You may have already seen this on my Facebook page, but if not, here, have an excellent feel-good holiday cry on me:
Right??? I’ve seen it dozens of times, and I still burst into tears every time it comes on. I may or may not have kept it open in a tab on my browser for a week or so for when I needed a big “awww” moment and a smile. You can too, I won’t judge.
The other day my mother mentioned that my father excitedly asked her to record the recent remake of Pollyanna on PBS. She was surprised to learn it was one of his favorite movies as a boy, after his whole family (he had five sisters) piled in at the drive-thru in 1960 and he fell head over heels in love with Hayley Mills. They kept it on their DVR so I could watch it from my apartment, and it was so utterly charming and uplifting that I completely understand why they felt “a little emotional” and / or cried their faces off watching it.
Georgina Terry as Pollyanna, © Carlton Television 2016
One of the central motifs of the film – and part of why the term “Pollyanna” caught on to describe irrepressibly optimistic people – is the Glad Game, invented by Pollyanna’s deceased father. In any unpleasant situation, the challenge is to find something to be glad about, however small or seemingly insignificant, and to hold onto that positivity.
In the past few weeks, I have not particularly wanted to feel glad about anything. It has been tempting to be overwhelmed with discouragement and sink under the crushing waves of despair, to dismiss any attempt at positivity as naïve, magical thinking, or to snap at people who pointed out rays of hope and tear them down for their privilege or lack of concern. It was like an across the board dirge of “Let’s call the whole thing off.”
But damn if Pollyanna didn’t get me right in the feels and remind me that the times when you feel low are the most important ones to play the Glad Game and to try to find the silver linings. I saw that the key to Pollyanna’s sunny disposition and perpetual good humor is that she was always thinking about other people and trying to make life better for them. She resisted cynicism, negativity, and self-interest, and so she was able to help people and bring about change.
I’m trying not to talk too overtly about politics in every post, but a stated part of the GOP campaign strategy this year was to stoke such intense feelings of cynicism and fear that people were too despondent to get out and vote. They wanted people to believe the system was rigged or that every politician was just as corrupt as any other, and that the government was too inefficient to help anyone anyway. I have thought a lot about who benefits when cynicism prevails. When people feel too hopeless to insist on change, the hegemony succeeds in maintaining the status quo. When we feel overwhelmed by the forces of evil in the world, we start to believe good never existed and was all an illusion anyway. But I believe in my heart of hearts that most people are inherently good and want to do right by one another – it just takes overcoming fear, precarity, and self-interest enough to stand up to those motivated by greed and power. It is therefore more essential now than ever before to embrace radical, subversive optimism and to refuse to become complacent in the face of constant attempts to drown us in cynicism.
I’ve started to channel my feelings of frustration, worry, and fear into working to help other people and the environment. I want to stop wallowing in the things that upset me in my personal life and focus on spending my time more constructively, making art, raising awareness, helping promote education and compassion, listening, and working harder to understand. The more I can escape my own ego / consciousness and focus on others, the easier it is to find ways to be glad and grateful.
So that is my wish for you this holiday season and in the coming months. May you always find something to be glad about, and may your life be full of gratitude and compassion.
And go watch Pollyanna. This girl just gets it.