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October has been designated Positive Attitude Month, and I’d like to dig into what having a positive attitude really means.
Some people think having a positive attitude means you’re always happy. I don’t believe that to be true. Other people think having a positive attitude simply means you paste a smile on your face even when you feel like crying. I don’t think that’s it either.
There are two aspects of having a positive attitude. One is being able to view things neutrally as they happen around you. The other is having the skill of being able to find something to be grateful for in everything that happens—the ability to make a lemon drop martini out of lemons.
Remaining neutral is a position I aspire to. I’ve been a passenger on life’s rollercoaster of ups and downs; the highs were extremely high and the lows were deeply low. I often mention the periodic table of elements and how each element in our naturally occurring world is equally balanced with the same number of protons and electrons. I believe our life experiences are equally balanced as well. Everything that happens in our life has the same number of positive results as there are negative but, for some reason, we tend to only see one side. When that happens, it’s fair to say we aren’t seeing the whole picture.
Because our brains are hardwired for negativity, we have a proclivity to see the downside of something rather than the upside. However, there are times when our endorphins are flowing, causing us to only see the positive. This happens a lot in novel situations and new relationships. In both circumstances, it helps to remember that there is always balance, without exception. When you are experiencing something painful, know that there is equal positivity embedded within it. When you are flying high, feeling like you just won the lottery, know that there will be a painful tradeoff to balance that situation.
Those of you who know my work realize that I speak a lot about the GLOW—the gifts, lessons, opportunities and wisdom within the painful situations we encounter—but I don’t often talk about the tradeoffs. Let’s say you experience something as the best thing that ever happened to you: maybe you got the promotion you wanted, married the love of your life or had the baby you hoped for. That promotion probably comes with longer hours, greater responsibility and a period of proving yourself to your co-workers and direct reports. The wedding is amazing, but it can be accompanied by an invasion of your privacy, a loss of independence and a person to be accountable to. And the baby you wanted is terrific but buckle up for laundry duty, bottle washing and sleepless nights. There are tradeoffs, most of which we have deemed definitely worth it, but there are tradeoffs, nonetheless. Balance—the world is created on it.
For this reason, I ascribe to attain neutrality. Things are not inherently great nor inherently awful; there are both positive and negative elements in every situation. I find inner peace when I can remember to be realistic, objective and balanced about all things that happen in my life.
Another way to maintain a positive attitude is to always find the benefit and appreciation for all things. Byron Katie wrote a book, Loving What Is, that had a profound effect on my thinking. It is important to remember that you are not the center or controller of the universe. Because of this, many times life will deal you a hand you would like to give back. Things happen you didn’t ask for and don’t like. Generally speaking, humans tend to rail against the unfairness of those things and the inconvenience and pain they cause. They fight against the reality of what has already happened.
I’m sure you can think of some instances in your own life—I know I can: I didn’t want to break both my ankles in a hot air balloon accident. I didn’t want to spend my savings on my own apartment, resulting in my passing up on a doctorate degree right out of college. I didn’t want my husband to die of leukemia at age 37. And yet these things happened. I didn’t cause them, I didn’t ask for them but yet, they happened. I could spend all my time, energy and resources trying to change the unchangeable or I could develop a positive attitude to find a way to make the best of those situations.
After all, the situation is what it is. You can’t avoid it, change it or fix it. You might as well find a way to accept it—to appreciate and be grateful for it. Just like Byron Katie wrote about, find a way to love what is.
This, for me, is the embodiment of having a positive attitude. It doesn’t mean you must be giddy all the time or walk around with a perpetual grin. It simply means you do what you can to create the life you want while graciously accepting the gifts life brings, even if they seem like anything other than a gift at the time.
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