Photo by Gabby Orcutt on Unsplash

Let’s reflect on the following questions: –

1. When someone asks you to describe yourself, what would you say?

2. When someone asks you to narrate a childhood experience, what comes to your mind?

3. If you had to describe your first date with your spouse, what would that be?

4. How would you narrate your first day at work?

5. When you look at your text messages or posts on social media, what is your tone of voice?

6. How has social isolation made a difference to your life?

The Study

Your answers to the above questions might either be positive or negative.

However, according to researchers Margaret Matlin and David Stan (1970) who studied human behaviour observed that human minds are capable of being upbeat and positive despite the awareness of negative facts or circumstances. We are able to re-direct our minds towards the positive and interpret the best possible outcomes. Their research also found that people often placed greater emphasis on the positives when they had to make decisions without complete information.

This might be one of the reasons why we make several choices based on optimism. Whether we choose to invest in stock markets, choose our life partners, switch careers, move homes, make high end purchases, endure a major surgery and many more. We deal with every life altering decision with optimism.

Keeping these aspects of research in mind, how can we train ourselves to sustain positivity and optimism despite the changing circumstances around us that have altered our lifestyles, our visions, our long-range plans and our securities that we harp about.

Pollyanna Principle – The Story

Novels influence our minds. With the help of compelling stories, we travel with protagonists to lands unknown and learn life lessons. Such is the story of little Pollyanna who sparked a study in psychology with her principle of absolute positivism.

The Pollyanna Principle” emerged from Eleanor H. Porter’s novels. Pollyanna, an orphan had to go live with her sharp and harsh aunt. Her father had taught her the importance of optimism and she was determined to apply the philosophy despite the trials she faced every time as a juvenile. Each day, she played “The Glad Game” in which she saw only the positives in negative situations and eventually transformed the entire village to follow the philosophy. Her cheerful demeanour won over even the most sad and disdainful personalities.

Eleanor’s novels inspired psychologists to research this philosophy further and the study of positive psychology gained a new ground for exploration.

Pollyanna Principle – Our Route to Optimism

A study that was conducted by Cornell University in 2014 to find out if our communication is inclined towards aggressiveness or positivity concluded that we tilt more towards positivity.

This could be one of the reasons why we tend to forgive someone for their wrongdoings because we see hope for better circumstances, relationships, community spirit.

And therefore: –

  1. When someone asks you to describe yourself, you are likely to start off with positive elements (caring, good listener, loving etc.)
  2. When someone asks you to describe a childhood experience, you are likely to talk about your summer holidays, favourite subject or teacher or your high school sweetheart
  3. If you had to describe your first date with your spouse, you’d describe the excitement, butterflies in the stomach and awkward conversations you’ve had
  4. If you had to narrate your first day at work, you’d talk about how excited you were to meet new people, your plush headquarters or how you were welcomed by your colleagues
  5. When you look at your text messages or posts on social media, you’d possibly see positive comments and references
  6. If you had to describe how social isolation made a difference to your life, you’d talk about the time you spent with your family, catching up on sleep, making more quiet time for reading and reflection
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

How to use the Pollyanna Principle?

The ongoing crisis has had a psychological impact on the way we think and feel about our existence. Fear and insecurity have been looming over for quite a few months now. We’ve seen the global economy crumble, rise in fatalities and infections, trying times for first responders, job losses and rise in mental health crisis due to isolation. Our mental capacities to stay positive may have plummeted with anxiety casting a shadow on our minds.

Life has to go on! Each day is an opportunity to make the most of it. It is a possibility to reflect on things we would been oblivious to, because of our daily obligations.

The Pollyanna Principle continues to focus on the positives while being aware of the negatives.

Here are a few things you could do using the principle: –

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. Write about all the things that went well in the day and how do you feel about it?
  2. Say this to yourself “This too shall pass.”
  3. Reach out to atleast one person in a day you haven’t spoken to in a long time and strengthen that connection
  4. Ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen?”
  5. Volunteer to help someone. This is an antidote to anxiety and hopelessness
  6. Make a list of your strengths and pick one from the list each day to sharpen it further (This could be communication, creative writing, parenting, cooking, gardening, art etc.)
  7. Find some time during the day for reflection and live consciously despite the little monster in your head making you feel otherwise


The Pollyanna Principle may not be able to solve our problems or the world crisis, but it certainly gives us the awareness of our strengths in the face of challenges. It believes in absolute positivism. If our minds are capable of constructing economies, building communities, innovating technologies then we are certainly capable of managing our emotional capacities.

And to begin with, you could use the Pollyanna Principle to answer the questions I’ve shared above and hopefully you’ll be able to articulate some interesting experiences.

P.S. – If you feel little Pollyanna could be a ray of hope in the lives of your loved ones, don’t hesitate to pay it forward by sharing this article further. You are doing them a world of good by reaching out.


  • Hithakshi Kotyan

    Author | People Development Specialist | Harvard Member | Positive Psychology Coach

    Hithakshi is an Author and Senior Learning Specialist with Priceline Technology, India. She has worked and consulted global organisations to drive personal and workplace excellence. The underlying themes of her programs are rooted in the areas of Career Pivots, Self-Leadership, Personal Productivity, and Well-being. She is the author of "The Future of Work In An Evolving Economy", a Member of Leaders Excellence at Harvard Square and Business Intelligence Board Member at the Chief Learning Officer Publication. Hithakshi is a Certified Instructional Designer, a Positive Psychology Coach, and a Behavioural Interpreter.