An Optimistic Outlook and the First Memories of Life
We have much to learn from optimists and their early recollections.
Posted Nov 24, 2018
In June, while attending a professional conference in Toronto, I decided to take a break and go for a swim at the hotel pool. As I was signing in and picking up a towel, the pool attendant warmly greeted me. She seemed genuinely interested in how I was doing and hoped that I was enjoying my stay at the hotel. We talked for a few minutes, and I learned that Julianna was 20 years old and studying to become a masseuse. While I was swimming, several other patrons entered the pool area, and I noticed that Julianna also graciously welcomed each person with a warm smile and brief conversation.
Julianna's behavior stood out to me because she seemed to make an effort to provide a few special moments for the individuals who showed up at the pool. I wanted to know more about her, and after my swim, I asked Julianna if she would be willing to share one of her first memories with me. She readily agreed, and I wrote down the following. "The first thing that I remember is playing outside at recess. There were dolls on the playground that seemed to revolve around. I played on the swings a lot, and I fell off the swing that day." I then asked her, "What part do you remember most in the memory?" Julianna, responded, "How I felt when I was on the swing. It was one of the happiest moments of my life at that time."
After Julianna rendered her early recollection, I said that I would try to suggest something about its possible meaning. I began by stating, "You have an optimistic outlook on life, and you try to make the best out of situations and often find them to be special." She nodded in agreement, saying, "This is how I am." I added, "At the same time, your friends and other people in your life tease you in a friendly way about your persistent level of optimism." Julianna laughed heartily: "This happens a lot."
I then asked Julianna one more question. "How are you so optimistic given all the ups and downs that we all face in life?" She related, "I am sentimental and it is natural for me. There are a lot of soulless people, and I haven't lost my soul." At that point, it started to get busy at the counter, and I thought that we should talk more at a later point. Julianna said that she was working the next day and looked forward to seeing me again.
When I came to the swimming pool the next morning, I was told that Julianna would not be on duty until the afternoon. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch and soon had to leave the hotel. I did not get to see her again. In reflecting on Julianna's first memory, I wondered about her statement about "the soul" and its relationship to optimism and early recollections. Intuitively, I thought that it may have something to do with maintaining a childlike sense of wonder and enjoying what life offers in the moment. At the same time, I needed to hear directly from Julianna on a face-to-face basis about her perception of life.
We all have an opportunity to learn more from people like Julianna. Perhaps it may be the service worker we see regularly who always seems to be in a good mood. There may be a neighbor, a friend, or a relative that stands out for maintaining a positive outlook on life. In my experience, often these individuals relate early recollections that are optimistic and seem to provide an emotionally uplifting quality. Follow-up conversations can be enlightening relating to how such persons sustain a sense of hopefulness, despite encountering adversities in living. We need to hear more from those who have a "natural" optimistic outlook in their early memories and in their way of being.