The story of Pollyanna unveils the virtues of gratitude, optimism and positive thinking long before The Secret was revealed—and long before Oprah was even born. To this day, the name Pollyanna is synonymous for people who are eternally upbeat, spreading good will wherever they go. We all admire people with those qualities.
But as the oppressive state of the economy continues to suffocate us, some may feel that such unremittingly cheerful behavior should be squashed with a cynical retort and a good smack. What is there to be thankful for now? The economy is like a gigantic car crash, and we are all accident victims to varying degrees.
The challenge we face now is how to find the silver lining behind the storm clouds that have darkened our economic horizons. If you asked Pollyanna, she wouldn’t recommend therapy, alcohol, a Depak Chopra book or a trek to Tibet. Her remedy is simply called the Glad Game, a way to focus on the good, not the bad. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. Yes, even now.
But first, some bad news about the good times: When the dollar value of time is higher during times of prosperity, studies show that people seem to dedicate more of their lives to working hard. Studies also suggest that people tend not to take care of themselves—they work too much, drink too much, eat too much fat-laden fast food, accrue too much debt, obsess too much about meaningless material possessions and minimize important things like sleep and exercise. That’s when the rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke skyrocket.
The good news about bad times: Researchers have found that lean economic times might actually have a positive impact on our health. For example, the rising cost of prepared foods may force people to cook from scratch, possibly even drawing families around the dinner table—although the fact that more family members are available to eat meals together due to unemployment and furloughs is an unfortunate paradox. (Even Pollyanna wouldn’t find anything to be glad about there.) A study also found that death rates lower during economic declines, led by drops in heart disease and actual car crashes.
While it’s been shown that long-term economic gains may lead to improvements in our population’s overall health, whether or not the current economic slump will take a toll on each individual’s health depends, in part, on each individual’s attitude.
We could use this continuing economic contraction to expand in other ways—to reflect, reassess and reevaluate our appreciation for the simpler things in life, like our family, friends and health.
As we continue to observe our economy growing slower than a parched Kïhei lawn, maybe now is the perfect time to further cultivate an attitude of gratitude.