OPINION: Can we rediscover our optimism?

January 19, 2021 by Glenn Mangurian

If you are a regular reader of my monthly emails you know that my goal is to write only positive and thought provoking essays. Recent months have been challenging because of the political, social and health challenges that have created high levels of stress and anxiety for all of us.

A Civil War of Words

Like you, I have been struggling with the news and national negative conversation. We are in the midst of a civil war of words supported by daily video images of violence and political infighting. We seek emotional safety retreating to our tribes of like-minded people who fear for the future of our country and are wary of prolonged civil unrest. Our polarized politics have strained family, friendship and collegial relationships. 2021 promised to be a different year – a year of reconciliation and unity. Little did we know what was to happen on January 6th. On top of all that, the coronavirus is killing our citizens at an alarming and increasing rate - just passing 400,000 people.

Remembering MLK

I decided to think about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I listened to his iconic speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Underlying Dr. King’s message was optimism – the confidence in and hope for a better future. That sentiment is integral to our national ethos of “creating a more perfect union”. We take pride in calling our country the “land of opportunity”. As discouraging as things are now, we can’t live in fear of what might happen tomorrow.

It's Our Choice

We often expect our leaders to create optimism for us. Aren’t optimism and pessimism our states of mind; windows on the world which influence how we act? While leadership can contribute to how we view our situations, in the end it is our choice. When we are optimistic, we have more energy, are happier and do more meaningful things.

Positive Psychology

Dr. Martin Seligman and Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized the concept of positive psychology in 1998. The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often drawn by the future more than they are driven by the past. In other words how we think about the future influences our happiness today.

People often ask me how I maintain my positive attitude. My simple answer is that I’ve looked at the alternative and I don’t like it. Since my spinal cord injury almost 20 years ago, I have practiced a daily powerful habit. When I wake up in the morning, I create something to look forward to that day. It can be as simple as anticipating a delicious homemade meal. A second practice is my commitment to write about positive topics. This forces me to notice and reflect on positive aspects of life.

Taking Personal Responsibility

Yes, I have some optimism for the future. Look around and see the profiles in courage in everyday life – the first responders, healthcare workers, bus drivers, volunteers and other selfless people who contribute to our quality of life. Put others’ needs above your own. When we serve something larger than ourselves, we feel good.

We are resilient people and a resilient society. If you find yourself anxious about an uncertain future create something to look forward to today.  If it helps ease the burden of worry, try it again tomorrow. It’s not going to solve all the country’s problems but it might help you rediscover optimism and that’s a good thing.

Glenn Mangurian has been a resident of Hingham for 35 years. He is a retired business leader with more than four decades of experience driving innovation and results with his clients. Glenn remains active with his writing, speaking, family, and community.

In May 2001, Glenn suffered an injury to his spinal cord, resulting in the paralysis of his lower body. Drawing on his personal experience, he authored an article titled “Realizing What You’re Made Of,” which was published in March 2007 in the Harvard Business Review. In May 2017 he published his first book, Pushing the Edge of Thought, Possibility and Action – Questions and Insights from Everyday Life.

Glenn Mangurian can be reached at: [email protected]

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