I recently spent some time with my beautiful and spunky 89-year-old aunt. Despite losing her husband in a tragic car accident when their four daughters were all under the age of 18, and then losing one of those daughters several years later from an aneurysm after giving birth, my Aunt Ginny is one of the most optimistic people I know.
When her husband died, she made a bold decision to move her family from Iowa to Florida with a little bit of cash and a job selling Minnesota Woolens–not the hottest commodity in Florida. She jumped over to real estate, and in time became one of the most successful realtors in the business, earning prizes and awards on a regular basis. In addition to her job success, she is beloved by her family as the matriarch of the family, and enjoys great health and vitality for a woman of her age. She’s outlived every one of her seven siblings except for my mother, the youngest at age 72.
While I didn’t submit her to a full-blown interview (I wish I had!), I have a hunch that one of her secrets to success, family loyalty, and longevity is her characteristic optimism. I was intrigued by her ability to see the good in everything and everyone around her, and took note of these qualities of optimism that I’d like to develop in myself:
Seeing the best in others. I don’t care who you are or where you’ve been, Aunt Ginny makes you feel like a million bucks. She’s one of those people who looks you in the eye with a big smile on her face, asks you thoughtful questions, really listens, and then compliments the heck out of you before you even know what happened. After leaving her presence, you’re convinced of your endless potential, intellect, talent and goodness, and you see the best version of yourself right along with her. It’s highly motivating. That’s the kind of optimism that changes people, and it’s a characteristic I’d very much like to develop for the sake of encouraging and motivating everyone in my own circle of influence–especially my children.
Seeing the fun in everything. When Aunt Ginny is around, you’re going to have a good time. Whether we were getting lost in transit or cleaning up after dinner, she was constantly talking, laughing, telling stories, and generally making the mundane memorable. Since so much of our lives as mothers feels mundane, we could all benefit from nurturing this quality. My youngest daughter and I have a funny little ritual that is an example of this. When she needs help in the bathroom, I come along and wait for her to finish her business. While I’m waiting, I sit on imaginary eggs in a basket in the corner of the bathroom and cluck. Coincidentally, my eggs are always ready to hatch once she’s done, and she loves to count them up and pretend to pet them as we’re leaving the bathroom. Weird, I know, but it makes an otherwise unpleasant experience kind of funny. The reality is, most of our life is made up of mundane work, and if we wait to enjoy life once our work is over (is it ever?) we’re going to miss out on a lot of memorable moments.
Seeing the big picture. On the final day we were together as a family, we took a moment for everyone to share a few words of love, support, and encouragement with my sister battling cancer. My Aunt Ginny’s words showed just how much she understood about the big picture, and how that perspective has been a guiding force in her life of optimism. An 89-year-old widow of over 40 years, she told my sister that no matter what happened she would be surrounded by people who loved her–whether on this side or the other. Her perspective of the discomforts of this life as finite and of loved ones being on both sides of the aisle wasn’t only comforting, but clearly one of the reasons everyone feels so at ease in her presence. She understands what constitutes a “big deal” and what is small potatoes. She knows what is really important in this life, and it’s not making sure the toy closet stays perfectly organized. That kind of perspective makes the little things we often fret and worry over seem as inconsequential as they really are, and allows us to transfer that energy to something positive.
There’s no doubt my aunt’s optimistic attitude has attracted a lifetime of success, love and good health. She truly believes the world is her oyster and that people are inherently good, so what she sees is what she gets. What I wonder is, can I be like her? Can I develop my mental and emotional muscles enough to see the world and the people around me as she does and achieve not only her level of success, but also her level of influence? It’s certainly worth a try.
QUESTION: Do you have someone in your life that is an example of optimism? What are the characteristics of optimism you most admire?
CHALLENGE: Try practicing optimism in your home and family this week by smiling more and complimenting your kids to pieces!