Monday, September 26, 2011

Nice New Yorkers (and the power of Learned Optimism)

New Yorkers have a reputation. And it's not good.  Some of the characteristics portrayed on television are : Brash, loud, arrogant, enitled, rough, sleezy, . . . I think that covers it.  Things were bad enough before "Jersey Shore" hit the reality show circuit. But for every New York loudmouth, there are a multitude of quietly kind and approachable New Yorkers.  It is all in selective attention, people tend to find what they expect to find. 

Meet Sandra.  She is a waitress at an Irish Pub by West 51st in Manhattan.  When my husband and I  met her she was nearing the end of her shift.  We never saw her sit down, but we did see her take the time to greet and chat with her customers.  She was thrilled to show off her new trick: salting a glass for a cold mexican beer!

Meet Matt and Ann.  They work at the Concierge desk at the downtown Hilton.  Matt is a teacher by day and concierge by night.  I understand it is their job to be knowledgeable, but they were also very personable.  Matt recommended a delicious restaurant that was priced reasonably but off the tourist path (delish by the way) and Ann was delighted to point out little known churches in downtown. One in particular where she swears God spends his free time.

As an extention to our trip Sal and I took the subway system from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  It was an hour long ride with many stops.  We saw waves of ethnic, racial, and cultural groups enter and depart the train.  Asians, Arabs, Muslims, Hasidic Jews, Italians, sitting side by side sometimes speaking their own language, other times sharing their seats or offering advice.  No conflict on the subway.  It was a colorful and inspirational ride.

On any journey we choose how we perceive and respond to our environment. Learned Optimism is the intentional decision to focus on the positives in life.  It is training yourself to shift perspective and open the mind to a happier point of view.  Learned Optimism is credited with boosts in overall mood and increased resiliance from stress. It is an effective anecdote to depression.  It is not, however, to be confused with rose colored glasses.  In other words, a person practicing learned optimism does not ignore the negative in the universe.  There is an acknowledgement of negative, but a deliberate return and refocus on the positive.

For example: After a refreshing stroll through Central Park I spotted Elmo at the street corner.  I called to him and spread my arms to give him a big hug!  (I love Elmo)

He greeted me with a tight embrace and then posed for a picture.  Afterword a muffled deep adult male voice mumbled "Tip!" and shook a little bag that I hadn't noticed in our hug.  Elmo wanted to be paid for my hug and picture moment!  (Jim Henson would be appalled)

Rounding the corner we were greeted by three other adult sized Elmos and a Cookie Monster. 
We remembered the first, negative experience, waved at the "new shift" and smiled-- treasuring the laugh at ourselves. 

Walking down the crowded streets of Manhatten, there was a lot to grab our attention.  There were the Sandras, Matts, and Annes, and also the flock of Elmo schiesters. From beautiful architecture to littered sidewalks. Focus on the clutter or the endless diversity of people, its all in how much time you give each in your brain.
You gotta love New York, or at least it is more fun to love New York.  From terrorism to heroism it is all there.  Its a matter of what you choose to focus on that makes the difference!


  1. Oh my gosh, that Elmo story is HILARIOUS! But also sort of painful. I appreciate your message about learned optimism. I really need to practice that!

  2. I love New York! It sounds like you had a great time. As a whole, the NICEST city I've ever been in is NYC.

    Hey, and even Elmo has to make a living.