthened immensely. Not only does the reading the classic with them help them to want to change and be better, it gives me the strength to change and be better as well. The other classics that have helped us to want to be better are Beauty and the Beast (these are not movies, by the way, they are the books and reading them does something fantastic for the soul!). Beauty and the Beast is translated from French- we have a simple children’s translation. Also, A Little Princess. The theme for each of these is a little girl who has to overcome adversity and does so with grace and poise. Each chooses to be optimistic and kind.

    Our girls need to know that they are loved, they are beautiful, they have within them the seeds of greatness. They are who they are becoming. Give them that picture of who they are becoming and that is what they will strive to be. It does take work and conscious effort, and all of it is worth it!

    It seems that when I have heard someone slander the “Pollyanna” outlook, they either have not read the story or who think that life is miserable and they want to keep it that way. Perhaps they think it is not possible to look at life in that way because it is not “realistic”. But we do have a choice- a choice I am so grateful for. It was a choice that Stephen Covey taught me many years ago, that space between stimulus and response where we can push pause and decide how we want to “be” in that moment. (I’m still working on it! Seems I am always a work in progress!!!)

    I am grateful for Dr. Paul and the way that he has continued that education for me. Dr. Paul is a delight to learn from and an example to all. Thank you to Dr. Paul for all of your work!!!

  • Tresa says:

    FYI, the book Pollyanna has a much more realistic flavor than the movie does. I think it’s not fair to judge poor Pollyanna by her movie version, rather check out the original book version, where she genuinely has to choose what to focus on. It’s not an easy choice, but a choice made over and over again with each potentially negative situation. A good read!!! Not sappy at all. Having said that, I do still enjoy the movie now and again…

  • Kent says:

    I love this idea and need to focus on doing this more often myself. But how do you get a teenage girl to do this, someone who does the exact opposite and seeks out pity? Feels everyone is better than her. I know, maybe dad should set the example which I feel I do.