“Being a positive person is not about ‘being happy’ all the time. It’s about finding the bright spots in situations.” ~ Unknown
Social media is overloaded with all kinds of quotes on being positive and being happy. These quotes are liked and tweeted daily, but reading them isn’t magic. The ultimate search for happiness isn’t going to come from reading or tweeting a quote. This quote, however, spoke to me, as in a way it provides instructions for helping you be happy. If you think that you need to be “happy all the time” to be positive, you will most likely find yourself unhappy. What we need to be doing instead is exactly what this quote says: “finding the bright spots in situations.”
Recently my thirteen year old daughter became a Bat Mitzvah. She was the last of my three children to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. While my wife and I were attempting the grueling process of planning the table seating, we decided to get out my older two kids’ albums to help us out. As we started flipping the pages of my oldest daughter’s album, the only thing that popped out at me were my crutches. My perception of the pictures was as if the photographer had zoomed in on only my big gray crutches in every picture. Next I opened my son’s album and began leafing through the pages. My eyes began to well up and a tremendous wave of sadness came over me as I realized my crutches were once again the only thing I could focus on. At that moment the reality of my leg hit me. The sadness was the realization that for the past 6 years I have been on crutches; the sadness was that my kids would have a difficult time remembering me not on crutches; the sadness was once again the third Bat/Bar Mitzvah album would be filled with pictures of me on crutches, and the sadness was realizing that my entire future would be attending graduations and weddings on crutches.
Does this mean I am unhappy? Does this mean I am not a positive person? Not at all. What this means is I am human and even though I’m a positive person, there are going to be things that upset me, disappoint me and make me sad. It is not possible to never feel sadness, and if you are constantly searching for “being happy all the time” you are setting yourself up for unhappiness.
Think about it – what would it take to be happy all the time? Being happy all the time would mean you are happy with everything that happens. Disappointment, death of loved ones, death of pets, injury, sickness, and tragic events all happen to everyone, even positive people. These events cause them heartache and sadness, just as they would with anyone. No one is happy about these things. The key is to mourn, be sad, release your emotions and then focus on the positive things in life.
I am certainly not happy all the time and this often causes people to feel that I am not a positive person. What they don’t realize is that it took one hell of a positive attitude to get through six ankle surgeries that forever changed my life, living with chronic pain, adjusting to being disabled and losing my career. If I wasn’t a positive person I would have thrown in the towel and sat on my couch, filled with self-pity, collecting disability insurance for the rest of my life. It was my ability to focus on the positives that pushed me out the door, to volunteer, try new ways of doing things and to achieve a new career. It had nothing to do with being happy all the time. In fact, I believe that in order to stay positive after sustaining a permanent disability you need to take a day here and there to let yourself be sad for your losses. Augusten Burroughs says it perfectly in an article published in The Wall Street Journal, How to Live Unhappily Ever After. He states “Sometimes just giving yourself permission to feel any emotion without judgment or censorship can lessen the intensity of those negative emotions. Almost like you’re letting them out into the backyard to run around and get rid of some of that energy.” I have had my share of dark days and still allow myself a dark day here and there, however I don’t let these days negatively impact my life. It is impossible not to have those sad feelings deep inside and suppressing them only leads to anger and negativity. By letting them surface every once in a while it releases the negative feelings, giving you the energy needed to maintain a positive outlook.
In every adverse situation I find that looking for a positive makes it easier to handle. If you dig deep enough every seemingly difficult circumstance can have a positive, and having the ability to find that positive just makes thing easier to handle. If you can’t find a bright spot in the situation, focus on all the other positive things in life.
The following are a few examples of situations I was able to find positives in.
In the past six years I have had six ankle surgeries and spent years recovering on crutches, which only resulted in me becoming unable to walk without the use of crutches. Not one day has gone by where I have not been grateful that it is my leg and not a life-threatening disease. Every day I have gotten through by saying “It’s my leg, it is not life-threatening, the worst thing that will happen is I have it amputated and learn to live my life with one leg and crutches.” I am able to keep my life and that is a huge bright spot in this situation.
Losing a career I was passionate about was devastating. I had already worked through the first three surgeries and the stress of working and dealing with my leg was destroying me. I wasn’t helping my leg or my career by continuing to struggle. I was overwhelmed with stress in having to take time off for surgery, returning to work before being physically ready, and the fear of this all causing me to lose my job. The positive of losing my job was that it made the next three surgeries easier to deal with. It provided the opportunity to get the surgeries done without the constant worry about getting back to work or losing my job hanging over my head. The reality was that I needed that time of not having a job to worry about to focus on recovery both physically and emotionally. I was able to fully focus on recovery. Not having that pressure made the recoveries easier to handle. In the end, while I say that I could have taught on crutches, I do believe in reality it would have be too stressful not only physically, but emotionally as well. I would have hung on to that job no matter how difficult it became for me. In the end I would have ended up in a much worse place. The second positive in that situation was that I didn’t have to make the decision myself to give up my career, as it was made for me.
I think it goes without saying that the worst part of having a leg injury is having to get around on crutches. I too had a difficult time dealing with the crutches in the beginning. It was my decision to see that it was not the crutches that were the problem, but my leg that made the difference. I found the positive by viewing the crutches as the tools that allowed me to walk and live my life. The crutches then became a positive thing as opposed to torture devices to bitch about.
So what is the bright spot in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah albums? Actually there are three: 1. Without my wonderful wife and three terrific kids there would be no albums. (always a positive in my life) 2. I was there being a supportive father. Not only was I there, but fully participating in the ceremonies not letting my bum leg stop me. 3. Someday my children will show these albums to their children and say “There’s your Grandpa on his crutches, he never let his bad leg stop him from being our father”. My sadness soon faded.
With each of these negative circumstances I was able to find a positive in the situation. I was certainly not happy with any of these adverse circumstances, however I had the initiative to search out the bright spots in them. In the end finding the positives gave me the strength to power through. It would not have been possible for me to maintain “being happy all the time”. In fact, I don’t think it would have been healthy to have been happy about these things. Trying to have been happy through all of the past six years would have ultimately driven me to depression. Yet, being a positive person made it possible for me to push forward and live happily.
Being happy all the time is overrated! As Augusten said “Seriously, who among us is having a “Great!” day every day? Who feels “Terrific, thanks!” all the time?”
Stop worrying about being happy all the time. Instead, focus on finding the positives in life and happiness will follow!