As a child, perhaps going through a grouchy phase, my well-meaning Mum bought me the book ‘Pollyanna’.
A young orphan, Pollyanna lives with her wealthy but stern Aunt Polly. In her hard life, Pollyanna’s focus is on ‘The Glad Game’ that she had learned from her father — of finding something to be glad about in every situation, no matter how bleak. It originated one Christmas when Pollyanna, hoping to find a doll in the missionary barrel of gifts collected for poor children, found only a pair of crutches inside. Making the ‘game’ up on the spot, Pollyanna’s father taught her to look at the good side of things — in this case, to be glad because she didn’t need to use the crutches.
I disliked Pollyanna. She was too sunshiny; felt too good to be true. It seems inevitable that ‘Pollyanna’ became a term for a personality type characterised by exaggerated optimism.
Let’s look at optimism and pessimism a bit more closely. Pessimists tend to believe bad events shadow them, will last a long time, undermine everything they do, and are usually their own fault. They give up easily.
To optimists, setbacks or failures are just temporary. They see defeat as usually not their fault; perhaps circumstances, bad luck, or other people caused it. Encountering a bad situation, they can see a challenge, and try harder.
Both attitudes taken in extreme are unhealthy, even dangerous. That is why it is so worrying that working with children these days, other educator friends and i have noticed a widening trend of children being overly pessimistic. Maybe this fast-paced life with its heightened competition makes them afraid to hope – in case they fail or are disappointed. Pessimism acts almost as a protective mechanism.
Little wonder then, that we now speak of ‘Learned Optimism’, an idea in positive psychology, defined by psychologist Martin Seligman, that optimism is a skill that like any other, can be learned. A key method is consciously challenging and re-framing any negative self-talk.
Teaching children Learned Optimism by guiding them through its ‘ABCDE techniques’ helps them to better deal with any adversity they may encounter. It begins with psychologist Albert Ellis’ ABC model of Adversity, Belief and Consequence. Adversity is the ‘bad’ event, Belief is how that is interpreted, and Consequences are the feelings and actions that result from such beliefs.
To the ABC model, Seligman adds a ‘D’ — Disputation’ and an ‘E’— Energisation. Disputation means generating counter-evidence to the negative beliefs, the causes of the event, or the implications. D also involves reminding oneself of any potential usefulness of moving on from the adversity. To me, D is a lot like the Glad Game!
Successful disputation leads to Energisation, where one should acknowledge and also try to actively celebrate the positive feelings and sense of accomplishment that flow from successful disputation of negative beliefs.
If children are taught this early, in a simplified way, they do not have to force themselves to ‘be optimistic’. Rather, Learned Optimism becomes ingrained and leads to a more realistically positive life.
So, the Glad Game – without the strong overlay of pious morality of such older books for children — now makes more sense.
Helping you focus on what’s right in your world today instead of what’s wrong, is a great way to change your attitude and actions. We all slip into negativity or self-pity from time to time; the important thing is to cut short the self-indulgence, and shift into gratitude mode.
As Pollyanna put it, “When you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.”