The Power of Positivity

This past weekend we were leaving the beach from a relaxing, restful visit to my in-laws. They were driving us to the train station to head back to New York, and my mother-in-law had the train station’s address in the GPS. As we pulled up to the “destination,” we realized we were in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood- nowhere near the train station- well, 15 minutes from the train station we soon realized, and 15 minutes before our train was to depart.

My husband immediately assumed we were missing our train and would be paying the fee to re-book. My mother-in-law became anxious and worried. My father-in-law slammed the pedal to the metal, something that terrified us all. I immediately assumed the role of cheerleader and began proclaiming “We can make it, team!” “Here we go, family!” “We’ve got this, we’re not going to miss our train!” I didn’t even think twice, I just put on my “ra-ra” face. It’s an act I know well. Didn’t get the contract with that client? Pick your head back up. We don’t fit into the investor’s “box”? Find the investor for whom we do. A team that’s working hard to get tools into the hands of educators for a school year that’s already underway, remind them why they’re in this. At the end of the day, it’s my job to pump a lot of people up. But when I get home, it’s no one’s responsibility but my own to pump me up.

It’s up to me after a long day of “ra-raing” to do the “ra-ra” thing for myself. As our team expands and I think about the expansion of my own family one day, I’m beginning to wonder- how can we empower other people to be their own cheerleaders? Where does the motivation come from to turn any situation, be it exciting and fun or disappointing and stressful, into a challenge and opportunity for growth and strength? How can we develop others’ capacities to strive for meaning and keep pursuing the best for themselves and others, even when times are tough?

One exercise I practice every night with my husband, and Move This World participants use to a different degree, is sharing three highlights from our day along something we are grateful for in that moment. According to a study by Robert Emmons, who has spent over a decade researching the effects of gratitude, positive thinking and a simple expression of gratitude improves your physical, psychological and social health. This exercise is particularly beneficial on those days when nothing seems to go right- the dry cleaner wasn’t open in the morning, we spilled coffee all over our blazer, we can’t stop sweating from the morning run. It’s those tough days when nothing is going our way that searching for those three highlights and an element of gratitude is of utmost importance. One rough day I said I was grateful that someone on my staff gave me a piece of gum. The day was that bad, but I was still grateful for something.

In a world full of challenges- systemic poverty, racism, inequality, disease- it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are better off today, in September of 2016, than we were at this point last year. As scientific journalist Matt Ridley details in his 2010 best-seller, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, we have irrefutable evidence that despite these major challenges of today, we have still come so far. From the advancements in public health that have resulted in a nearly doubled average lifespan to economic evolutions like decreased poverty and improved literacy rates, it’s important to remind the pessimists of the world that as humans, we are the only species with the capacity for innovation.

Yes, challenges remain today, but we as society at large are thriving more every day in abundance and freedom. Every morning when we wake up, and every evening as our day closes, let’s remind ourselves to find daily positive moments and elements of gratitude so that when challenges present themselves, as they inevitably will, we are equipped with the fortitude and perspective to encounter them head on, and maybe even be our own cheerleaders.