You may have heard of the children’s classic book Charlotte’s Web written by American novelist E.B. White. He was a gifted writer, but something not so well-known about him, as revealed in his autobiography, was that he was a hypochondriac and spent most of his life, from the age of 10 on, worrying he would die. Instead, he lived to be 86 years old.
At the age of 81, when it finally occurred to him he might not die anytime soon, he bought a canoe, tied it to the top of his car, went on a trip, and finally began enjoying life. But it took him 81 years to realise his situation wasn’t as precarious as he’d imagined.
I think a lot of us are like that. We believe the worst is going to happen; that something bad will happen today, or I’m not going to handle what today dishes up for me. We can be easily caught up in the fears of life, or the attitudes we choose to adopt. So often it’s not what we face, as much as the way we choose to face it. You may have heard that said before, but I’m quite sure it’s true.
I’ve shared the story before of a shoe salesman who was sent to a remote part of the country. When he arrived, he was dismayed because everyone went around barefooted. He wired the company back home: “No prospect for sales here. People don’t wear shoes.” Later another salesman went to the same territory. He too immediately sent word to the home office, but his telegram read, “Great potential! People don’t wear shoes here!” Heard the saying? One man’s disaster, another man’s opportunity.
Our attitude has a great deal to do with the outcome of our lives. It also affects our happiness. A Peanuts cartoon a few years ago has Lucy, a pessimist in her own right, asking Charlie Brown if he has ever known anyone who is truly happy. Before she can finish her sentence, Snoopy comes dancing on tiptoe into the frame, his nose high in the air as only Snoopy can do, his ears straight out to the sides, a beaming smile on his face. He dances his way across two frames of the cartoon strip. Finally, in the last frame, Lucy finishes her sentence: “Have you ever known anybody who was really happy—and was still in his or her right mind?”
Adopting a positive attitude
If you are one of those kinds of people who can smile at the prospect of selling shoes to people who are used to going barefoot or dance your way through life with others just shaking their heads, then I may not have much to say this morning that you don’t already know. Stephen Covey wrote a powerful book, The 7 Habits of highly effective people, and he basically explained that life gets into focus if you adopt the following principles:
- Be proactive: You are responsible for your life. Decide what you should do and get on with it.
- Begin with the end in mind: Think of how you want to be remembered at your funeral. Use this as a basis for your everyday behaviour.
- Put first things first: Devote more time to what’s important but not necessarily urgent.
- Think win-win: Have an abundance mentality. Seek solutions that benefit all parties.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood: Don’t dive into a conversation. Listen until you truly understand the other person.
- Synergise: Find ways to cooperate with everyone. Value the differences between people.
- Sharpen the saw: Continually exercise and renew four elements of your self: physical, mental, emotional/social, and spiritual.
If you follow these principles you will become a more effective person.
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I suspect however, that some of us are a bit more pessimistic than we ought to be. That’s why I love Philippians 4:8 from the Bible: “Keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise”. And verse 9 adds, “…And God, who gives peace, will be with you”. What a wonderful verse from the Bible—a verse that can actually make all the difference for you today.
(To be continued in Trying to Maintain a Positive Attitude – Part 2)