Friday, 6 November 2015

Counting your blessings... Cecilia Busby

When I was younger, I had a deep aversion to Pollyanna.

I was never a big fan of any kind of moralising goody-two-shooes in the books I read, and far preferred grumpy, sour Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden to the long-suffering but always sweet and cheerful Sara Crewe of A Little Princess. But Pollyanna took the biscuit. She is the embodiment of that truly annoying saying, "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade".

Sorry, but no. If life hands you lemons, the appropriate response is to cry. And rage. And whinge a lot at your best friends. And then, maybe, find a way to laugh about their stupid shape and their sour taste (hollowly). And perhaps, depending on how bad they are, slowly and gradually come to terms with those pesky sour things (with a little bit more whinging and crying when you feel the need). But certainly not to roll up your sleeves, put your brave face on and without more ado turn your disaster into a "good thing".

So Pollyanna's approach to life, which was always, always to find something good about every set-back or slap in the face life handed her, struck me even as a child as just too pious and unrealistic. As an adult, I can appreciate the ability to find some good in the midst of your bad, but I also know just how helpful it is sometimes to have a good old rant and share some of that bad with someone else who's prepared to say: yep, it's bad, isn't life a bust sometimes?


My daughter has been going through a tough patch recently, and feeling a bit down about life in general, and the other day, on a half hour car journey to do the weekly supermarket shop, we decided to play a game. For every good thing she could think of about her life, something she was happy about, I would give her 10p - up to a maximum of 100  things (£10).

It was quite easy to get to about 20 or 30, and then it got progressively harder - but she kept going. Sometimes she'd find a rich seam of things to mine (all her relatives she liked one after the other, or all the subjects she enjoyed at school all in a row), at other times it was sudden random thoughts ('I like the shape of my nose') but it was actually a really fun way to spend half an hour and a great affirmation that even when life is not going your way, there are good things you can remind yourself  about, and it helps put the bad things in perspective. I did allow a few slight cheats towards the end but with their help she made it to 100, and I consider it £10 well spent.

Counting your blessings is a very Pollyanna thing to do - but you know what? It was a brilliant way to  raise both our spirits, and so long as it's not seen as something that can paper over those woes, or as a way to ignore or belittle them, it strikes me as something that I might just be prepared to find a place for in my life.

Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 7-12 as C.J. Busby.

Her first series was the Spell series, an Arthurian knockabout fantasy aimed at 7-9. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published in March by Templar.


"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)


Joan Lennon said...

That is a really great game - and somehow adding money to it takes off that Pollyanna yeurckiness splendidly!

Sue Purkiss said...

Oh dear - have to admit I loved Pollyanna - but after seeing the Hayley Mills film rather than reading the book. I so wanted her long, thick, blonde hair...

Susan Price said...

I really detested Pollyanna as a child too, but I suppose it's just a (saccharine) sweetened way of saying, "Take it on the chin." Or, indeed, "When life throws a dagger at you, will you catch it by the blade or by the hilt?"

Or even, 'If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss...'

All of which make this attitude sound much more butch.

Penny Dolan said...

Such a brilliant way of dealing with this, Celia! Thanks for passing the idea on.
I admit to liking Pollyanna too, because it was a change to live (through the reading) as a happy child for a while.

John Dougherty said...

Another Pollyanna fan here - I actually blogged about her on this site, back in 2008.

And according to this article, the act of looking for something to be grateful for - or, perhaps, glad about? - can help to make you happy. Maybe Ms Porter was on to something, after all...

Lynne Benton said...

What a great idea, Cecilia! I really liked Pollyanna too, though even when I read it I felt she was rather too piously good to be true, but I think promising your daughter 10p for every plus in her life was brilliant! (It reminds me of when my son came to me grumbling that he couldn't find his socks, toy, pencil case or whatever, I said, "Okay, so if I go and look for it and I find it, you'll give me 10p, will you?" "Ummm - I'll just go and have another look," he said - and inevitably he found it!) 10p is obviously a perfect amount!

Becca McCallum said...

I love that idea of getting your daughter to think of positive things by promising her 10p for each one - makes me think of a game my mum used to play with us on long car journeys: the first child to spot, say, a caravan/articulated truck got 2p; a tractor got 3p...a fire-engine got 10p and so kept us quiet, and emptied her purse of spare change!

C.J.Busby said...

Thanks for your comments - I'm amazed at how many Pollyanna fans there are out there! Will check out your links, John. (And yes, 'If..' is a much more masculine version of the same thing, isn't it?! Had never thought of that!)

Ugoki said...

Sara isn't really that cheerful though. She's nothing like Cedie or Pollyanna.

Nick Green said...

I like the other quote:
'If life doesn't also give you water and sugar, that lemonade is gonna suck.'

Miriam Halahmy said...

Count your blessings was always my Mum's fave phrase and when she said it she used to pat the heads of her grandchildren. Unfortunately she was carried away after four - there were six altogether. Its a wonderful phrase and I try - I really do - even when I'm grumbling. Lovely post Cecilia!