I’m going to start with a couple of stories that will help to illustrate my point later on.
The first one begins with one of our daughters bringing the boyfriend out to the farm. It was late spring and we were starting to wind up planting. This usually means we have various vehicles and equipment scattered over various farms. Neil tells the boyfriend to hop in the car and they’re going to head to one of the farms to pick up a grain truck that needed to come home. For some reason he chose to take the car that was our “best” vehicle in terms of it’s condition, comfort, mileage, etc. instead of one of our more beat up farm vehicles. The plan was for Neil to drive the grain truck home and the boyfriend to bring the car back home. I’m at home and my phone rings. It’s my mother in law. She lives just across the road from us. She asks me why my car is parked on the side of the road with smoke coming out of it. This particular car was an automatic with a slapstick. This means that it’s an automatic, but by pulling the gear shift back a little further and “slapping” it to the left you can then shift it like you would a standard transmission. Somehow the boyfriend didn’t realize that he’d put the car into first gear, instead of drive, and he drove it home like it was in drive. He commented how he was finding it odd that he was having so much trouble getting the vehicle up to 100 km/hour. So basically what he did in the 7 mile journey home was cook the engine. It was done.
The second story happened just this past summer. In December of 2015 Neil and I were very blessed and purchased ourselves a brand new side by side ATV. Now this side by side has been such a great purchase for us. It allows me to hit the trails at times where my chronic pain wouldn’t have allowed me to if I had to drive my quad because the suspension is significantly better. It allows Neil and I to ride together. It gave us a machine, with two additional seats to take on our annual quadding trip with the girls and it’s extremely helpful around the farm. We use it almost daily. It was August 2017 and we were on our annual camping trip. Our daughters were there along with some of their friends, my sister and nephew and a best friend of mine and her family. What an excellent group! People that just mean the world to us. So two of these fine folks, with our encouragement and permission headed out for a quick ride in the side by side. The driver a very capable person who we trusted. A fair amount of time goes by. We comment back at the camp that they sure went for a long ride. Dark is approaching when the driver gets dropped off at camp by a different group of campers. Uh oh. They had driven through a “puddle” that turned out to be a lot deeper than they expected. These puddles have deep spots and shallow spots formed by the ruts of all the machines that have gone before. This puddle was just plain deep, plus the passenger side had tipped into an even deeper section caused by a rut. The passenger side of the machine was flooded. Normally that isn’t a big deal. These machines were made for this sort of thing. They’d gotten the side by side pulled out of the puddle, but it wouldn’t start. What had happened was that it had sunk into the water deep enough that the water went over the air intake. This essentially caused the machine to suck water into it’s engine and all other components. Just like if you were drowning and breathed in water. Not good. So for the next 24 hours while the boys worked on it we didn’t know if the machine was forever dead or if they could get the water out and it would live again.
There’s just a whole lot of ways that we could have reacted to these two disasters. A lot of people would agree that we would have been justified to yell, scream or cry. Perhaps make a few comments towards the offenders about what a stupid mistake they made. But we didn’t. And we didn’t easily and on purpose. Why was it easy? Because we try to make a habit, every day, every time, every situation, to look for the positive first. Now in these particular examples there’s not a whole lot of positive to see, but that habit of seeing the positive first allowed other things to happen in the background of my mind before something ever came out of my mouth.
My heart immediately sank for how awful the other people must feel. In the case of the car the boyfriend would surely have felt incredible embarrassment. He was likely mad at himself. He didn’t really know us that well yet; he was probably scared beyond belief. For the daughter she was likely a little mad at the boyfriend, she was probably feeling embarrassment and she would have been torn between feeling bad for her boyfriend and feeling bad for us. They were both probably nervous about the financial ramifications. They were young and living paycheck to paycheck. In the case of the side by side; my goodness, can you imagine how heavy the drivers heart was when he had to get out of that strangers vehicle and walk in to camp to face us? How desperately they must have tried to get it out of the puddle and just hoping everything was ok and instead the more time that passed the worse things were looking. I didn’t want to be experiencing what I was feeling, but I also wouldn’t have wanted to experience what they were feeling!
And it’s not to say that I didn’t experience some negative emotion! I certainly did. I was sick with the financial implications of both incidents. I was confused on how the boyfriend didn’t realize that the vehicle was just wound right out, why didn’t he stop when he was having so much trouble getting it to go? How could he see the speed but not the RPMs buried in the red or the gear indicator at one instead of Drive? With the side by side I was sad for me but also incredibly sad for Neil. That side by side was a mark of achievement for him, he’d set a goal, he’d reached it. It was a way to provide something comfortable and nice for his family. It helped ease the labor of the farm work and he deserved all of those things. But the truth was, those folks already knew they’d messed up and they certainly did not do it on purpose. I can guarantee if they could have rewound time they would have in a heartbeat. Me venting my feelings about the situation would have done absolutely nothing to make it better. It was impossible to make them feel bad enough that suddenly those engines would run again.
We all know people who tend to be negative Nelly’s. When you talk to them the first things you hear about are everything that’s going wrong. Then there’s the Happy Happy’s. No matter what sort of crap hits them they smile through it. Sometimes people who are negative blame their outlook on their circumstances. They are the way they are because the world has handed them nothing but hardship. They claim the Happy Happy’s are the way they are because they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. But that just doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t matter a person’s background, you can compare two people from a difficult background, two people from a regular life background and two people from a fancy background and still find your Negative Nelly and Happy Happy’s in each group.
Some people are born naturally more inclined to negativity or positivity. But you have the choice about whether you choose to continue to develop your personality along those lines. If you suspect you are in the Negative Nelly category, may I encourage you to consider putting in the work to turn that around? If you can do it, it carries a ton of benefits:
- You spend less time worried about things and even less time worrying about things you cannot change
- You can be more empathetic towards others
- You feel more peaceful, you’re more likely to believe that things will work out ok
- It builds confidence. You realize that sometimes life is just life and that if something bad has happened it hasn’t happened because the world hates you, has it out for you or you simply don’t deserve better.
The thing is, being negative tends to create a lot of noise in our heads, whereas being positive creates quiet. And that quiet allows a person to see better and understand better when the pressure is on. When you can see and understand better when the pressure is on you are more likely to see your options better and things tend to work out better. That’s why when someone is a Happy Happy their life tends to go easier for them. It’s not because the bad things don’t happen, but they are better able to see their way out of them and move on from them.
So how do you go from being a Negative Nelly to a Happy Happy? It’s about exercise. You have to exercise the Happy Happy. For a long time! Think of it like an exercise program for someone who’s 300lbs overweight. It’s gonna be fricken hard, you’re gonna want to quit, you’re gonna think it’s not working and your progress may be slow when you measure it against the big picture. Your emotions will object, but the work itself is not difficult. Every single time your emotions react negatively you stop your brain and you change that story. You spend enough time on it to see the positive! At first your instincts are going to try to prevent the change and give you an out by saying, there’s no positive in this, it’s impossible. You just tell your brain, fine, you want to be that way for right now? Fine. However, just because we don’t see the positive right now doesn’t mean it’s not coming! So I’m gonna just stop this negative thinking and I’m gonna allow life to continue and I’m gonna believe things are gonna be ok.
We have one daughter that tended towards the negative in her teenage years. We were very purposeful about explaining to her that there was often a positive to be had where she was seeing negative. Because she saw the negative first she tended to be unhappy. That’s certainly not something you want for your child! So we began to literally stop her the moment negativity started coming out of her mouth and we’d ask her to come up with some positive possibilities. As an adult she is generally happy. She is capable of being very encouraging to others when they are having difficulty because she helps them to see the positive potential. She understands that she has control and that life doesn’t hate her. However, when the pressure is on she sometimes still has to slow herself down and remind herself of what she’s learned. Sometimes, when the pressure is very intense she calls or visits with the express purpose of refocusing with our help. She knows what she needs to do, but it’s not always easy for her. Sometimes we’ve even had to ask her if she’s choosing to stick with the negative because she’s wanting to wallow in that pity party for a little longer? Because sometimes that’s all it is, attention seeking and a pity party. That’s not easy to own up to that! But the very few times it’s come down to us asking her that she’s eventually able to see it and choose to change her behavior to come out of it. Because she knows; she’s been in both places and she understands the benefits of focusing on the positive.
So all you Negative Nelly’s? I’d love to welcome you to the Happy Happy party!