Chapter 10: Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Happiness Key # 8: Pollyanna’s Game
“...the game was to just find
some-thing about everything to be glad about— no matter what ‘twas.”
“You’re Such a Pollyanna!”
If someone were to say that to us, it would certainly
not be meant as a compliment.
Pollyanna, the title character in a 1913 novel by Eleanor Hodgman
Porter, is the origin of that common pejorative.
Porter’s book was an instant success and was soon
followed by other “Pollyanna” books as well as a movie in 1920 starring
Mary Pickford in the title role.
However, as the years rolled by, the name,
“Pollyanna,” came to be used for anyone who was inappropriately
happy, happy in the face of misery and misfortune. But Pollyanna got a bad rap.
Because Pollyanna’s Game is such a delightful, not to
mention, important happiness principle, it’s worth knowing something about
The Original Pollyanna
As the book opens, Pollyanna’s father, pastor of a
small mission church out west, has just died. Her mother passed away some years
earlier, so the newly orphaned eleven-year-old girl is about to go and live
with her well-off but cantankerous aunt in Beldingsville, Vermont.
Three years prior to his death, her father taught
Pollyanna the Game that was to bring her, and everyone she touched, joy and
happiness. That Game is the
inspiration for this chapter.
The “Just Being Glad” Game
A hundred years ago clergymen had no incomes other
than what was donated to them by their congregations. Because their parish was a poor one,
Pollyanna and her father were forced to live in near poverty.
One day, their Lady’s Aid Society sent them a barrel
of hand-me-downs. Pollyanna had
hoped she might find a doll in this barrel, but sadly, there was no
doll. In fact, it held nothing for
a child her age but an small pair of crutches. Not surprisingly, she was bitterly
Her father, observing her sad tears, decided there
and then to teach her the “just being glad” Game. He asked her to try to find something she
could be glad about for getting those crutches instead of the doll she
She tried, she really did, but was unable to think of
anything good about getting an old pair of crutches. Finally, he told her: “Why, just be glad
because you don’t -- need -- ‘em.”
That was all she needed for her to embrace the Game;
it soon became the core of her life.
She especially enjoyed playing the Game when confronted by something
really difficult: “And the harder
‘tis, the more fun ‘tis to get ‘em out.”
And, being dirt-poor, she had plenty of opportunities to hone her
skill with the Just Be Glad Game.
But she did
discovered that the Game had its limits.
“Only -- only -- sometimes it’s almost too hard -- like when your
father goes to heaven, and there isn’t anybody but a Ladies’ Aid left.”
“Hey! Not So
“Wait a minute.” a red-faced
Glumbunny interjects, “Let’s see if I’ve got this right. I’m supposed to be happy about whatever
happens to me, no matter what, except maybe if someone I love dies?”
“I might not have put it quite
that way, Glumbunny, but, yes, that’s right.”
“Wha..! Bu..ffaa..! Thaa..that’s the most asinine thing I’ve
heard you say yet! If you think . .
“Hold on, Glumbunny, don’t blow
a gasket. I know Pollyanna’s Game
goes against everything you believe.
But if you’ll just keep an open mind I’m sure you’ll see how it can
elevate your happiness.”
“Well, okay, I’ll go along, for
now, but what I really want to tell you is: ‘Don’t be such a Pollyanna!’”
“Okay, Glumbunny, touche’.”
Things Are All Good or All Bad
“If your house is on fire, warm
yourself by it.”
The last chapter showed us that judgment separates
things into their polar opposites.
However, this separation doesn’t represent reality because few
things in life are either black or white.
Instead, most things are a mix, shades of grey.
Pollyanna’s Game recognizes that there is always
hidden good in what we consider to be bad.
And we can find that good if we just look for it. This understanding, which is the basis of
Pollyanna’s Game, binds it to reality.
happens we don’t like, we have three choices: we can try and change it,
resign ourselves to it, or we can try and find something about it we can
like, something for us “to be glad about.”
Notice that Pollyanna’s Game doesn’t say we must like
what we don’t like or pretend that black is white. All it asks is that we expand our
view of what has happened to include more of what is really there. It is this perspective that shows us how
we can find something about almost anything to like.
“Sorry, I don’t buy it.”
“You don’t believe Pollyanna’s Game will work for you,
“It sounds good but I’ve already had half a dozen things
happen this week that have nothing good about them. No way Pollyanna’s Game will work with
“Hm, Glumbunny, would you be willing to put that to the
and lots of luck, you’re going to need it.”
Glumbunny’s “Bad-Stuff” List of the Week
1) He was cut off on his way to work by a
pimply-faced kid who gave him “the finger” when he honked his horn and shook
2) His wife picked a fight with him,
complaining that he was spending too much time at the office and not enough
with her or their daughters.
3) Six weeks of dieting didn’t change his
high cholesterol reading. Now, he’s
going to have to take expensive medicines that have a long list of possible
complications and side effects.
4) He had a fight with the office manager
because she insisted on moving him to another office and giving his to a
new associate. She justified making
the change because Glumbunny’s office, being next to her’s, would make it
easier for her to help the new employee.
5) His accountant just informed him that
he has to pay $2000 over his withholding for taxes this year.
6) He just learned that one of his
daughters has bulimia which apparently started six weeks ago. She going to need medication and
had a tough week, Glumbunny!”
We needn’t ignore nor change anything that happens
for us to reap the benefits of Pollyanna’s Game. All we need to do is search for the gifts
that always lie hidden in whatever happens.
Generally, when something happens that we don’t like, we judge it to
be bad and immediately become angry or sad.
Pollyanna’s Game asks that we withhold our negative judgment and look
Pollyanna’s Game with Glumbunny’s Bad-Stuff
1) Being cut off on the way to work upset
Glumbunny for more than a week.
What’s there to be glad about in this? Let’s list some possibilities:
accident or injury resulted from this incident.
kid knows he upset Glumbunny (he gave him “the finger” when Glumbunny shook
his fist) and as he reflects privately on what happened, he might concede
his irresponsibility and do better next time.
though Glumbunny wasn’t at fault, this close call may convince him to drive
more defensively, making future accidents less likely.
2) No one enjoys fighting with their
fight raised issues they need to discuss.
Delay would just make a good outcome less likely.
complained because she wants to spend more time with him. This can only mean that she cares for him
and enjoys being with him.
Withdrawal would mean she had given up. The fight means she’s trying to find a
3) Needing cholesterol-lowering
medications is no fun. Still:
the problem before a heart attack is good. There is still time to prevent serious
medicine is expensive but Glumbunny has good insurance. Also, medicine is far less costly and
unpleasant than hospitalization for a heart attack or heart failure.
medicine has potential side effects, but these are known and he will be
closely monitored. Should any occur,
the medicine can be changed.
4) Changing offices is a nuisance. However:
new office might be even nicer than the old one.
he hates it, he might be able to change back after the new associate has
learned-the-ropes; after all, Glumbunny does have seniority.
offices gives him a chance to clean out the old clutter that would still be
there if not for the change.
office manager annoys Glumbunny; now he can enjoy being further away from
Needing to pay an unexpected tax bill is no fun. On the other hand:
means he made more money than expected this year. “Good for you, Glumbunny, your hard work
does have the $2000 in the bank; how fortunate that he was wise enough to
prepare for this kind of financial emergency.
is a good alert for Glumbunny to increase his withholding so he can avoid a
tax-bill surprise next year.
6) We hate it when our loved ones have
bulimia was caught early, before it became life-threatening.
treatment for the physical and the mental aspects of the disease is
can use this disease as a catalyst to show his daughter how much he loves
and supports her. That can bring
them closer together.
bulimia is a wake-up call for Glumbunny to start paying more attention to
all of his loved ones. This disease
could be the catalyst for improving all his family relationships.
There are a lot more positives that could be found in
the items on Glumbunny’s list.
That’s part of the fun of the Game.
Take a few minutes now and find two or three other things Glumbunny
could be glad about in these examples.
Be realistic. There is no
need for fantasy or exaggeration when playing Pollyanna’s Game.
Pollyanna’s Game into a Habit
“So, Glumbunny, do you
understand Pollyanna’s Game better now?”
“Yeah. I really do. I’m surprised. Frankly, I expected to hear a lot of
wishful thinking. Everything on your
list is practical and reasonable. I
think I can do this!”
“Thanks for keeping an open
mind, Glumbunny. Many people pass
off Pollyanna’s Game as positive-thinking psychobabble and miss out on one
of the simplest but most powerful happiness tools we have.”
The more we play Pollyanna’s Game, the more skillful
we’ll be at playing it. The goal
here is to turn it into a habit.
Once it is, we’ll use it automatically when anything we don’t like
Remember, Pollyanna’s Game doesn’t blind us to what
is so; we’ll be even more connected to reality because we won’t be limited
to seeing just the negative side of upsets.
About Pollyanna’s Game and Happy Events?
“Hold on,” Glumbunny interjects,
“I just thought of something. How
about when something good happens, something I like? You said Pollyanna’s Game works because
nothing is all bad, right?”
“Yes, Glumbunny, so . . . ?”
“Well, nothing is all good
Pollyanna’s Game becomes a habit,” he continues, triumphantly, “won’t I
pull-down my good times by seeing the bad in them?”
Once again, Glumbunny raises a good point. Just as few things in life are all bad,
it’s also true that few are all good.
If we were to use Pollyanna’s Game to search for something not
to like about our happy events, we’d undoubtedly find them.
“Yes, Glumbunny, you’re right,
examining favorable events for things to be sad about would certainly
uncover things there you didn’t like.”
“So wouldn’t that just balance
everything out, the bad become better, but the good become worse?”
“Sure, that’s why we use the
Game only for finding things to like in unhappy circumstances.”
“You can do that?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Oh . . . well . . . never mind
Playing Pollyanna’s Game with all our upsets will
quickly turn it into a habit. Then,
our minds will automatically begin sifting through all our negative events
for things to be glad about as they happen.
Because Pollyanna’s Game is so quick and easy to
learn, I call it my happiness quick-start.
But don’t underestimate its power because of its simplicity. Pollyanna’s Game is a very potent,
long-lasting way to increase our happiness.
The exercises that follow will help us use
Pollyanna’s Game to elevate our inner happiness right away.
One caution: Pollyanna’s Game is best used for the
common, ordinary upsets that plague us day in and day out. Don’t use it for major catastrophes. Finding something to be glad about when we
suffer major career or financial set-backs, severe illnesses, or when a
loved one dies will feel wrong, inappropriate. Remember, Pollyanna herself wasn’t able
to use it when her father died.
Still, as we develop our expertise we, like
Pollyanna, will enjoy using the game even for challenging upsets.
EXERCISES FOR POLLYANNA’S GAME
Playing Pollyanna’s Game with Past Events.
Look back over the last week or two and make a list
of all those things you didn’t like, things that upset you. Keep going back until you have at least
ten items on your list. Skip four or
five lines between each item.
Now, let’s play Pollyanna’s Game. You should have no trouble finding three
or four things to be glad about for each one. Reference
“Glumbunny’s ‘Bad-Stuff List of the Week” if you need help on how to
do this. Don’t expect to come up
with anything that will make you ecstatic; you are, after all, working with
your bad-stuff. Finding something
modestly good is fine. The benefits
are cumulative so, as you continue playing, your happiness will
Exercise #2: Using
“The Game” For Current Upsets.
It’s easier playing Pollyanna’s Game with things from
the past because many of the bad feelings have already faded. Although playing the Game for upsets as
they happen is harder, it will increase your happiness much more.
When something you don’t like happens, your ego-voice
immediately will say something like: “Oh, this is terrible!” This immediately opens the door to
negative judgments and closes you off to positive alternatives. To use Pollyanna’s Game, you will need to
fend off your judgments and not allow yourself to be buried under an
avalanche of negativity.
In this exercise, as soon as something happens you
don’t like, ask yourself: “What is there about what just happened that I
can be glad about, that I can like?”
Don’t take time to write anything down, just prompt your mind to
begin searching. It will take only a
moment or two, but the payoff for your happiness will be tremendous.
If you use Pollyanna’s Game for all your upsets, in
just three or four weeks it will become a habit. Your friends and family will be amazed at
your transformation, but best of all, your happiness will soar.
“Glumbunny, you look upset. Are you having problems with Pollyanna’s
“Well, yes and no. Ever since I went over my “Bad-Stuff”
list I’ve been trying to use the Game, as you suggested, as soon as things
come up. It works well most of the
time, but not all the time.”
“Tell me more about when it
“I’ve discovered that when I’ve
screwed something up, I just can’t play the Game.”
“Glumbunny, you’re not
alone. Many of us have trouble
accepting our own mistakes. But read
on, you’ll find lots to help you in the next chapter.”