Think Positive, Be Happier: The Invaluable Lessons of 'Pollyanna'

There are plenty of good reasons why Dr. Daniel Amen encourages patients to read the classic children's book. Here are seven tips that will help you move forward

by John Stark • Next Avenue

At my last job I had a wonderful perk: Free membership in an expensive, upscale health club and spa that was open 24 hours a day. When I left that job, I stopped going to the fitness center and joined a more downscale gym that stayed open only until 8 p.m. on weeknights and 4 p.m. on weekends.

But guess what? I’ve never been fitter.

Because the plush health club never closed, I rarely went. Every day I would tell myself, “I can get there later” — until later became too late, especially when I’d settled in for the evening. With the new gym, there’s no procrastinating. I have to get there at least an hour before the doors close. Going to the gym has now become a priority.
My new, no-frills gym has proved to be an invaluable gift. If I sound like a Pollyanna, so be it — I happen to be one of her biggest disciples. She was a positive thinker who was definitely ahead of her time.
I didn’t always feel this way. Like most people, I considered Pollyanna a pejorative word used to describe someone whose cheerfulness gets under your skin. Webster’s describes a Pollyanna as “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism.”

In other words, an unctuous bore.

Even the Gershwin brothers couldn’t resist taking aim at her in their cynical love song, “But Not for Me”:

Don’t want to hear from any cheerful Pollyannas
Who tell you fate supplies a mate
It’s all bananas.

Sorry, George and Ira, but Pollyanna isn’t all bananas. There are plenty of studies showing that being optimistic not only makes people happier, it makes them healthier. Optimism is one of the most common traits among long-lived people.
My Pollyanna conversion came just weeks after 9/11, when the world looked particularly bleak. I was doing an interview with Dr. Daniel G. Amen, the California neuropsychiatrist who wrote the bestselling Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Amen is known for looking on the bright side of life by getting rid of our ANTS — “automatic negative thoughts.”

“How,” I asked him, “can one live his or her life in a positive, upbeat manner without appearing Pollyannish?”
“What’s wrong with that?” he replied. “I tell all of my patients to read Pollyanna or rent the movie. It’s worth at least three visits to my office.”
Really? I was taken aback.

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First Published Fri, 2012-07-20 15:35

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