The Importance of Positivity

Image by Patryk Sobczak on Unsplash

(This article is part of an ongoing series on soft skills and technical wizardry from Nathan Thomas, a full stack software engineer studying at Lambda School in Silicon Valley. Click here for part two in this series, an article about “The Basics of Styled Components.” Click here for part four, a piece about how to build your first Node.js server.)

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Another month is in the books for me at Lambda School. I’m officially over halfway through the full stack web engineering curriculum, although I still have 3 months of computer science classes after the web portion is finished. I’ve mastered CSS preprocessors like LESS and SASS, semantic HTML, responsive design, React, Redux, React Router, Styled Components, and many other awesome tools that allow me to be an effective engineer.

However, one of the biggest things I’ve learned so far is the importance of staying positive in the face of an overwhelmingly massive learning curriculum and tight deadlines. While it’s never explicitly mentioned in the Lambda training process, I believe this mindset of positivity is one of the core soft skills that the school aims to teach its students. This article will take a look at positive framing and the ways I’ve personally found to boost my mood and focus on what’s truly important.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

— Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor)

Staying Positive in the Face of Adversity

While growing up as a kid, I would sometimes get made fun of and bullied for the fact that I tried to be super cheerful. I’d get comments like, “Why are you so annoyingly happy all the time?” or “Stop smiling. Why are you always so upbeat? It’s stupid.” I’d get intentionally left out of hangouts with “friends.”

Some people seem to see positivity as a quality or character trait that is immature, frivolous, and annoying; in their eyes, a person who is constantly optimistic about the future is obviously naive in the ways of the world and how it operates (never-mind the fact that some of the world’s most popular comedians are old souls and secretly melancholy individuals when they aren’t on stage in front of the bright lights and thousands of fans).

Many of us that are like this have a great need for a light shining in the darkness to illuminate the daily struggles we come across; perhaps we recognize how important it is to keep our spirits up while dealing with tumult, pressure, stress, and overwhelming odds. If what I said in the proceeding few paragraphs resonated with you, please know that you’re not alone.

There’s an article from the American Psychologist magazine entitled Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions that I think is highly relevant to this discussion. It describes how methods such as writing down three good things that happen at the end of each day made study participants happier. Additionally, this process had lasting impact up to 6 months after these individuals participated in the study. UC Berkeley used this study to develop a behavioral therapy approach (as seen here) to change attitude through a gratitude-centered process.

My previous employer in healthcare had its employees do this for one year, and I distinctly remember feeling really happy at the end of every day when I realized all of the great things I truly had to be thankful for. Sometimes you don’t understand what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come until you force yourself to slow down and focus on it.

Image by Jakub Gorajek on Unsplash

Happiness, Stoicism, and Lambda School

Being a student at Lambda School requires intense discipline. Make no mistake, I am absolutely loving my time here, but studying from 7:30 am to midnight every weekday (plus lots of bonus hours on the weekend) requires a very special mindset. It’s extremely easy to feel down about your journey when you are cramming information into your brain all day long; tensions can run high when a week was rough for everyone or if you and your classmates didn’t understand the lecture material completely.

One of the philosophies I have frequently discussed with others during our quieter moments at Lambda is Stoicism. According to the ancient Stoics, the path to happiness is through accepting the moment as it is and adapting to it. Disappointment in life stems from when our high expectations differ greatly from reality. Here’s a phenomenal TedEd talk about it that sums up the basics (and history of it) better than I ever could:

This concept of adapting to tough circumstances and persevering through the obstacles set in your path is one of the tools that has helped me a lot at Lambda. I won’t lie and say that it’s been easy; on the contrary, it’s been hard. But pressures and difficulty in life, correctly handled, have the tendency to produce diamond results.

I have been trying to take some time before going to sleep every day to remember what I’ve accomplished in the last 24 hours. Remembering how far I’ve come gives me energy for the rest of my journey, and it also keeps my mind from lingering over the many roadblocks that have frustrated me along the way.

This week, try writing down three things every day that you either accomplished or are thankful for. Also, try to correctly focus on the obstacles in your path by turning them into your goals. Go through them, not around them, and remember what you accomplish at each step of the journey along the way. At the end of the week, review what you’ve achieved and been thankful for. Allow yourself to appreciate what you have done instead of what roadblocks you still face, and you’ll notice that your perspective on life will fundamentally shift for the better.

Thanks for reading.


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Nathan Thomas

Nathan Thomas

I’m just here for the free food.

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