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The silver lining

Posted: October 1, 2010 11:46 a.m.
Updated: October 1, 2010 11:46 a.m.

It is true what they say about attitudes and smiles -- they are infectious. They are capable of affecting the mind-set and emotions of others. As I checked out at the grocery store last week, the clerk asked me, “Have you had a good day?”  It was the manner in which she posed her question that caught me off guard. She stood there waiting for my response with realness. Unless my naiveté was clouding my view, I saw the clerk’s chat as genuine and instantly wanted to emulate her optimism. By following her lead, the crisis that had been bestowed on me that day began to seem more like a setback or challenge, not a hardship.

Webster’s defines optimism as “an inclination to anticipate the best possible outcome”, a person’s expectation that things will work out. An optimist desires that “happy ending” and has a tendency to believe the best outcome is possible and will, in fact, happen. Optimistic thinkers see the positive side of things rather than the negative. It is not that optimists are unaware of their problems, but rather, are looking for hopeful facets in a situation. Seeing the positive side of difficult circumstances gives optimists the courage and ability to carry on and try again. This depiction is a narrative about people trying over and over again to get it right. Optimists learn from their mistakes and apply that knowledge at a later point. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend either to avoid such situations in the future, or repeat the same despondent errors. Positive people focus on what they have achieved rather than what might have been. They look at success in a broader sense than their counterparts do, and take any sign of progress as evidence of accomplishment. 

If you see your glass half-full then you may be happier and healthier than those with their half-empty glass. New research implies that an optimistic outlook may strengthen your body’s ability to fight off infection. It further states there is evidence of a link between attitude and disease. One theory is that more positive, buoyant people tend to live healthier and react in better ways to stress. Other conjecture suggests that cheerful individuals are more likely to adhere to medical advice. In addition, optimism appears to have an effect on the heart and longevity. In the development of disease, there is good proof that optimism is protective and pessimism is detrimental. 

Optimism was not able to protect, however, one of the most admired journalists, Tim Russert. I have long been a fan of Tim Russert and my personal reaction to his death took me by surprise. He died in June of 2008 at the age of 58.  For years, he was moderator for “Meet the Press” and had written a book about his relationship with his father. If you watched the program, you would know that he loved the Buffalo Bills but even more his son Luke. I realized that it was the way he lived his life that touched me and so many others. Russert lived his short life with great enthusiasm always paired with a joyful outlook. At the memorial service, Luke said that in his 22 years of life, “he had never met somebody filled with so much optimism who not only loved the good parts of life but also its challenges.” Anyone can be up when life has that silver lining, but the moment you wear thin from adversity is when you need a stockpile of optimism to get you through. Luke gained the most from his father’s optimism. The ability to see the bright side is not one you are necessarily born with, but one that parents can foster in their children. Being optimistic allows parents to focus on the joys, not the hassles, the love, not the disappointments, the triumphs, not the defeats. 

My father made sure we realized the impact of attitude on our lives. He believed that attitude could make or break a home and was quick to remind us we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we choose. He was confident that what happens to us, our shortfalls and adversity, has little value in life’s big picture. It is how we react, our attitude, our optimism that bears the most merit. 

At the moment we hear hard times knocking on our door, let’s remember to sing in the lifeboats!  (Or in the words of my 6-year-old, “turn that frown upside down.”)

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