Headmaster Mr Lumb delivered morning prayer this morning in the Concourse ahead of Wellness Day this Wednesday. He reflected on the importance of being mindful of our thoughts as they can quite profoundly affect one’s wellbeing.
On Wednesday we have our Wellness Day. It is a morning to pause and take some time out to relax and to reflect on our personal well-being. The day will open with our guest speaker, Jack Kavanagh. Jack left Clongowes in 2011. We will hear something about his very personal story when he addresses us. I don’t want to pre-empt his story this morning other than to say he has a remarkable and inspirational depth and insight about himself and others for someone still so relatively young. This morning I want you to take a moment to think of a word which best describes you. Now close your eyes. Think about whether that word is a positive or negative description of yourself. Without opening your eyes, put up your hand if the word you have chosen about yourself is a positive one. Put up your hand if the word is negative.
Perspective Influences Everything
Open your eyes. Would you say that you have a positive attitude about yourself? And the day which lies ahead? How is it you look upon your life? Would you describe yourself as an optimist or a pessimist? Are you a glass half full or glass half empty person? How do you want your life to be described? Shakespeare put it this way in Hamlet when he said: “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” The decision is yours; these thoughts are yours. You are in control – no one else is. I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘what you see is what you get.’ A big part of improving our quality of life is to accept that what see in our lives has a lot to do with how we see it. Perspective influences everything. We do not see our lives in purely objective terms. We are subjective creatures. We see through a filter. Pessimists have a different take on life than optimists. If we have a leaning toward negativity and moaning, our sense of life takes on that grey sheen. Optimism is perhaps the most important quality we can develop to achieve greater success (whatever that might be or look like). Not just ‘the glass is half full’ kind of optimism but optimism as a deliberate strategy in our lives – a way of dealing with difficulties and sensing opportunities as a result.
Optimism and resilience in the face of adversity, when things are not going well, are the greatest long-term predictors of success for individuals and organisations. An overwhelming body of research shows that optimists perform better at school and work, relative to their ability. The good news is that relatively small changes can be made in our basic approach to life which can make a big difference and help us to become a better version of ourselves. If we have a basic view like “nothing ever works out for me” or “I can’t” we inevitably won’t invest in our life with much confidence or effort. If we can come to see that, in fact, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t, we are likely to try harder and with a more hopeful attitude. Just that shift can change a lot. Or we can think about it in another way. We can ask ourselves, how many people around us are positively affirming us? Just having someone else understand and believe in us can change the filter we have about ourselves and about other people—which can make life seem more worth living and living well. Remember that it is someone else’s gaze that brings each one of us into being.
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
You have heard it said, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ ‘Say cheese’, a photographer tells you, and you put on your best smile. Psychologists have found that there are, in fact, two types of smile; The first is an authentic smile. The muscles that produce this are very difficult to control voluntarily so it’s produced spontaneously when we are genuinely happy and feeling positive and optimistic. To produce this smile, we must actually feel genuinely positive and pleased, before these emotions can be reflected in our facial expression. The other smile, the opposite smile, is disingenuous and plastic. It is produced on demand when the occasion demands that we perform politely. Psychologists tell us that a person with a genuine smile is simply more likely to be someone who does better. The genuine smile seems to reflect an attitude to life and a high level of optimism that convincingly predicts greater levels of satisfaction.
And so, let us pray this morning with a growing sense of gratitude for all the many opportunities and activities Clongowes affords all who live and learn, and work here, which help us to become more optimistic and resilient people, and less fearful and disappointed.
Dearest Lord teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to seek reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will. Amen
21st October 2019