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Searching for the dark cloud’s silver lining

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By Nancy Kennedy

Good news for all you cranky pants people: According to an Australian study, thinking negatively and being sad may actually be good for you.

The study, conducted by a psychology professor at the University of New South Wales, showed that people with negative moods seem to be less gullible and better able to judge other people and their surroundings.

Also, being negative and sad appeared to help people boost their memory, which I can believe. Negative people have an uncanny knack for remembering every slight, every snub (real or perceived) done to them, and can recite every detail of every conversation where someone else showed disrespect or not enough appreciation.

Negative people hold grudges and harbor unforgiveness, and they never forget.

So, even though the Australian study found a positive spin to being negative (and the researchers even admitted that the people with happy, positive moods were more creative, flexible and cooperative), I don’t think negativity should be a goal.

The apostle Paul, while he was in prison, wrote a letter to the church at Philippi. In it he wrote about the joy he had, even in his chains.

He wrote about how being in jail had turned out to be a good thing because the guards and other prisoners were coming to faith in Christ because of his joyful attitude. He sang, even while locked up in a cell, put there because of his faith.

If anyone had a reason to be a sad sack/gloomy Gus it was him. But he wasn’t, and we don’t need to be either.

One of my favorite characters in children’s literature is Eeyore, Winnie-the-Pooh’s sad donkey friend. Everything to Eeyore is woe and tribulation. But he occasionally attempts to look on the positive side of things.

“It’s snowing still,” he said. “And freezing.” Then brightening a bit he added, “However, we haven’t had any earthquakes lately.”

Sometimes “no earthquakes lately” might be all the positive we can muster, but it’s a start.

I know Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful season of all, but for many people it’s not and never was. I talked to one friend recently who said most holidays and especially Christmas come with bad memories and his main focus is to get through them without bloodshed.

A few weeks ago I talked to a woman who had just put her husband in a nursing home and another who had just learned her husband had two months to live.

The economy has hit everyone. Our nation is divided. Our leaders aren’t leading well and many people are outraged. Others are disillusioned. There’s a whole lot of negativity out there, and despite what the Australian study found, I don’t see it helping a whole lot of people cope.

The opposite is true. Negativity breeds more negativity.

I once knew a woman who didn’t like her husband, and the more she thought about the things she disliked about him, the more her dislike for him grew. That bothered her, so for his upcoming 40th birthday she determined to list 40 things she liked, admired or appreciated about him.

She said it took her a long time to write down the first few things, but once she got started she couldn’t stop at 40. Just that simple exercise may have saved their marriage.

There’s something to be said for looking on the bright side or searching for the dark cloud’s silver lining and all the other Pollyanna, golly gee clichés. It’s not denying that there’s bad stuff going on, but deciding not to dwell on it, especially things you have no control over or power to change — and it’s looking to God to provide peace even in the midst of bad times.   

That’s all we really want anyway — peace.

Here’s what the apostle Paul said in his letter: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that,” he wrote, “and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies” (Philippians 4:8-9, The Message).

Not only that, but we haven’t had any earthquakes lately.