I have to be honest and sheepishly admit that I was not a sunny, bright and positive personality as a child and growing up.
I do not know if I was born sullen and if I hazard a guess I would say not. I love a good laugh now (my children get so embarrassed with what they say is my loud laughter, which I admit is loud and throaty and coming out of my small frame, can in itself appear quite funny and even very astonishing) and usually rather smile than frown. However, sad to admit, this was not always the case. I was a sad child, scared, pained, full of angst and a deep thinker but connecting more with the sadder than happier vibes around me. I am sure if I ask some of my school mates today, they will agree with my self-portrait of myself as a child. What made matters worse was that I allowed (nay in fact nurtured) my sadness to full fruition, feeding it by always listening to sad songs, reading sad stories and watching sad movies. Stories of death, separation and loss were my favorites and I usually cried bucket loads when I got engrossed in one such. My strongest memory of my childhood years is a friend always asking me “why are you so sad?” And me saying “I am not sad, it is just the geography of my face that gives that impression!” No wonder I had no friends in school. Absolutely none. Not till I reached Grade XIII. Then I met one of the happiest, jolliest, most positive people I ever had the fortune of meeting and for some reason she took to me. She became my “best friend” 🙂 Maybe because I did not talk much and listened to her all day long chatter. But I do remember that this naturally happy friend of mine made me feel very happy and positive. My friend’s world was bright and sunny and full of happy people, where fairies visited homes of children regularly and children lived in houses made of candies and chocolates. She never spoke a bad word ever about anyone. No bad things ever happened to her. She watched a lot of fantasy movies and believed that a fantasy love story was waiting to happen for her.
Over the years we drew apart. It was obvious that we came from very different worlds. Our aspirations and needs were very different. I was hungry for freedom from the grinding boredom of sameness, a society that clung to a past full of class ism and sexism, that seemed so irrelevant to me and obviously did not inspire me in any way. Maybe because I was never part of that society and always just peering in, that my perspective was more outward seeking rather than inward looking.
My happy friend, on the contrary, was never hungry. She was well fed, in flesh and in pocket, absolutely the right Indian size and complexion for a foreign educated “changa Punjabi munda” (nice Punjabi boy) of the same social class, caste and creed. Instinctively I could see that she believed her parents (as she was a dutiful and obedient daughter and forever grateful to her parents for catering to her every need – thus having no aspiration whatsoever to explore beyond the narrow confines of this society), who in turn believed that they and their children had it all, they were very satisfied with all that they had and were clear that there was no need to try out anything new, especially one that could have the potential to topple their bountiful apple cart! So our paths diverged and to be honest I moved on from this loss fairly quickly (as only the young are wont to do), as I ran to embrace my life.
After having started my career and seeped into it, I learned that my ex best friend had been dealt a raw deal in life, where her ideals were being challenged. I rushed to meet her (more in selfish hope I guess that she was now ready to learn and finally would realize my worth as I support her through this challenge facing her) and to my surprise, what did I find? That my friend’s positive and sunny nature stood her in such good stead, that she had focused on the positives of her situation and was happily making the best of it!
I imbibed an amazing learning from this episode in my life. That those who are positive of mind and attitude, will find life and those who are negative will lose it. Those who have a positive frame of mind, will focus only on the positives and put joy into their lives, no matter what the situation. Of course I do not espouse accepting anything less than the best from life, only urge that it would be best to gracefully get out of a messy situation, without making it messier or more negative than it already could be, by looking for the positives in that situation and focusing on it.
To this extent I started changing my approach to life slowly but surely. I started meeting new people and getting to understand them much better by trying to just focus on their positive attributes and personality traits. Soon I had loads of friends. I also started a career which required me to be with and understand people deeply, without making judgments about them and this pushed me to empathize more. I found myself becoming a calmer, more in control and overall a happier person.
Then I had children. And this time life made it unequivocally clear to me that having a positive attitude to life can be completely empowering and liberating. Early on after having my children, I started noticing that one of my children had a natural tendency of picking up sadder vibes than happy ones. You can imagine the sense of deja vu I started feeling. At the back of my mind there was also this sense of fear that it was history repeating itself due to a genetic predisposition. And most probably this is what it was. This child would always pick up on the sad part of any story, look at any situation or event or characterization and immediately point out the negative or the sad aspects about it, always pointing out why another child could not be a friend as she was “not good in this or not good in that.” Initially I did not think much of it at all. I would just ask my child to chill, go find other people to play with, admonish the child not to be silly / petty and so on. But slowly it did start getting more pronounced and I did notice it. I do not know if I would have done anything about it as early as I did, if the occasion of us moving countries had not brought matters to a head and my child showed signs of excessive sadness when the move was imminent. This pattern repeated itself at the next move as well. Such excessive sadness for such a young child was indeed strange and with all my antennae up, I set about to find out more and find an enduring cure. To cut a long story short, after much reading on this subject and meeting psychologists across countries, in lay terms I understand that some humans may be genetically prone to melancholia while others may be generally more disposed to sanguinity. This I can totally buy into, as I have often wondered about this myself, whenever I meet people across cultures showing such clear dispositions, one way or the other and for no apparent reasons. This, I have now learned, is due to a chemical secretion (or imbalance) in the brain – which is either more or less and leads to personalities being bent towards either more sanguine or melancholy. This is indeed a fairly common phenomenon (in fact more than earlier thought) and is very difficult to diagnose, as it is very insidious and grows slowly. It is interesting that no one can die of being too positive :). However, the same is obviously not true of negativity, which is a natural off shoot of melancholia. Apparently once melancholia obtains a certain critical mass (in a manner of speaking), the spiral down towards negativity and finding everything in life “bad and untrustworthy and cynical” is dizzingly fast and the serious implications of the mental illness of “depression” not far off at all and very difficult to rid off.
Now I do not want to be a fear monger, so we will not talk about the mental illness of depression. It is obviously not a subject any layperson can talk about with any authority. I would rather talk about negativity or a negative attitude to life and how it can make people very unhappy indeed. My experiences have taught me that life has a way of giving us choices and if we choose wisely, good comes of it. If we make a mistake in our choice that one time, we need that positive frame of mind to find opportunity in that wrong choice and turn it around. To my mind, being positive, seeking the positive in any situation and focusing only on the positives of people, is a life skill. To some people it comes naturally and to others it does not. I believe that being positive is a state of mind and that it can be taught and can become a very powerful habit, that has the power to make more good things happen to one than bad.
Therefore, just as we teach our children swimming, cooking, driving as life skills, and personal hygiene, politeness, punctuality as good habits that last a lifetime – I espouse that we must teach our children the skill of being positive.
If we want happy children, we have to teach them to be positive and have a positive attitude to life. In that, trust before mistrusting, give people the benefit of the doubt and focus always of the positives of people / life and any situation and generally wake up every morning with a smile on our faces. Like my school friend coped, I believe this is one way to make the best of any situation that one comes across in life – either by chance, fate or bad decision.
From my experience I have formed the opinion that those who are generally melancholic by nature have more chances of becoming negative, than those who are more sanguine by nature. The best cure for melancholia, I have been told, (albeit very simplistically put) is to take some simple cognitive actions to make one feel more positive everyday! These steps are so simple, that they are simply breathtakingly beautiful and should be undertaken by all – not only those who generally have a tendency to feel down. As I worked with my child who was born with her mouth turned naturally down, I realized that having a positive attitude can be taught / can be ingrained as a habit, especially when it is not naturally a given, Hence, as parents, as we started making an effort to turn our child with mouth down turned, look towards the sun and appreciate the joy and beauty of life, it was a turning point in our lives too. When as a parent one realizes that inculcating certain habits in a child could be the turning point for the child, leading her to be a healthier and happier individual due to it – the light shines on the parent as well, changing that parent to being a more positive person on the whole.
So here are some signs that parents should watch out for in their children, that indicates them becoming prone to a negative attitude:
- Prone to crying infant for no apparent reason.
- General fear of things unknown as opposed to regular and natural curiosity.
- Wanting to be left alone and not smiling most of the time.
- A more clingy child, not wanting to get off the lap of mother / nanny.
- A child who often finds a reason why NOT TO BEFRIEND other children.
These above are just some of the things I had noticed with my child but did not take too much cognisance of till my child expressed “sadness” clearly and in words. Not many children do this unfortunately and this crying is not given any special attention until it is quite difficult to change habits that have been formed over years, in many cases.
So what were the cognitive steps that worked for me:
- Encouraging children to partake in some physical activity – could be jumping on a trampoline, playing a game or doing a team sport. Essentially physical exercise to get the blood pumping and adrenalin flowing is important to kick-start the feeling of “up ness”.
- Whenever your child uses a negative to start speaking about any person, situation, thing or place, correct her and tell her that this is not right. Point out that there must be a positive about that particular person, situation, thing or place that she can find and focus on. This is the most difficult part. As a parent, one should never tire of continuously endorsing this till it becomes as natural as breathing for the child to do. Once this becomes a pattern, a wondrous thing happens, more friends are made, people are positively influenced and the most amazing thing of all – the mouth of one’s child starts turning upwards.
- Never ever encourage any gossip (talking about other people in a criticizing and negative manner) on your dining table or in your home. Whenever such talk starts (which it naturally will, as this is a common human failing) say very calmly and firmly that such talk merely makes the whole atmosphere negative, which is not peasant feeling at all, so we will change the subject! And change it.
- Encourage your child to keep a diary and in this diary to write down every time she feels down and what she thinks could have caused this feeling of “down mood”. Then at the end of the week, ask your child to sit and review her diary with you and give her concrete steps to change these things that make her feel down. For example: the weather was cold and gloomy outside and it made her feel down. Then you can suggest bright decorations for her room, more artificial light in the house, some nice peppy music to play. Or for example, another entry of feeling down is just waking up in the morning and feeling gloomy first thing. Then you can suggest making a habit of thinking a happy thought first thing upon waking up, like the one good thing that happened the day before that is a happy memory or think of one thing she is looking forward to in the day. Okay one last example: if your child says someone was unkind to her and she starts feeling very negative towards this person. Go over the event with her, try to place your child in the other child’s shoes and encourage empathy first and then sympathy for a wrong that was obviously done to your child. Thereafter encourage your child not to compound one wrong with another wrong, to break the cycle of negativity by not allowing this other child to make your child react negatively and keep the cycle going. This teaches how to control strong emotions as well, which is even more empowering for your child in the long run.
- Discourage listening to sad songs / music, reading books / stories that dwell on what is bad in the plot or situation. Encourage always listening to positive talk, peppy music, reading books that focus of moving forward with a positive approach and ignoring or physically walking away from any negative talk and / or gossip.
- Encourage your child (with a disposition to melancholy) to settle in a country with two seasons – sunny and sunnier 🙂 Actually I am somewhat serious. The sun has a way of driving away the demons and dispersing darkness like nothing else!
Imagine a world without any negativity and you will be encouraged to make an effort with making your children more positive than they already are 🙂 🙂