September 18, 2019

On Being Positive

by Peggy McDonagh

My mother lives in a small country town in a 111-year-old house beautifully surrounded by a large and splendidly landscaped yard with rock gardens, a variety of trees and flowers, spacious lawns, nifty little nooks and crannies, and an impressive deck. This lovely property created and cared for with love by Mom is encircled by large trees that provide privacy and a calm environment.

Last summer as I sat on Mom’s quaint but tired-looking wooden bench swing delighting in the birds chattering, the rustling wind in the trees, and the buzzing of insects, I thought about the severe storm that had hit in the early hours of the morning with its spectacular lightning, thunder, and torrents of rain. Nature certainly has its forceful moments of power and destruction that can wreak havoc in our lives. I thought about how creation offers both a negative and positive expression of its mystery.

However, there seems to be a tendency to regard nature from a negative perspective. The weather is an all too common topic and source of constant complaint. We are consistently bombarded with reports on hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and storms. I wonder why we gravitate toward the negative so readily and downplay the positive in life.

Recently I read C. JoyBell C.’s description of a striking painting of nature:

There is a magnificent, beautiful, wonderful painting in front of you! It is intricate, detailed, a painstaking labour of devotion and love! The colours are like no other; they swim and leap, they trickle and embellish! And yet you choose to fixate your eyes on the small fly which has landed on it! Why do you do such a thing?

Why do we do such a thing? It seems to me that negativity permeates our human approaches and responses to life.

Evolutionary psychologists suggest that although people prefer the positive, we are genetically hard-wired for negativity, the fight-or-flight response to the environment. Because we are drawn to the negative, we obsess about it. The majority of what is incessantly reported in the news focuses on the negative, the latest disaster, or act of violence, the most recent scandal, or the degradation of the planet.

A good news story rarely makes the front page of a newspaper or is the first newscast on TV or radio. It shouldn’t surprise us then that many people are depressed and anxious and not only think negatively about life but also fear it. Interestingly, studies have shown that people who read an inordinate amount of news can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There was a farmer who had become disheartened with his farm and farm life. The story goes that he was so disgruntled he decided to sell and move elsewhere. He asked a realtor to write an ad. The ad said:

If you have ever had the urge to farm but just have not found the right place that suits your needs, here is a farm for you. Situated in a great location with an immaculately maintained house, this farm has sturdy barns, lush pasture lands, a beautiful and serene pond, fertile soil, and a magnificent view.

The farmer read the ad many times and then with a huge grin said, “I’ve always wanted a place like that.” He never sold the farm.

How we view life, its situations, and its people can make a difference in how we respond to it. Do you view the world through a negative or positive lens? J. Sidlow Baxter writes, “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? It is our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.” We have little control over what other people say or do, what catastrophes or illnesses might occur, but we can control how we respond to these realities. We can do so either positively or negatively.

Artist and author H. E. Davey put it this way: A positive attitude is most easily arrived at through a deliberate and rational examination of what you must do to have steadfast positive thoughts. First, reflect on the actual, present condition of your mind. In other words, is the mind positive or not? For example, if we say, “It’s absolutely freezing today! I’ll probably catch a cold before the end of the day!” then our words expose a negative attitude. But if we state a simple fact such as “The temperature is very cold,” then our expression is less negative.

Mindful awareness of our thoughts and responses makes it possible for us to recognize an attitude of negativity before we speak or act. The potential to be positive exists in every situation and interaction. An optimistic attitude ensures that our words and deeds will also be positive, inviting ourselves and others to view a situation differently and to feel hopeful.

In her book, It Is Well With My Soul: The Extraordinary Life of a 106-Year-Old Woman, Patricia Mulcahy writes, “I told Ella Mae Cheeks Johnson, then aged 105, that she was the only person over eighty who I’d ever met who never referred to her physical infirmities or health problems. To which she replied, “I have my difficulties; I do not rejoice in them.”

Living with a positive view allows us to see how life flows with both its challenges and joys and helps us to engage that flow with humour, wisdom, patience, and understanding. A positive attitude strengthens our capacity to handle the difficulties of life. It enriches our relationships, enables us to be grateful, encourages us to see beauty and wonder, eases our anxiety, and diminishes stress. All of this is very good for our spiritual and physical well-being. I invite you to approach life with a positive, life-affirming attitude.