I remember being over-the-moon when my sister and I were given a reasonable facsimile of a Pollyanna doll. She was almost three feet tall, had long, beautiful hair and a lovely dress. Mom loved sewing and made an extra outfit or two for our Pollyanna, just as she had done for our other dolls. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven.
Little did we know at the time that the term “Pollyanna” actually had gained a negative connotation right from the get-go in 1913 when Eleanor Porter had her book published on the cusp of World War I and the Spanish Flu that followed.* She wrote about a young girl, Pollyanna, who, in the midst of the problems of life, played the glad game, “where you hunt for the glad things.” However, the term “Pollyanna” became a code word, variously defined as drippy, sappy positivity…excessive optimism that is blind to reality.
Porter battled public criticism of her main character, saying, “I have never believed that we ought to deny discomfort and pain and evil; I have merely thought that it is far better to ‘greet the unknown with a cheer,” So, what about today? In a time when people are groping for well-being, is it wrong to “hunt for the glad things”?
Ironically, in the past decade we have experienced a profusion of happiness research and self-development projects. “Joi de vivre” or thirst for joy is part of human nature. Yet in our COVID-19 pandemic, through media and we are again facing criticism and negativism about terms such as happiness… Even positive terms like “Hope” are seen …as ignoring the facts, sticking your head in the sand, or, as Rev. Diane Strickland** says, mistaking hopium for hope.
“Hopium is irrational optimism…comforts the seller not the buyer…and lived experience is never brought to the table. Hope, on the other hand, is never defeated by facts, information, or lived experiences…is not afraid of lived reality. Hope wants to know every corner of it so it can shine as effectively as possible.” This is the kind of Hope we are looking for, and, if we can move past the negativity and misuse, could it be that we would recognize “hope saying hello” to us as Rev. Strickland says?
Today we remember Jesus’ question to his first followers, “What are you looking for?” (John 1: 38) When they asked him where he was staying, Jesus invited them to “come and see”…and proceeded to lead them through real life experiences, pointing them to where they would find life. He called it the Kingdom of God, the place in our hearts and lives and world where God is alive and at work and still creating…something we can trust and for which we can cultivate a habit of the heart. Something we can be looking for even in the midst of a pandemic.
May his Peace continue to guard our hearts and minds as we learn the way forward.