The Glad Game
It was an opportune moment for the birth of the archetypal optimist. Pollyanna, an eleven-year-old orphan who is cheerfully determined to find “something to be glad about” in everything life throws at her, was first brought to life in the writings of Eleanor H. Porter in 1913.
Such has been Pollyanna’s influence that a century later she is still inspiring optimists among the youngsters of today, having scarcely been out of print since her inception. Generations of children have tried to follow her example by playing her famous “glad game”, which makes looking on the bright side into a challenging but fun game.
The Pollyanna books are set in Vermont, USA, where the young heroine goes to live with a most discouraging aunt after the death of her father. It was he who had invented the “glad game” after his daughter received in a charity donation a pair of crutches instead of the doll she had hoped for – his positive thinking response was that they could be glad they didn’t actually need the crutches. From then on, father and daughter make it a game to find something to be glad about in every potential disappointment.
The very day she arrives at her aunt’s house after the loss of her father, Pollyanna is banished from the dinner table for some misdeed. But far from being upset, she is glad when told of this punishment by her aunt’s maid, Nancy. In the following extract, Pollyanna proceeds to explain herself to Nancy:
“I’m afraid you’ll have ter have bread and milk in the kitchen with me. Yer aunt didn’t like it – because you didn’t come down ter supper, ye know … I’m sorry about the bread and milk.” “Oh, I’m not. I’m glad.”
“Why, I like bread and milk, and I’d like to eat with you. I don’t see any trouble about being glad about that.”
“You don’t seem ter see any trouble bein’ glad about everythin’,” retorted Nancy, choking a little over her remembrance of Pollyanna’s brave attempts to like the bare little attic room. Pollyanna laughed softly. “Well, that’s the game, you know.”
We might all do well to give this simple philosophy a try. If, when things are hard, we indulge in self-pity and see ourselves as victims, we not only increase our unhappiness but there’s a tendency to put blame on others; this creates an unproductive spiral. The story of Pollyanna recommends not only a positive attitude towards misfortune but having a positive attitude to others. Elsewhere in the book, Eleanor H. Porter writes:
What men and women need is encouragement. Instead of always harping on a man’s faults, tell him of his virtues. Hold up to him his better self, his REAL self that can dare and do and win out! The influence of a beautiful, helpful, hopeful character is contagious, and may revolutionize a whole town…. If a man feels kindly and obliging his neighbours will feel that way too, before long. But if he scolds and scowls and criticizes – his neighbours will return scowl for scowl. When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good – you will get that.
Long live the Pollyannas of the world who resolutely turn towards the light. They create an upwards spiral which spreads out and catches us all up.