Pollyanna power! Have you got it?

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There’s a pile of dog crap under a rose bush. It’s your choice whether to smell the crap or smell the roses.

(I actually said this to my son, who tends toward pessimism and appreciates specificity.)

People have been making fun of my sunny disposition since college. In high school, I was “friendly,” but in college, I was “dumb.” I went to UC Berkeley, not exactly the home of the cheerful if you know what I mean. Other students interpreted my unrestrained optimism as flighty, dingy, not worthy of respect or serious attention. It didn’t matter that I was acing my classes. Intelligent people either focused on the complications or played it close to the vest.

What brought this up? Brene Brown’s blog post about her experience filming Super Soul Sunday with Oprah. I heard Brene speak at the Dad 2.0 Summit, and I was riveted by her message and her gifted speaking ability. She’s a vulnerability researcher, and her most recent book, Daring Greatly, is about what happens when you have the courage to be vulnerable. She calls it “stepping into the arena,” and I have carried that metaphor with me ever since.

She talked about how scary/exciting it was to film this show, how her first impulse was to protect herself by playing it cool, and how she checked herself and said, “No! This IS cool! This is OPRAH.” And she proceeded to be giddy and excited and…magic happened because she was her and she was there during an exciting moment.

I was so moved by this story! It reminded me of the times I’ve flailed around feeling that rush, saying I LOVE THIS or THIS IS MY FAVORITE while people around me responded flatly with “Please, Asha. Everything’s your favorite.”

I call it Pollyanna Power. Enthusiasm and optimism are easy to ridicule, so it takes courage to embrace them. But when you do — when you hold your half-full glass high — you’re being powerful.

The next time you feel like tamping down your glee, or crossing your arms against hope, or waving off something exciting, step into the arena instead. Life’s gonna throw you good days and bad days. Good years and bad years. Roses and piles of dog crap. You get to choose where to focus your attention. Where you linger. What you turn over in your mind as a memory or a lesson.

It’s not unrealistic or silly to embrace optimism. It’s a powerful choice.

A version of this post first appeared on my Babble Voices blog, The Accidental Expert, in 2013.

Photo by Irina Iriser on Unsplash

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