Mar 222012

Recently, I wrote about Pollyanna’s decision to play “The Glad Game” ( This week I had the opportunity to play the Glad Game myself. My son, who tends to bring home more than his fair share of viruses, was sick again. One of my daughters was sick as well. That left my husband, my other daughter, and myself all in the line of fire to catch a nasty cold. The bug seemed to be going around my daughters’ school, and I couldn’t help but notice that the variety of responses to the prospect of being ill by those around me. A negative thinker in the bunch used it as another occasion to complain about yet another cold being passed around, as well as other aspects of her life that she viewed negatively.  My husband, who is very easy going, adopted a “What will be, will be” type attitude about the possibility of being infected by my germ laden son. The ever enthusiastic optimist in the crowd, that would be me, tried to act as if the illness did not exist and kept mumbling, “I am not getting sick. I am not getting sick. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow,” while consuming heavy doses of a variety of vitamins and supplements.  

As I thought about the spectrum of reactions, I began to also think about the glasses that each of us wears.  No, I am not referring to corrective lenses. Perhaps you recall the phrase “seeing the world through rose colored glasses?”  It is very much like Pollyanna’s decision to play the Glad Game even when presented with the possibility that she might never walk again. Well, you, and everyone around you, view the world through a set of glasses. Your “glasses” are the outlook that you have adopted toward life.  They dictate how you respond to any given situation, and your overall perception of reality. You may not have voluntarily chosen the glasses you wear. That is, you were born with a particular temperament.  Then you spent years being part of a family that lived life in a certain manner.  These “family themes” are sometimes easier to recognize in other families than in your own.  Consider what we know about the famous Kennedy family of Massachusetts.  The children in that family were taught to take risks and have high aspirations.  Now consider the type of themes that your parents indoctrinated into you as a child. Were they positive themes (e.g., you can be successful) or negative themes (e.g., don’t make a mistake or you will fail)? Were they enabling or disabling? Finally, consider whether you have incorporated those themes into the outlook that you have as an adult.   

As you think about the theme that you live with and by, note how those around you employ themes in their lives. For example, consider how you, your family members, your boss, your employees, and your friends might react to a particular situation.  Imagine being stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a long freight train to pass while you’re enroute to see a movie.  If there are several people in the car, there will undoubtedly be a wide variety of reactions.  Some people will be angry that they might miss the movie. Their theme focuses on the unfairness of life, or that life can become negative at any time. Others will see the same situation as a good excuse not to sit through all of the trailers that are shown before the main feature. These are people whose theme helps them to adapt or “go with the flow” of life. Still others will begin looking through the newspaper to see what other movies are available or even suggest just stopping off for coffee and dessert at that new restaurant in town. These are the individuals who view any situation as an opportunity to have something positive happen. Each of these individuals is reacting differently to the situation, in part, because of the theme that they have chosen to adopt.  It is clear that each one of these people wears a different set of glasses.

No doubt, you’ve read many articles about how your unconscious attitudes or themes affect your life.  However, I would like you to consider two  ways in which the glasses that you have chosen to wear affect your life.  First, they impact how those around you function.  Second, they also impact how others choose to view you. In order to explore these ideas further, allow me to introduce you to two imaginary individuals who wear very different sets of glasses: Ned (the negative thinker) and Oscar (the optimist).

Ned is a nay-sayer.  He can find the negative aspect of any situation even if it requires looking all night long.  Ned even found a negative point about winning the state lottery when he said, “imagine the taxes, the financial planning, and all the additional telemarketing telephone calls that I’d receive night after night.” Ned views the world as a dark and dangerous place.  Every decision is monumental.  Each life choice must be painstakingly scrutinized.  Consequently, Ned spends much of his free time worrying about the 1001 bad things that might happen to him at any time.  Ned’s brother was surprised when Ned actually had no reaction to a newspaper story that an asteroid might strike Earth within the next 100 years! 

Oscar, on the other hand, is an optimist.  He sees each day as another opportunity to be successful and help others.  The idea of doing something new and different excites Oscar because he likes to contemplate and explore all the interesting possibilities in life that are placed before him. He views life as a journey.  Even the setbacks that Oscar faces now and then are nothing more than life lessons that will ultimately help him to become more successful.

It may seem obvious to you how the glasses that Ned and Oscar wear impact how they function and perform in life.  What may not be so obvious is how others react to Ned and Oscar because of the glasses that each one has chosen to wear.  Ned and Oscar are supervisors at the same company.  Each is responsible for managing a large group of employees.  The people who Ned supervises don’t often approach him with new ideas.  They know that he wants to “stick with what works.”  He leads with an iron fist because controlling others gives Ned a feeling of security.  He sometimes micromanages situations and instills fear in his staff.  Ned’s entire work group has adopted his tentative attitude and is constantly concerned about the possible pitfalls that may result from their decisions.  While Ned’s supervisor views him as a dependable employee, she also sees him as a bit of a “stick in the mud.”  She has given up on passing along motivational material to Ned because she knows he will only see the negative aspects of the information.  At home, Ned’s family is well aware of his penchant for negativity.  His constant ruminations and worrying cause unnecessary tension and anxiety at home.  His wife is afraid to tell him about her problems because he will become upset.  His children have learned that he will be unresponsive to them as he lies on the couch and considers his negative fate.

There is quite another atmosphere in Oscar’s house. Oscar’s offspring can’t wait for him to get home.  He always has a great story to tell them and has time to help them work through their problems.  Oscar and his wife enjoy talking about things that they would like to do in the future.  They also try their best to enjoy each day as well.  Oscar is like a beacon of light at work.  His outlook inspires his employees to do their best.  He is interested in new ideas, strategies, and technology that will help his employees to meet and beat anything that their competitors might be doing.  Oscar has a plaque on his desk that reminds him of the benefits of persistence and a positive outlook. Oscar’s boss doesn’t bother giving him motivational material either.  However, unlike Ned, motivational material is unnecessary because Oscar is always bursting through her door with motivational material of his own to give to her.  Oscar’s employer sees him as a go-getter who will someday be running the whole company or forming an innovative company of his own!

As you can see from this example, the glasses that you put on every morning impact how you view the world, and how you will function in it. Additionally, the glasses that you wear directly impact how those around you behave and react to you.  Consider the overall impression that your boss, your spouse, and your friends have about you.  Are you a fun person to be around?  Are you always down in the dumps?  Do they think of you as one of the most energetic people in their lives?  Have they written you off of their “people who like to try something new” list? If you wear glasses that are similar to Ned’s, you may not realize the opportunities that you have missed, the relationships that have been damaged, and the potential successes that have not been realized merely because you wear a negative set of glasses much of the time. Although everyone has a “dark glasses day” now and then, it is up to you to choose to wear the clear and sharp glasses of an optimist. It is those glasses that will help you to see the opportunities around you and seize success in your life at home and work.

Today is the day to step back and examine how you view the world.  Ask others how they perceive you.  Evaluate how your actions communicate your view of the world to others.   When you get up tomorrow morning, make the choice to put on the bright sunny glasses that Oscar wears.  Then, go out there and have a great day!  Oh, how did I choose to play the Glad Game? I decided to be thankful that I did not get nearly as sick as my kids!

Copyright © 1997 – 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Mar 142012

Here is the question that was sent to “Ask Dr. Rempel” at : “How do you keep your dreams and goals alive in the face of adversity and depression?”

A Sense of Purpose

          The question from our subscriber is one that is commonly asked of motivational coaches.  Everyone has dreams. You may have formulated achievable goals based upon your dreams. However, you will undoubtedly face stumbling blocks (both internal and external) enroute to realizing your goals.  Therefore, the question arises as to how you can maintain a focus on and move toward your goals when you encounter an obstacle?

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the question is that the questioner noted that it is difficult for her to move toward her goals “in the face of adversity and depression.” I have met many people who will encounter an obstacle, feel frustrated and depressed, and then give up. Why do they give up so easily? Most motivational “experts” will talk about feelings of depression stemming from a lack of focus. I suggest, instead, that obstacles may sidetrack a person from achieving his or her goals, and indeed cause a sense of frustration to arise on the road toward achieving those goals, for two reasons. First, the goals you have set are arbitrary, and second, you may not have defined a sense of purpose in your life.

          Most of us have thought about the direction in which we want our lives to flow.  Common aspirations include becoming well-known and earning a significant income. The question is, however, will those goals cause us to have a sense of fulfillment with our lives? One of my favorite authors, Dennis Prager, said in his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual

that in order to be happy, a person must have both personal meaning and believe that life itself is meaningful. I agree with that premise and would add that feeling satisfied with one’s life directly corresponds to having a sense of purpose in life and moving toward goals that are connected to the person’s mission in life.

How did you develop the goals that you have set forth for yourself? All too often people develop their goals with the underlying belief that they will be satisfied if they achieve a certain amount of money and power. Consider three titles of junk email that recently arrived in my mailbox:  “Have a six figure income in 30 days”, “earn $100 to $1500 per day”, and “are you serious about making money?” Those ads were designed to appeal to the person who believes that having a sufficient amount of money will give meaning to his or her life. In reality, money can make your life more comfortable, but it will not give it meaning. It’s more than likely that when you continue to search for a sense of fulfillment even after you reach your monetary goal, you will decide that a true sense of satisfaction has eluded you only because you did not set your goal high enough. Unfortunately, It is unlikely that you will ever feel that your life has meaning, no matter how much money you have.

Another goal that you may have set for yourself is to become the president, CEO, or leader of something. This goal may also carry little meaning because you will probably feel only momentary satisfaction once you have reached it.  People who reach this type of goal often go on to aspire to control and direct an even larger enterprise or entity. The problem with both of the goals discussed above is that they carry little meaning in and of themselves. They carry little meaning because they do not enhance your sense of purpose. 

What is your mission in life? The objective of acquiring money and power is no different from a child’s desire to collect and control all the tokens in a game of jacks. Those may be goals that you set as part of a master plan for living a successful life. However, you must also ask yourself what you can do to make a difference for others.  What or who will be changed by your presence after your life has ended? How can you positively impact your family, your community, and the society in which you live? There is no time to lose! Life is indeed a gift that has been bestowed upon you, and it is imperative for you to make the most out of each day that you spend here on Earth.  Now is the time to define your sense of purpose and pursue it to the fullest.