My journey began in a good, solid, loving environment.  My parents started a business together when I was just one year old, which my mother ran. It was a high-end gift, and card shop in the small town of Ambler, Pa. Due to her absence, my older sister, Kathleen, and my grandfather became my caretakers. I was the youngest of five girls. 

I was about six years old when it was time for Kathleen to move on with her life. She went into the convent, and soon after, my grandfather passed away. The two people that were with me most were gone. Crying myself to sleep at night was the norm. I missed them so much.

One day at the gift shop, my mother pulled me aside to show me two figurines that had just arrived. She told me, “One is the Optimist, and the other is the Pessimist. The Optimist is always looking for the good in life and focused on what they have and are grateful for. The Pessimist is focused on the bad, what is missing, and what makes them feel sad.” 

  She said, “I know you are missing Kathleen and Pop-Pop, we all do, but you still have your family here to love you. You have your father and me, Rosemary, Eileen and Anne. We are all here for you. Do you understand?” I nodded my head, although still feeling sad.

She said to me. “You can have your choice to take home one of these figurines. Which one would you like to have, the Pessimist or the Optimist?” After some deep thought, I told her, “I want to have the Optimist. I want to be happy.”

In grade school, I can recall getting ready for school, looking at the figurine of the Optimist, and deciding today I am going to look for all the good in my life and be happy. That habit I learned as a child has followed me my whole life.

Later in life, I was faced with a far worse situation and was grateful to have the mindset of an optimist. At the age of seven and nine, my two young sons moved two hours away with their father to the Jersey shore. There was nothing I could do to stop them due to a decision I made years earlier during divorce, a decision that was a clear answer to my prayer.

The feeling of anger grew in me; I was so angry with God. “It was You who guided me here! How am I going to get by?” I prayed for death. “Please take my life, so I do not have to live this way. I cannot face the next ten years.” God let me know that I was going to live.

I shouted to God, “Well if that is the case, I need your help! I cannot do this alone! How did this happen?” God gently reminded me that my prayer during the divorce was to help me make the best decision for my children, not for me.

So, to survive, I knew I needed to find a way to be happy. Understanding that children adapt as well as the parents do in divorce my children needed a happy mother. And I needed to be happy to survive each day. This did not happen overnight, but over time I learned to detach from my feelings, and I trained my mind to stay focused in the present moment. If my thoughts lingered too long on my sons, I was a goner.

This is where my long, successful career in the automotive business began. I entered into sales. The long hours served me well and kept me busy. I’d play games with my mind to keep it busy and out of the sorrow that surrounded me as I buried my emotions deep within.

I’d pick a word of the day and see how many times I could use that word. While driving, I’d look for all things blue or green or anything else to keep my mind occupied. I pushed the feelings down and focused on something in the present that made me happy.

Those sad days passed, and now I am an expert at choosing happiness and want to help others see the benefits of putting happiness first, no matter what. When you keep yourself in a positive state, every outcome in life is better. 

I am so grateful to my mother for teaching me the lesson of the Optimist because, without that mindset, I never would have made it through those years that I see as a living hell. “Thanks, Mom.”

Terri Lynn's Happy Talk

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