The name of “Pollyanna,” the child heroine invented by Eleanor Porter in 1913, is often used (by people who haven’t read the book) to mean shallow, blind optimism. But a careful reading of the book holds a different story.
Pollyanna’s early years had been a long and dismal trial ending in the loss of both parents, but before her father died he had taught Pollyanna “the glad game,” a kind of existential experiment that would get her through almost any hardship. The glad game meant rejoicing with gratitude in the face of life’s good fortune and, in the face of perceived misfortune, searching for the good.
There were limits, of course. One didn’t, for example, take joy in death, and Pollyanna eventually realised that it’s much easier to tell others to cheer up than it is to cope with profound personal loss.
The glad game eventually thawed out the uptight New Englanders in Pollyanna’s little North Country town, setting them up not only for a deeper enjoyment of life but also for the kind of perseverance that doesn’t balk at difficulties.
Here are just a few things that look dreadful at first glance but shine with serenity on closer inspection.
- If you’ve made a bad decision . . .
. . . you’ve been handed one of the greatest learning opportunities life has to offer.
- If you’re poorer than you’d like to be . . .
. . . you’re not one of those evil people that God punishes with money. Joe Moore’s observation, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people He gives it to,” won’t stop you from pursuing wealth, but it should make you stop and consider whether your time might be better spent just being a better person. After all, you really can’t take it with you.
- If you feel like you don’t fit in where you are . . .
. . . it’s because in some way you’re better than these people. You may be smarter, or better looking, or more sensitive, or less superficial. Whatever it is, they don’t have room for you here. Move on and find your true tribe.
- If you can’t seem to be able to finish anything . . .
. . . you just haven’t found a project that engages you. Find one.
- If you find yourself underemployed or unemployed . . .
. . . you’ve just won a temporary window to reflect on life and live it to the fullest.
- If you’ve had periods of great suffering and need in your life . . .
. . . these will give you great prestige when you tell people about them later, when you’re a great success.
- If your partner seems cold and unloving . . .
. . . see it as proof of your wonderful kindness, patience, and tolerance. Your partner chose you because of your big heart. Yes, it’s true: Difficult people shack up with good people because only good people will be patient with them. You may feel you got the dirty end of the stick, but look on the bright side: The fact that another human being saw that much good in you should inspire oodles of self-esteem. Run with it.
- If you’ve lost someone you loved very much . . .
. . . your time with them was an amazing privilege. Honour it by being thankful. Remember all the beautiful things they taught you and apply them to your life. Lives must end, but love itself is eternal. Live in it.
- If you’ve lost someone you can never replace . . .
. . . remember that their uniqueness is proof of your uniqueness. Yes, you matter. You weren’t given life so you couldbe another cog in the machine or have something to brag about at your next high school reunion. You mean something. You have gifts not granted to anyone else, ever. Use them for the better good.
- If you’re completely fed up with the state of the world today . . .
. . . remember that widespread dissatisfaction is an important precursor to positive, long-term change.