“How do you maintain optimism in a depressing world? How do you teach your children to do the same?”
A Not-So-Pretend Story
[Another day of oatmeal for breakfast. I know it's healthy, but some variety in our diet would be nice. When will the bills stop coming in? Medical bills, living expenses, debts we can't pay. Don't think about the money.
“Mom, can we go to the children's museum? Mom, will you buy me a treat?”
Why can't I get my children the things other parents get their children? I hate money problems.
Oh no, Jacob is hitting his sister again. Won't he ever stop? He really has a problem. Without any warning he seems to lash out at the family. I'm so tired of dealing with this.
Sarah wants to use the car again, but I say no because I know she is hanging out with bad friends. How will I find out what she is really doing late into the night? Great... Now she is going to give me her attitude and anger because she can't do what she wants.
Is this what I signed up for? When will things change? I need all this to be over already. When can I go to bed?]
Let's Talk About It
We all get days like this, or parts of these days, or worse days, from time to time. Life has its ups and its downs. Right now many people feel many downs. Financially, times are hard. People are losing jobs and feeling strapped.
The family is also being attacked more than ever before. The young people are pulling away from family and toward selfish desires. They are distracted and anxious. Life is hard on all ages, and this makes it really hard on the whole family.
When I was a young girl, my mother hand painted a glass cutting board to say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
I remember thinking at the time that this was the perfect thing for mom to write. She was often stressed and I knew she was worried about a lot. My father was a school teacher and she was a stay-at-home mom. We didn't have money and had a big family. With the big family came lots of childhood issues and stresses too. She was handed lemons every day.
My mom taught me a lot during those times. She taught me that home made bread, gardening, and canning can be the good life. She taught me that resourceful people are happy people. She taught me that each day is new and going to bed on time is a good idea even if you think you have too much to figure out, do or accomplish. She also taught me that if God came first, anything was possible.
Just as pessimism is contagious, so is optimism.
A person I know has a habit of looking at the negative. If he sees one thing go wrong he thinks that all things must be wrong. When he feels this way, his words are negative and his progress stops. He stops doing anything useful.
We can't become people like this. The pattern is too destructive, and the feelings spread to others.
The only reasonable choice is optimism. Optimism is not perfection. But, we don't need perfection as much as we need progression. When we pick up our emotions and move forward, our days improve and we find the lessons we are meant to learn. This learning leads us to real perfection; steady self-improvement.
Seven Ways to Improve Optimism
Sleep 6-9 hours per night. Without proper sleep your health deteriorates and your brain becomes foggy. If you are foggy, life looks foggy instead of bright.
Every new day is just that. New. Let yourself approach each day fresh. Have a hiker mentality. After a good rest comes some more rewarding work. Without the work, you never reach the summit. Another hiker philosophy is “mind over matter.” Make your mind keep going even if the circumstances around you encourage you to stop. A new day is a spiritual experience. God gives us a rest and fresh start every 24 hours. What a blessing.
Look at all the good in life. Even if every child doesn't turn out perfect, or if business is failing there are always good things to look at. You are all still together. You can still go for a walk and talk together. You control what you see. See the picture as okay, and you will be okay.
Focus. Stay focused on the really important things. Relationships and making meaningful memories are more important than all those stressful emotions. We have the relationships forever, the stresses are temporary. And, as long as we have relationships, we will have the means for happiness. Because good relationships bring happiness, not money and perfection.
Turn off the distractions. TV, computer, and constant going get in the way of making lasting relationships. Turn that stuff off and play a game, bake, garden or just talk instead. If you do this life will feel better and more productive. Media ruins productivity.
Make a new family culture. If our cultures are based on the things we do or the money we spend we will find stress and unhappiness even if things keep going perfect. Simplify your culture. Teach your children life skills and recreate your culture with games, walks, and good books and you will find fulfillment in life. We often think we need to do more to find that fulfilling feeling we are looking for. Usually we need to do less and do it well. It's a worth while family cultural shift.
Improve communication. When things go wrong, stay calm. Say what is happening, but don't react to it. When things go well, say what happened too. Praise more. When life seems to be going along as normal, stop the normal to talk and connect. Think of yourself as a family therapist. Encourage people to talk to you and value what they say. Really listen.... then help find solutions. Schedule regular talk time with your spouse and children. In my book, Parenting A House United I talk more about how to have effective meetings, and how to correct negative behaviors in a positive way.
We live in difficult times. These are not the first difficult times the world has known. Historically, those who focus on family and being optimistic are the ones who triumphantly make it through the hard times. They are the ones who have journal entries full of inspiring observations and lessons learned which strengthen people for years to come. We are all writing stories. What will your story be? One of pessimism or optimism? You Choose.
And remember, what you choose will be what your children choose too.