Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Optimism: My Point of View

Me and my dad, 1951

Dear TravelinOma,
Can you learn to be optimistic?
Or do you inherit it?
Gloomy Gus


I both learned and inherited this quality from my dad. He was consistently optimistic and hopeful, and he looked for the good in me. I always felt like I was smart, talented and unique because he told me I was. His faith in my abilities kept my self-esteem healthy, even though I had many reasons to doubt his opinion as I compared myself to others. Dad had a pep talk for every occasion and I learned them all by heart. By the time I was an adult, being hopeful was a natural part of my personality. It's a trait I've needed often.

Dee and I started out with nothing but hope. His enthusiasm for living was one of the qualities that attracted me immediately. A fun part of our relationship is that we buoy each other up by counting our blessings and reflecting on great memories. We learned early that one of us needed to be up if the other was down to maintain our balance, and we instinctively know when it's our turn. All seven of our kids are upbeat, cheerful and confident (most of the time) as well. It's part of our family's tradition to see the glass as 3/4 full and look for the good in every situation.

I was lucky to grow up in an atmosphere of optimism. My dad reminded me often that faith (in myself, and in God's willingness to help me,) would achieve miracles. He taught me that faith and fear cannot coexist, and that fear, doubt and worry were to be banished. Although he had his personal fears, they were overcome by his faith. He took risks, thrived on challenge, and lived positively.

The best part of this lesson is that my dad taught himself to be this way; early struggles haunted him. He grew up poor. His beloved older brother was always sick, and died at 18, and the strain sapped all the joy from his parents for years. One of dad's favorite stories was how excited he was the day the store repossessed all their furniture and the kids ice-skated in their socks through the empty rooms. But he always remembered how his mom sat on the porch steps and cried as her lovely possessions were carried away. Eventually they lost their home and actually lived in a tent (with 5 kids!) for a while during the depression, which was especially depressing.

Dad (in the glasses) and his brothers, about 1933.

Dad served in WWII and came home very sick. It took him three months in a hospital to recover. When he'd joined the army, he had neglected to officially drop out of the university. When he started school again after the war he had a whole semester of failed classes on his transcript. To qualify for Optometric school he had to get straight A's for a couple of years to raise his GPA to the required 3.0. Born with cataracts which impaired his vision most of his life, he decided life would be better if he started to view it through rose-colored glasses.

When I was about seven Dad almost died of pneumonia. Mom was busy preparing mustard plasters while he laid in bed for weeks worrying about our future. That's when he first read the book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. Knowing my dad, I'm sure he was thinking in literal terms when he saw the title. But the concepts he learned made him wealthy in another way that became my most treasured inheritance. He discovered the secret of positive thinking.

Everybody who knew my dad remembers him preaching this good news. Assimilating it into his character was the goal of his lifetime. He changed his attitude and it changed his world.

Dad, at his best!

So, Gloomy Gus:
It is absolutely possible to learn optimism.
It's possible to inherit it.
And from my viewpoint,
it is positively essential to have it.


Christie said...

This is my most favorite thing about you. You are the most positive person I've ever met. It's a life lesson for us all.

Polly said...

thank you for writing about our dad. he gave us great tools to live our lives by.

Kay Dennison said...

There is a lot to be said for optimism. It's easier if you grew up that way. Depression runs in my family. I wish it would stop running and let me shoot it! LOL

mama jo said...

that was wonderful...loved to hear those stories...we are all so lucky to have had such a great dad..

PI said...

What a smashing man your Dad was, and - like mine, what a great legacy he left you - nothing to do with money. I'm tempted to wonder if they still make 'em like that.
Keep smiling!

The Grandmother Here said...

What a CUTE little girl!!!

kenju said...

What a great post this is. I had to quit Firefox and come see you in IE just so I could comment. The lessons your dad taught you are worth far more than money!

I keep forgetting to tell you: last week I saw a bright red old volkswagon with the license plate "bug oma". I immediately thought of you!

gab said...

Positively inspiring!

raehan said...

I new there was a reason that I liked you so much!