Shortly before our son turned three, we took him on the Polar Express train ride in Williams, Arizona. Upon boarding the train, we took our seats opposite a family all dressed in the exact same red Christmas pajamas: mom, dad, and 3 little blonde children. The kids were all wide-eyed with excitement and the mom was particularly enthusiastic. She was so enthusiastic that I sat there fascinated at this super-mom, as she excitedly talked to her kids about the train ride and Santa’s impending arrival. My mind started instantly criticizing her: Is she always this happy? Is she putting on a show for the rest of the train passengers? What does her husband think about making them all wear matching PJs? She’s probably not normally such an awesome and enthusiastic mom… how can she be so happy?
The entire scene seemed odd to me, like it was from a movie. The mom seemed fake. How could she be that happy with three kids? I mean, kids are hard work and she has three! Was she always like this? The only answer I could come up with in my mind is that she must be faking it.
Now, several years later, as I read negative comments about the MMM blog and listen to many wise and wonderful men and women complaining to each other on a regular basis, I realize what I was doing on that train ride. I was unhappy with my own situation and therefore reasoned that the woman on the train must be a fake. I was also participating, albeit in my own mind, in a seemingly common problem in our culture: Reveling in Negativity.
At the time, I was going through a difficult time emotionally. As a mom with an almost 3-year old, I realized that I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. I was not happy like this other mom. Instead of coming to terms with this, I ended up criticizing her in my head. It was probably some kind of natural defense mechanism.
A year later, I finally decided to confront my problem. It took nearly a year of investigating, but I eventually found out I was gluten intolerant, which was causing my mood to be quite volatile at times. I often felt angry for no reason, I had low energy, I woke up with morning headaches every day, and I generally had no control over many of my emotions. Strangely this intolerance manifested itself after a traumatic event (in my case giving birth and having a c-section), as has been known to happen. I’ve now been gluten free for over three years and feel completely different.
If I saw that same woman today, I’d like to think that I would be more positive. I would probably still notice her and maybe even chuckle a little at the matching pajamas. But, I would watch her and perhaps make a note to myself to be happier around my own child. To be enthusiastic about the things he’s enthusiastic about and to see things through his eyes. To be happy and carefree, without worrying about what onlookers will think. I can’t be sure what I would think, but the fact that I am more confident about my own parenting makes me more open to new suggestions.
I recently read a thread about Mr. Money Mustache on a forum, I watched the comments quickly downgrade until they became downright nasty. Even the original poster, who had posted because she loved the blog, started saying negative things about it. I realized that being in agreement is often very important to people. It’s hard to be the odd one out while everyone else is nodding. Being united and feeling sympathy for each other is important in our culture. Everyone wants to be accepted.
So how do we overcome this and start thinking more positively about our own situations and about life in general? How do we stop venting and start problem solving? I guess the answer is to look at yourself and your situation with a new perspective. Don’t make assumptions about how things should be; think about the goal and figure out how to get there. There’s always a way, but it may take a while to find the right path. People may even resent you as you push to get there, but don’t get caught up in their negative energy. Seek out those that are different: the entrepreneurs, the rule-breakers, the visionaries. Find those people and ride their wave of optimism and you’ll soon start to see the world through their eyes.