Life can be pretty tough at times. No question about it. We’re handed a raw deal a lot of days, battling for survival, fighting for love, toiling for money. It’s easy to get discouraged. In the rough environment of life its hard to stay upbeat, but I do a pretty good job of it. In fact, I get asked all the time, and have for decades, how in the world I can stay so positive. It’s a good question; let me address it.
First of all, I don’t. I mean, I don’t always stay so positive. Tuesdays generally suck, and there are times I say dumb things to my wife and she doesn’t talk to me for a day and a half. I’m not real uplifted at those times. I see what’s going on in the world and I get discouraged. People can be terrible to one another. Especially the rich and powerful ones. The richer and more powerful, it seems, the more terrible. It’s disheartening.
But, by and large, folks are right; I do tend to keep a positive outlook. I always think the sun is going to come out tomorrow, to borrow a phrase.
When people ask me that question, how I can remain so positive, I usually respond in some offhand way and take a drink of my beer. Beer is usually around when I’m talking to people. I’ll often say something sly like “beer” or something profound like “nothing’s ever really that bad, is it?”
And I suppose there’s a little truth in both of those answers but the real big, enigmatic secret of my positive outlook is this: I work on it. I worked on it all the time when I was younger. I work on it all the time, now.
Like anything, when you really work at a thing, you get better at it. It comes naturally. Like the way I write now or the way I come up with superhero gaming stories on the fly that seem like I’ve worked on them for weeks. Or the way I say what the football announcer is going to say about a play moments before he does. Those are my 10,000 hours.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller Outliers, came up with the 10,000-hour rule of mastery. Basically, it states that to be the best, you have to put in the time. Somehow he came up with the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, or craft, or whatever. Not “somehow,” actually, he did a lot of research. Virtuosos, basketball legends, chess champions, and whatnot, they all put in the 10,000-hours-to-mastery, according to his research. Now, not everyone agrees with the idea of the 10,000-hour rule, but you get the gist, just the same. To get good at something, do the work.
When I was a younger man, I admired people who smiled and laughed, even through the worst of times. I wasn’t able to do that. As a young man, I was shyish, nervous, and depressed, particularly in my teens. I would “fake it to make it,” at times, but overall, not so happy. Along the way, I made the decision that I wanted to be a different kind of man than the man I was developing into. I started doing something weird: looking at the bright side of life, as much as humanly possible. I started to smile all the time. And mean it.
I don’t know when I turned the corner, when I hit my 10,000-hours, but somewhere along the way I did. Now, as long as my wife is talking to me, I’m pretty much upbeat pretty much all the time.
Just kidding. It’s the beer. 😉
I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, why in the hell would you waste your 10,000 hours on something so ludicrous as thinking positive and making up superhero stories. I mean, you could have been a chess champion, for god’s sake!
No, I couldn’t. That requires hours and hours of intense concentration and, if you know me, you know I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long without losing my damn mind. Call it ADD. Or call me a restless soul. Call me Tom, being Tom. I’m actually okay with it. I don’t much love chess, anyway.
But I could have been a basketball legend. I like basketball. If I were taller, faster, and could shoot a basketball, I could have been a legend.
But I digress.
Some of the rest of you are thinking this: well, that sounds like too many hours to me, and I don’t need to be that positive about anything.
I’ll wrap both of your thoughts into one cohesive response in just a minute, but first I want to practice my jumper.
Okay, I’m back. I was 2 for 10. Is that good?
Now, here’s that cohesive response: awesome! If positivity isn’t your thing, don’t worry about it. Your thing may be chasing money, some people really get into that. Your thing may be mountain climbing or knowing everything about cars, or memorizing all the lyrics, or studying the history of man, or astrology or a certain religion or something. Those are really great things, and you’ve probably already put in a lot of time in them already. Sweet. As long as your passion isn’t collecting body parts or torturing chickens, it’s probably a pretty good one.
But here’s the catch: know it for sure.
You’ll know you’re on the right path if you’re pretty much happy all the time. If you spend hours upon hours chasing money but can’t ever get enough and you’re pretty much miserable doing the chasing, it’s not your thing. I know. I tried to make it my thing once and I hated it.
But if you absolutely love the chase and you absolutely love the payoff, climb that mountain. Study them stars. Play that stock market. Sing those songs. Loud and proud.
I read a lot of psychology. That’s still probably my favorite thing to read. There’s an entire branch of psychology, and it’s still pretty young compared to all the other branches, called positive psychology. It essentially studies the condition of being happy.
Some time in my 20’s I came across it and I began to swallow up whole volumes of the stuff from Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Jonathan Haidt, Sonya Lyubomirsky, Carol Dweck, Abraham Maslow, and Viktor Frankl. Just to name a few. Studying the science behind positivity helped to shape me into the man that I am.
There’s a lot of fluff out there, too. Tons of articles and books try to give you a step-by-step procedure on how to be happy. It’s crap. There are no step-by-step procedures that work for everyone. Everyone is different, so everyone can’t chase the same path to a better life. If it’s acquisition of wealth that makes you happy you’re going to follow a different path to your personal paradise than the person who loves, say, all the creatures in the sea.
The only real secret to happiness, and all the great positive psychologists expound upon this, is following your own path to it. Gasp. Be yourself. Just make sure you know who that is, because the very first thing that happens to all of us in life is we get told by everyone who it should be. Over and over and over again, by parents and teachers and peers. By preachers and advertisers. By society. The first thing I did on the road to a happy life and a positive outlook was break that conditioning.
It’s much harder than you think.
Breaking free from the programming leads most folks into further negativity. Rebels tend to rebel. It’s hard not to get bitter when everyone is trying to move you back into the box. It’s hard not to get judgmental when you feel like you’re free but it seems like everyone else is still trapped.
I don’t think that way.
Wanna know why?
Because just the same way that everyone’s path doesn’t work for me I know that my path doesn’t work for everyone. Nobody’s better. We’re all just different.
So if you can figure out who you are, avoid judging others for who they are, and not cause harm along the way, you’ve done pretty good. In fact, you’ve done great. You can smile and laugh in the utter self-assurance that life is exactly what it should be, for you.
Life is exactly what it should be, for me.
That’s why I’m always so positive. 😊