During a recent conversation, the topic turned to the latest news on television. When asked for my opinion, I prefaced my answer by saying, “You know that I always search for the silver lining, don’t you?” A friend answered in a way that surprised me by saying, “I know you are a positive thinker, but I also consider you a realist.” A realist? It’s true that I don’t deny that bad things happen, I just do my best to not let them destroy my happiness or peace of mind. Yet, rather than thinking of myself as a realist, I prefer the idea of being a practical optimist. While optimism is important, vitally important, keeping things pragmatic is equally necessary. After all, if something doesn’t bring you the results you want, it’s advantageous to keep trying to discover what does. And if you are standing in front of a charging elephant, it is best to move out of the way.
Of course, if you’ve been reading SMART Living 365 for any length of time you probably already knew that about me, didn’t you? And you are also likely aware of the many benefits that come from being an optimist. Those well-researched benefits include living a longer and healthier life, having more friends, happier marriages, and experiencing less depression. There is also evidence that optimists make more money, experience greater success in their lives and are considered far more resilient when faced with loss or challenge.
Still, what you might not know is that a current focus on “practical” optimism is now popping up in the education field. That teaching emphasizes a child’s ability to develop the “habit” of consistently focusing on what is useful and positive in their lives. One of the ways they do that is by telling a story of Treasure Hunters and Trash Collectors. Taken from a book called 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning by authors Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson, the story goes like this:
It seems that in life there are two types of people. The first are treasure hunters. Every day they seek out what is useful and positive. They focus on it, talk about it, and think about it. Each of these moments is treasured like a bright, shining jewel that they store in their treasure chest forever.
And then there are trash collectors who spend their lives looking for what is wrong, unfair, and not working. They focus their energy, time, and thoughts on the trash, and every day they put that trash into a big trashcan.
The treasure hunters proudly carry their treasure into the future, while the trash collectors drag their heavy, smelly trashcan from one day to the next. The question is: When they get to the end of the year, what does each person have—a treasure chest filled with useful, positive memories, or a trash can full of things they didn’t like?
The choice is yours. You get to decide.
The strategy is to follow up the story with ongoing questions that encourage the students to think of the positive things in their life on a regular basis. Not only are they asked to list these experiences, they are also introduced to the idea of using mind-maps to draw and show connections to how these experiences evolve in their lives. By teaching the students to continually “…seek out what is useful and positive,” they make such discovery an ongoing habit. The educators believe that showing students that they have “the capacity to increase their levels of practical optimism by the choices they make” leads to many of them being motivated to do so. Who among us wouldn’t be equally inspired?
They don’t just stop with the Treasure Hunter and Trash Collector story either. The authors recognize that the teachers and the administrators at every school have a large influence on the students in their care. They recommend that everyone at the school:
- Celebrate achievements, however small, for every positive step forward you take.
- Spend time with people and in places that make you feel happy, refreshed and rejuvenated.
- Express gratitude every single day.
- Regularly commit small acts of kindness.
- Give your brain and your body a positive energetic workout on a daily basis.
- Infuse positive feelings into your surroundings.
- Be mindful of your emotional state on a regular basis.
These educators also make a practice of reminding their students (and hopefully themselves) that our brains are continually growing and capable of change regardless of the past. When children and adults hear the ongoing message that our brains are plastic enough to continue to evolve throughout our lifetimes, we will hopefully never stop wanting to learn. It’s also vital to know we can learn no matter what our age.
In an interview by one of the authors, Marcus Conyers shares the philosophy that enabled him to write eight books around the topic of helping to create healthy and optimistic children. He said that as a child his mother, “…guided my thoughts every night in a way that would lead me to be a lifelong optimist. Every night before I went to sleep, my mother would ask, ‘What were the best things that happened today, Marcus?’ Then she would say, ‘Watch out tomorrow for even more wonderful things.’ So, each day in my early years, I learned to save the treasures of the day and look forward to the new shining treasures of tomorrow.” Would that we all had a mother that taught us about practical optimism?
A couple of months ago Thom and I purchased a new piece of art for our house. While we love the color and the movement it portrays, what is even more important is the story behind the image. Titled, And The Sun Came, the picture represents women in Uganda who have faced undefinable challenges in their life. Yet regardless of the difficulties, they hold the practical and optimistic view that the sun will always shine again. I believe this is a way that we have infused positive feelings into our personal surroundings.
I doubt most of these ideas are new to my readers, but if you are anything like me you appreciate the reminder. I also find it helpful to know that there are resources for children and schools in light of the news these days. Surely if children can be given resources to let them know that they can choose to seek out the positive and make improvements to their life, that is a good thing. No one is suggesting that all we have to do is think happy thoughts and expect good things to happen and everything will be wonderful. Things happen. Instead, it is always SMART to know that in spite the circumstances, we can pull through anything. The sun always comes up. So, do you consider yourself to be a treasure hunter or a trash collector? The choice is yours and you get to decide.
Okay, your turn! Are you a trash collector or treasure hunter? Do you have a personal story you can share that explains why? How about your children or grandchildren? Please share in the comments below?