The Glass is Half Full (of BS)
"You're so positive! You really have a bright outlook on things!"
So say coworkers and acquaintances, but it's not something I ever really considered to be one of my defining personality traits. Sarcastic, judgmental, with a tendency to complain-- yes, yes, and (according to my mother) yes. But positive, glass-is-half-full gal? Is that really me?
Well, yes and no. Living in a foreign country is a lot harder than you'd expect. Things that should be easy are difficult, every little chore seems a bit more exhausting, and it's easy to begin to feel beaten down and victimized. When your class is canceled, or a taxi driver won't stop for you, or the store stops carrying that familiar brand from home, it's so easy to take it personally, to feel that your school or the country or even the world is against you.
It's like a big muddy snowball of negativity. You start it rolling, and by the end of the day, it's collected up every tiny bad thing that happened. By the end of the month, you don't have any space for good things because you've got this huge dirty snowball to roll around. It even starts to taint the good things that happen. If your coworker gives you a cookie, you're just annoyed because you're trying to stick to your diet. Instead of noticing how hard your students are trying in class, you only notice how noisy they are.
In truth, my positive outlook is a big lie. It's a lie I tell to myself because I have to, and a lie I tell to other people because I want to. The way I see it, your life is just a story, and you can decide what kind of story it's going to be, to some extent at least.
Lately, I've been thinking quite a lot about stories; the stories we love, the stories we tell to others, and the stories we tell to ourselves, and how they shape reality. I've always loved stories, and I'm pretty sure that's why I learned to read so quickly. The ability to find all the stories I want? Without having to convince my mom or dad to tell them to me? It was perfection. No matter where we get our stories, though, be it from books, movies, television, video games, what have you, it's undeniable that they shape us. From the way we fall in love to the way we react to failures or challenges, it all comes back to stories.
For example, at my last apartment, there were a lot of "quirks" that came with the place. I had to enter the apartment through the back courtyard of the restaurant on the ground floor. My landlords owned a skittish dog who didn't take well to visitors. My washing machine was constantly broken, to the point where I decided to just give up and hand wash all my clothes. After telling a story about the washing machine, and mentioning that it's actually quite relaxing to hand wash clothes, and better for the clothes besides, a friend was amazed by how positively I reacted to the situation, even though to him it sounded really annoying.
That's an example of a lie I tell myself because I have to. Why do I have to? There are inevitably annoying and difficult things in your life, and if you just see them as annoying and difficult, that's all they will be. If you tell yourself they're heavy, they will get heavier. But if I tell myself that hand washing is relaxing, it's easier to bear. If I tell myself that my hardships are entertaining, I can ignore them more easily.
Even so, I'm not actually a very positive person. I react poorly to failure, to criticism, to difficulties; I'm lazy, impatient, and prone to giving up. I often only do nice things in order to get favors in return. I'm selfish. Pretty nice picture, huh?
However, I've decided that that's not the kind of person I want to be. I want to be generous, kind, responsible, able to find the silver lining in any situation. So, when I'm faced with a situation that I find annoying or difficult, I force myself to find the good in it. It's difficult, because my go-to reaction is usually more of the "bitch/moan/complain/feel sorry for myself/give up" variety. When I want to do the lazy thing, like let the next person to use the copy machine refill the paper, I force myself to go downstairs and get more paper, because that's the kind of person I want to be.
The funny thing is, the more you act like the kind of person you want to be, the more you seem to become that person. Eventually, if you keep forcing yourself to look at the positive side of things, you pretty much just are the person who sees the positive side of things, even if inside you know that it's a bunch of lies.