The Word Among Us

Personal Spirituality Resources

A Positive Attitude

The best is yet to come.

By: Lorene Hanley DuQuin

A Positive Attitude: The best is yet to come. by Lorene Hanley DuQuin

Joe McBride says he was born with a “happy gene.”

He is an optimist by nature, but he also says that he chooses to be optimistic. He isn’t sure, however, that optimism is a choice everyone can easily make. “I made that choice. I was given opportunities to do so. But the older I get and the more experience I have, I see that not everyone gets dealt the same deck of cards.”

Joe McBride raises some interesting questions: Is optimism an inherited trait? Is it a learned behavior influenced by the way you grow up? Or is it a conscious choice that you make?

The answer might be that positive attitudes are a little of all three. Some genetic studies indicate that yes, genes do influence attitudes. But the influence of your parents and other people in your life also helps form the way you look at the world and how you cope with positive and negative emotions. So even if you have a genetic predisposition toward negativity, you can take steps to change your thought patterns in a more positive direction.

What Is an Attitude?

Attitudes are thoughts or feelings that have become so ingrained that they have become habits. We don’t consciously think about our attitudes—we just have them, and they affect how we behave.

“A friend told me that when we turn fifty, we can have a new attitude,” one woman recalls. “We have the wisdom to lead healthy, life-giving lives without worrying about others’ approval or disapproval. We can feel free to be ourselves.”

This woman embraced a positive attitude about herself at fifty, and her positive attitude led her to behave in ways that were self-confident and proactive. But what would have happened if she had adopted a negative attitude? What if had she felt bitter, cynical, or insecure? How would that have changed her outlook on life? How would her negative attitude have changed her behavior?

Examining Attitudes

If you want to take a closer look at your attitudes, the first step is to take an honest look at yourself. Do you see yourself as basically happy or unhappy?

People who are basically happy look on the bright side of things. They don’t internalize bad experiences or expect them to continue. If bad things do happen, they expect that they will be able to deal with them.

People who are basically unhappy look on the dark side. When something bad happens, they see it as another example of the ongoing string of bad situations in their lives or in the world. They don’t expect difficulties to end, and they don’t feel they can do much to make life better.

If you see yourself as being positive, that’s great. Keep being positive! If you suspect that you’ve fallen into a habit of negativity, take a closer look at self-defeating behaviors that might stem from negative thoughts and attitudes, such as complaining, criticizing, gossiping, stubbornness, and grumpiness. Then try to break the negative cycle.

Strategies for Change

Here are some techniques for changing negative attitudes and behaviors:
 • Ask yourself why you are thinking negative thoughts.
 •  Ask yourself what would happen if you thought the opposite.
 •  Tell yourself that bad situations are not permanent. Life will get better.
 •  Let positive thoughts override negative attitudes.
 •  Be open-minded. Don’t automatically say no to new ideas or opportunities.
 •  Seek out people who have a positive attitude.
 •  Choose to do something fun.
 •  Recognize that it takes time and effort to change negative attitudes into positive attitudes.
 •  Be persistent. Keep working at it until you’re successful.

One man said he would like to teach a class on optimism. He says, “When bad things happen, you always have a choice. You can give up, or you can pick up the pace. You can’t let the bad things get you down.”

Making Positive Choices

“People tell me that I’m a positive person,” one woman says. “It is not something that I consciously work at. Like everyone else, negative thoughts pop into my head. If it’s a negative thought about another person, I stop myself and say, ‘You never walked a mile in their shoes!’ The only other negative thoughts I’ve had are about politics, and I don’t dwell on them.”

Another woman tells herself to “knock it off” whenever she starts to feel negative. Then she reframes her thoughts to focus on good memories. “We all know people who are so negative that they wallow in it,” she says. “But your life is a gift from God, and how you live your life is your gift back to God. You have to look at the positive.”

Counting Your Blessings

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to foster a positive attitude. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside, says that people who were asked to “count their blessings” as part of a research experiment became happier and healthier, and they remained that way for as long as six months after the study was over.

Without even realizing that she is doing it, Mary Ryan illustrates how an attitude of gratitude can make a difference—even when facing serious difficulties. “We’ve had some rough spots along the way,” she admits. “My husband, Pat, has dementia, and I am the only person he still knows. But we live in our own house, and he is still getting out and doing things. We go for ice cream. We go shopping. He likes to go bowling. He loves going to church.”

Last year, Mary was diagnosed with blocked coronary arteries and had stents put in place. Two weeks later, she found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. This year she needed a knee replacement. She jokes that physically and mentally she is okay from the neck up, and her husband is okay from the neck down!

Mary also talks about how grateful she is for all the good things in her life. “Our children are marvelous about coming whenever we need help,” she says. “We have friends who visit. The husband will do a jigsaw puzzle with Pat while I go out shopping with the wife. I feel so blessed. I cannot complain. Pat and I have had a good life and a longer life than many people have had. I count my blessings and I keep my faith. It helps to have faith to hang onto.”

Mary Ryan’s gratitude for her life despite its difficulties exemplifies the lessons John Leland learned when he spent a year interacting with older people. “The elders were all proof that you could live a full and fulfilling life even when the weather turned stormy. So why worry about the clouds in the forecast? Live your life, put on a show, take a chance, and give thanks for your failures along with your successes—they’re two sides of the same coin. If we’re living longer, maybe we have an obligation to live better: wiser, kinder, more grateful and forgiving, less vengeful and covetous. All those things make life better for everyone, but especially for the person trying to live by them.”

This is a selection from The Best is Yet To Come by Lorene Hanley Duquin (The Word Among Us Press, 2020), available at