I Am a Pollyanna: Personal Positivity in the Face of Societal Negativity

A personality defined by irrepressible optimism, even in the face of the most adverse or discouraging of circumstances. That, in a nutshell, is what the word “pollyanna” means.

Normal Happenings is a blog of unbridled optimism. Although I recognize and have deeply experienced the darkness of the world, I choose to encounter the world through an unbreakable positivity. I have no qualms about saying that’s a form of Pollyannaism, and a very healthy manifestation of it at that. I am not naive, nor unrealistic, but it my worldview of optimism that keeps me from sinking.

Flashback to May of 2015: I had just finished my first year of graduate school, proposed to Nikki winter prior, and extremely recently lost my assistantship due to misunderstanding and bad luck. This was an obvious section of my life that mixed strong positivity with negativity, making it apropos that this is when the word came into my life. It always came as a surprise to me that the word took this long to show up. By this point I was already making end roads of manifesting my overly positive personality, but more so my communications background should have given me knowledge of the existence of the iconic 1913 children’s book by Eleanor Porter. After all, the book inspired a great many movie adaptations and firmly cemented its way into modern vernacular.

The word has even inspired a psychological term, the Pollyanna Principle — the tendency for people to more accurately remember the good things while forgetting the trails, backbreaking work, and negative occurrences of the past. It’s what inspires feelings of nostalgia when you pick up a soccer ball and remember that one time you tried to play soccer with a friend you never saw again. Or when you can dig up one or two fond memories from an ex relationship that you generally despise enough to write a Taylor Swift-style breakup song about. And while I don’t think the Pollyanna Principle is directly comparable to the active state of being irrepressibly optimistic, I do feel it shows that people, at least in the recesses of their mind, have a desire to trend towards positivity.

This wishful thinking, however, does not translate into the real world – in fact it is a society that is not particularly accepting of pollyannas in principle. Particularly in my happenings in the American Midwest, a friendly smile and an enthusiastic greeting is often met with suspicion – surely a product of personal or anecdotal experience.

Additionally, contemporary books, film, television, and video games all-to-often reflect darkness rather than light. Recently, Nikki and I were astonished at our difficulty in finding science fiction literature that predominately featured the themes of optimism, rather than a bleak or disenchanted future. It shows that there is a real need for positivity, but an irrepressible optimism simply is not appetizing in a world full of soothsayers claiming the world is going to end next month.

The optimism problem is, unfortunately, an accurate proxy to real life. When one thinks of an individual who is tough, rugged, and tempered by real life, they typically are not going to envision an optimistic person trying to make the world a better place. Rather, they’ll probably think of that individual as hardened by the pressure of real life that continuously drags people down.

Ultimately, the world just seems meaner and more competitive. People are less concerned about exploring what makes individuals unique and good and more about fighting each other – a truth that is directly manifested in real life. A large portion of drivers act as if they intend to run people over, which is surely a symptom of an overall workforce unconcerned about the well-being of individuals. Women get disrespectfully catcalled as if they don’t have a soul. Combine that with growing concerns that the planet is getting sicker from human interaction, and there is no doubt obvious cause for a pessimistic outlook for society.

Yet, I can’t help it: I see the good in everything and everyone. That worldview is the central conceit of Normal Happenings. I have hope that the world is going to get better, and I intend to you my very small corner of the internet to be a positive force. Definitively that makes me a pollyanna, something I have no intention of being ashamed about. Things will get better because they must get better.

I would love to have a conversation about this, so I want to ask some questions for comment:

  • What type of personally type to you lean towards: positivity or negativity?
  • If positive, how do you reconcile all the negativity in the world?
  • If negative, how do you tend to react to positive things?
  • Do you find your worldview helps or hurts your quality of life?

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  1. The 2010s has proven to be a horrible decade for sci-fi and this inescapable cycle of pessimism is a major contributing factor. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that nearly all of the critical darlings I’ve seen to which I have (or would) award a failing grade (District 9, Ex Machina, and Upgrade), are all sci-fi works. Somewhere along the line, science fiction writers lost that sense of wonder the genre used to have and latched onto the idea that “cynicism = wisdom”. The worst part is that it’s a mentality embraced by critics as well. As a result, they seemed to have written glowing reviews of works that range anywhere from flat-out bad to decent-but-not-stand-out simply because they align with their worldviews. It really shows how detrimental confirmation bias is in criticism. The worst part is that if you disagree, you’ll likely be dubbed an anti-intellectual, demonstrating that the fans, for all of their alleged wisdom, do not have the moral high ground over those they sneer at.

    In all honesty, if it turns out in hindsight that these critically acclaimed works played a major role in things getting worse, I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of people talk about how prophetic these works are, but I can’t escape the idea that a lot of it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which case, I’m not impressed. I think there were studies that show that the most productive teams receive a fairly generous number of compliments in proportion to the criticisms lodged their way. The least productive ones are, unsurprisingly, the ones that receive more negative feedback than positive feedback. Why should humanity as a whole be any different? There is good to be found in this world – even if choosing to believe that isn’t cool right now. Then again, since when have the cool kids ever been right about anything?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dude, Red Metal, your comment is on point! Thank you for putting so much thought into extrapolating from a single line of this post.

      You’re right, I do think the negativity is causing a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy effect, which is super dangerous in the context of science fiction. We’ve seen before how science fiction is a decent predictor of the short-term future — think of technologies that a form of were first developed in a SF work, for instance. I don’t think SF is the sole reason for humanities current negative bias, but it’s got to be part of the pie chart.

      Liked by 1 person

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