Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Positivity Project

“Take your mind off the problems for a moment, and focus on the positive possibilities. Consider how very much you are able to do.” – Ralph Marston

My youngest daughter had been a bit of a grumpus lately. At the beginning of the school year she loved her new school, but as the year progressed, the reality of a sixth-grade workload emerged. She no longer came home chirping about all the great things she noticed about her school. When I picked her up, she remarked upon the irritating kids who constantly interrupted the teacher, the girl who deliberately blocked the aisle just to pick a fight, the way her English teacher holds them even after the bell has rung so she often runs late to dance class. I heard all this and more. What I heard little of was joy. Happiness. Positivity.

And while all of what she said were valid concerns and I took them as such, I believe outlook plays a vital role in our happiness.

So Sunday night before we said our prayers I asked her about this negative attitude. I asked her why she only ever told me about the bad things at school.

“I’m just used to looking for the bad things,” she said.

It had gotten to be a habit, this negativity. She had closed her eyes to any positivity around her. And if you knew this child, you would know how strange that is. She is so caring, so thoughtful. She had always just oozed joy and happiness and sunshine. But that had stopped, you see. She began only looking for the bad, so that was all what she saw.

I asked her what good things she could think of about school. She thought hard for a few minutes. “Nothing,” she answered.

“Ok, then. I think it’s time for a project,” I told her.

My kids are used to things like this from me. We come up with a lot of projects.

“This is The Positivity Project,” I told her. “If you always look for the negative, that’s all you are going to see. But if you start looking for the positive, you’ll be amazed how much of that you’ll find.”

Her task, beginning the next day – Monday – was to look for as many positive things as she could find: students asking good questions; someone making someone else smile, picking up a piece of trash, holding a door for someone; teachers explaining something well. Any positive interaction observed, I wanted her to make note of it and tell me about it at the end of the day.

The other part of her task was to avoid sarcasm. It was becoming a little too constant. If someone spoke to her sarcastically, or asked her a question that she would answer in a sarcastic manner, she could not respond that way during the project. She had to answer pleasantly, and not even look sarcastic. Oh! This one chafed her. “What?! How can I not use sarcasm? What if they really deserve it? And how can I be nice if they’re being sarcastic to me?” I just told her that was the challenge. To be kind. To be positive. She didn’t believe it was possible.

She accepted my challenge, though. “How long will this project last?” she asked. “As long as it takes to change your outlook,” I told her. The first day, she only had a few positives to tell me, but that was great improvement over having nothing good to say.

“Well, what did you think about searching for good things all day?”

“It was hard not to be sarcastic,” she said. “But I did it!”

Later that evening she came to my room to talk. “Mom, I really don’t want to say this. But…you were kind of right. I was positive today. And I had a good day. And I’m going to do it again tomorrow. Because I know I can find more things to tell you. I know I can.”

It’s not an instant cure. We are three weeks into The Positivity Project and of course all the negative things are still there: the girl who blocks the aisles, the ELA teacher who lets them out after the bell rings, the boy who snatches the chocolate out of her lunch when she’s not looking.


In spite of that, she continues to look for the positives in each day. Some days it gets hard to find many, but she makes sure that she always has something good to tell me about every day now. She understands the difference it makes when she takes the time to look for the good. Positivity is a choice; it is deliberate.

To live life every day with purpose, even a purpose so small as to simply look for a single positive interaction, is to live deliberately, gracefully, and joyfully. Seeing her reconnect to that joy is an indescribable joy of my own.

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