Holiday outcomes depend on outlook

December 15, 2011|Lisa Prejean

I was encouraged this week to read that critics often attacked Paul Engle's optimistic outlook on life.

Engle, a noted American poet, novelist and playwright, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1908. His father owned a livery stable, and Engle's reflections on life in rural Iowa revealed his belief in the "American Dream."

In the study of American literature, we often talk about the origins of the American Dream. Where did this concept originate and what exactly is it? Most historians would say that the American Dream is a belief that prosperity can be gained through effort.

Or, in simple terms, if you work hard, you will succeed.

I like reading success stories. I like having hope that things will get better someday. Call me an optimist if you like. That's fine with me. I'd rather keep working toward a goal than just pessimistically turn away, defeated.

If a situation is less than ideal, why not look for what is right?

My philosophy is that even though life isn't perfect, why dwell on the negative? Why not count blessings and forge through the trials?

Some people would say that efforts won't matter. Two steps forward, three steps back. They say optimists must have perfect families, perfect jobs, perfect homes. Otherwise, they wouldn't be so optimistic.

Yet we all know that there are no perfect families, jobs or homes.

So, obviously, optimists often are misinterpreted.

Do optimists live in a state of perfection? Hardly. That's impossible.

Do optimists try to think the best of every situation? Absolutely. Optimists choose to concentrate on what is right rather than what is wrong.

Are optimists ever out of touch with reality? Probably, but they usually have longer, fuller lives because of their positive outlook.

I guess that is why I was encouraged by Engle and his work, especially his story "An Old-Fashioned Iowa Christmas." My 10th-grade students are reading the story as part of their study on thought and theme.     

Engle starts out with sound imagery:

"Every Christmas should begin with the sound of bells, and when I was a child mine always did."

Engle laments that there are no such Christmases anymore, but he does so in a way that allows the reader to know he cherishes the memories of his childhood holidays.

How about you? What does this Christmas season hold for you? Will you make the most of each moment or will you wallow in the aftermath of things gone bad?

It really is a matter of outlook. Choose the positive. You won't regret it.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

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