Why Do Some People Survive and Others Struggle?
The power of positive thinking is at the foundation of our survival.
Posted Aug 05, 2014
My beloved father’s favorite line was “Always look at the glass half full instead of half empty.” If we believe that we are products of our childhoods, then this tenet holds considerable weight in the way I have lived my life as a survivor, thriver and warrior. My father was a Holocaust survivor. His words of wisdom kept him going during his five years in Dachau’s Concentration Camp. He passed his own personal lessons down to help me navigate my own tumultuous life experiences.
The power of positive thinking is at the foundation of our survival. Some of my favorite psychologists, many of whom were rooted in the realm of Humanistic Psychology, include, Abraham Maslow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Martin Seligman, Eric Erickson and Carl Rogers. These individuals advocated positive thinking as a path to wholeness by encouraging individuals to focus on their personal strengths and virtues, and offering encouragement for others to do the same. In essence, it is about experiencing and portraying a positive attitude.
Recently, I read a book called The Beethoven Factor by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist who opened the world’s first positive psychology clinic. Pearsall wrote about being inspired to creativity through adversity, and like me, he believes that we can become resilient and transformed by difficulty. This same philosophy is at the heart of my workshops, where I empower others to write memoirs for transformation and empowerment. It is also the subject of my recent doctoral dissertation.
When faced with adversity, once you pass the survival phase, you move into the thriving phase, which pushes you towards the next level of growth and transformation, and ultimately to a sense of empowerment. This process is often seen amongst cancer survivors or those faced with situations such as PTSD. Pearsall wisely states, “Thrivers share their experiences not from the perspective of “Look what I did” but from the orientation of “Don’t worry. Look at what you can do.” In this way, they serve as role models for others who are struggling. Their mission, whether conscious or unconscious, is to spread the energy of positive thoughts and healing.
We cannot underestimate the importance of surrounding ourselves with positive thinkers and good relationships, living in a thriving environment, embracing each day, and working on yourself by understanding what brings you joy, what makes your heart sing, and what emotional triggers set you down a negative or unhealthy path.
The reason Pearsall calls the book The Beethoven Factor is because, in listening to Beethoven’s music, (being cognizant that he was deaf), you can hear the ebb and flow of the emotions that reflect the lives we live. The music serves as a reminder that these ebbs and flows are normal and we need to accept them. In other words, we must walk through the doors of both positive and negative experiences without letting negative experiences overpower us. Instead, they should empower us. Sometimes, the sheer contrast of positive and negative offers the needed perspective. Those who are unable to allow the positive overpower the negative, more often seem laden and unable to let go.
In her article “Surviving and Thriving Through Adversity” Leslie Becker-Phelps writes about surviving after an injury. She recommends focusing on thinking about who you can depend on, not those who disappointed you. Remember that there is always someone in worse pain; accept that pain is temporary and will pass. She also reminds us that kindness to others can make you feel better in the course of our struggles, or when we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges.
While it is not always easy maintaining a positive attitude, keeping a reminder in your living space is important. As someone who turns to writing during tumultuous times and suggests the same to others, I have a saying by Hemingway in my writing studio that says, “We become stronger at the broken places.” Across the centuries, this sentiment has been a driving force for many writers and poets.
Those who do not follow these basic tenets, all of which lead to happiness, may find themselves struggling unnecessarily through all of life’s turbulence and those hardships and experiences we encounter, whether large or small.
Love, life and lust