The Eternal Optimist

This is my latest blog post over at WeAretheRealDeal. You can read it here or after the jump.

I was a sophomore in college, mending a broken heart and pretty bummed about the state of my life at the moment when, during a dorm-room chat, a (very blunt) friend looked at me point-blank and said, “Oh, Meliss, you’ll be fine. You’d be happy in a pile of mud.”

A pile of mud!? Really?! Ouch.

My first instinct was to be insulted, and to be honest, I was for a few minutes.

I mean, I’d been lovingly teased by friends for being a glass-half-full person, someone who was perpetually happy (it’s not a big surprise that I spent half my life cheerleading) … and while I (like everyone) had my moments … for the most part, I was happy most of the time.

But having never been told anything that cut like this, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that her comment stung.

It stung because it not only dismissed my feelings at the time (I was, as I noted, heart-broken and feeling uncharacteristically down), but it seemed like she was making a broader statement — that I was the kind of person who would settle for anything; that it was expected I would just put up with any unpleasant situation naively, blissfully unaware.

And those things didn’t ring true.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized the underlying truth in what she was saying — and that it was, in actuality, a backhanded compliment — whether she realized it or not. I brushed her words off, never forgetting them, but vowing not to dwell on them, either.

The truth is, she was right — I do tend to make the best out of situations. Sure, some situations are easier than others to tackle, but I still try to make the best of them.

Experience has taught me that negativity gets you nowhere; it might be hard to find silver lining, but I can usually find something. (Case in point–getting over the aforementioned heart-ache gave way to meeting my now-husband two years later!)

And so while her comment stung, it didn’t leave a real scar on this optimist. No — instead, all these years later, that comment — and my emotional tie to it — is still is emblazoned in my mind as one of those “defining moments” where you realize who you are, and accept yourself for who you are.

The truth is, I am an optimist, and I’m not ashamed of it. I was raised to see the good in life and to try to find the bright side even when one doesn’t exist. My parents aren’t pessimists, and, not surprisingly, neither are my siblings and I.

And over the years I’ve come to really embrace my positive, optimistic attitude toward life. Necessity taught me that at an early age.

If I (or my family) had gotten bitter when I was 8 years old and our house burned down, where would I/we be today? We couldn’t wallow in our shared agony after that icy January day in 1988 that profoundly changed life as we knew it.

No, we had to literally pick ourselves up, deal with the tragedy of losing our home and all our possessions and our sense of security … and move on. There simply was no other option.

And even today, we say we think our house burning down brought our already-close family even closer together: a blessing in disguise, if you will.

And here’s another example — when my husband and I were dating long-distance internationally for five years after college, people called us crazy, pinning all our hopes and dreams to one another.

But we loved each other, and he’s as much an optimist as I am (perhaps even moreso?!) … so while it wasn’t always easy (and I’m ridiculously, notoriously impatient), we clung to faith in each other that somehow, someday, we’d find a way to be together.

And sure enough, our positive outlook (and patience) paid off– in the same week, we got engaged in Italy and came back to D.C. where we discovered he had a job offer waiting for him (the job that ended up bringing us here to Michigan).

Those are just two examples of many, where a positive outlook helped me through a challenging situation. I believe that having a positive outlook — or being able to re-frame a negative situation (thank you, therapy!) — is one of the keys to a happy life.

I also know having a positive outlook helped me get where I am today with respect to my disordered eating recovery. I had to truly believe I could stop the unhealthy behaviors — and I did. I needed a positive frame of mind, though, to get there.

Along these lines, we’ve heard of lots of studies that have proven the emotional/mental benefits to positive thinking, but a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh featured in the December issue of SELF magazine also seems to show physical benefits to thinking positive. This was news to me!

(Note: though I vowed to never again read SELF magazine after the Kelly Clarkson cover debacle, my subscription hasn’t run out and I can’t have a magazine sitting here unread so … forgive me for going back on my word).

Per the article, “Women who focus on the bright side may experience less stress, which makes them less likely to become sick. Silver lining seekers have a 9 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 14 percent lower risk of dying–from any cause–than do pessimists.”

Wow–I have to say, I loved seeing that in print (and I hope my friend who said I’d be happy in a pile of mud sees it, too!) But it’s not really too surprising when you think about it. Knowing there are physical benefits makes having a positive attitude even more of an asset.

After all, to quote my high school cheerleading coach, “Your attitude and your aptitude determine your altitude.”

And if all else fails, I’m going to keep in mind that mud — in a pile or otherwise — makes for a great facial.

How about you? Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person? How has positive thinking helped you in your life??

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