My great-grandparents, Cleve and Zelma Carder, lost almost everything they owned during the Dust Bowl years. After losing their homestead and ranch, they packed what they could into a Conestoga Wagon and made the trek from Northern New Mexico to find work picking cotton in the fields of Oklahoma.
When my great-grandmother told me stories of those difficult times, it wasn't with bitterness or anger. She would laugh as she recalled her husband's refusal to remove her grand piano from their wagon, despite the fact that it weighed over 1000 pounds. Instead, the family would spend several hours digging the wagon free from the sand in the dried-up riverbeds that they crossed.
In the last years of her life, her strongest memories were not of her failures or disappointments but of the love and hope experienced within them.
I am grateful to her for helping me learn at an early age that we get to choose how we view our circumstances and how we let them affect our mindset.
Here are five things I've learned about choosing to be hopeful and positive.
Emotions are Transient
When we are faced with bad news, our outlook on life can be changed at a moment's notice to focus on despair and hopelessness. We can believe things to be true that may not be fact at all. And when we act on those emotions, we can make permanent decisions that close doors or alter our future in ways that we might regret. But when we give ourselves time to get past our initial reaction, we often find that, while the news is still bad, we are more able to be hopeful and positive and make decisions that move us forward to new opportunities.
Negativity is Emotional Junk Food
Just as junk food satisfies our cravings but leaves us malnourished, when we feed on negativity, we are left with very few resources for overcoming the obstacles we face. We can learn to be savvy, but if we persistently believe the worst and feed on the wrongs and hurts in our past, we will find ourselves living in bondage and never experiencing the joy of believing the best about those around us. Feeding on negative thoughts is addictive, but it isn't productive and will prevent us from thriving.
Look For the Upside
When we face disappointment, it is so easy to see it as a permanent closure of something we hoped for. But it rarely is. Every no, every rejection opens up new possibilities that weren't a consideration while we were focused on hoping for just one thing to happen. When we don't get accepted into a program we wanted or hired for a position we desperately wanted, we can view those things as signs that we aren't good enough or that we don't belong somewhere we want to be. But when we can see one door closing as our opportunity to open other doors, we can recover faster from our disappointment, and we can turn that disappointment into new opportunities that may turn out to be even better.
While it can definitely help our mindset to see the good in others and to maintain hope within difficult situations, we can be our own worst enemy when we refuse to see the reality of a situation because it isn't something we want to face. A positive mindset is only an asset when we have come to terms with what we are facing; otherwise, it is a barrier that will prevent us from moving forward or finding a way to be happy in the midst of whatever difficulty we are facing.
Make a Plan
Sometimes we try to power through our negative feelings to get to a better place in our mind, but the more we try to push those feelings away, the worse we feel. When we find we are stuck and can't seem to get over something, giving ourselves permission to experience the feelings and have our own private pity party or tantrum is the best plan of action. But making a plan can prevent us from turning that pity party into a perpetual state of mind. When our pity party includes an end time, we can process our feelings without getting mired in a negative state of mind.
"Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose." ― Viktor E. Frankl
I recently read this quote, and my immediate reaction was ... easy to say, but it seems trite within the difficulties some people are forced endure. When I noticed the quote was attributed to Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, I realized that if he could find the capacity to discover meaning and purpose in such horrific circumstances, then I have the capacity to find it within my own journey.
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread." ― Viktor E. Frankl