Growing up overseas, I did not get the luxury of Saturday morning cartoons or movies or TV. My mom would sometimes rent musicals and Disney movies from the library. (Special thanks to Philips and Sony for the invention of the VCR.) One of my favorite movies was Pollyanna. Something about the idea of having nothing and making something of it is romantic to me. Based on a book, it’s the story of an orphaned girl who has no belongings and becomes custody of her rich aunt. Pollyanna changes an entire town, inheriting riches beyond just the tangible.
Aunt Polly pretty much owns the town by dictatorship and the townsfolk are unhappy. Pollyanna adjusts to her new atmosphere and meets new people. She helps them to refocus on what matters: your spirit, your health, your relationships, your virtues. This little girl makes them whole again by “bringing out the glad in people.” Cute.
The story climaxes (spoiler alert) after Pollyanna sneaks out of the mansion she now lives in to attend the benefit festival for the burnt-down local orphanage. Pollyanna has a part in the production and does not want to miss the excitement or the five cent six layer cake. While climbing back through her window, she loses her footing and falls many stories landing helpless on the ground. She needs surgery if she is to ever recover from paralysis and falls into a deep depression. The town shows up at the mansion, pushing aside the ignorant Aunt Polly to shower Pollyanna with love and display the good that Pollyanna brought out in them. Couples are engaged, pastors are renewed in spirit, sick people well again, orphaned kids adopted, Pollyanna gets a puppy and even Aunt Polly, humbled by the experience falls in love and finally becomes glad herself. The town renames itself “The Glad Town”. Cute.
I am not mocking all of this gladness. A positive attitude is a great tool to be in possession of, but I know of few “Pollyanna-like” people in my life, as most of my family and friends are realists. Reality is that life can be pretty shitty sometimes. There are very real and painful circumstances that happen in direct conflict of happiness. This is a shame as happy people – those that possess authentic happiness — have proven satisfaction about the past, are optimistic about the future and have positive feelings about the present. It is proven that happiness renews strength (physically even) and reinforces virtues. It allows people to be more successful at work, in love and in raising children. Happy people are typically clear about their mission in life and can communicate their meaning and purpose better than those that are not happy. Overall, optimistic people operate better, are faster and more effective at problem solving and get this: they live longer. Some studies say up to 10 years longer! Happiness is what I aim for daily and usually hit the mark.
And while this is all well and good the realist in me knows that at the end of the movie, Pollyanna was still paralyzed.