As a co-author in the first volume of the Contagious Optimism Book Series (2013), I got to present talks at local bookstores and libraries. While doing a talk at my hometown library, the Sayreville Public Library, an attendee asked, “Could you do a monthly group where we talk about optimism? I think I need that!” The others agreed. And with the support of a wonderful Librarian, one month later in September 2013, the monthly Sayreville Library Contagious Optimism Wellness Group was born.
In preparing to start the group, I experienced some of the same earlier fears, but something deep down within me knew this had real potential. I envisioned a group where we would read pieces from the book, share personal stories related to select Positive Psychology (PP) topics, complete associated PP exercises in between meetings, and discuss experiences engaging in them at subsequent meetings.
I was overjoyed when 14 people came to that very first meeting. I started the session by sharing that music is one source through which we can help ourselves reframe and see the positive. I cited a story I had just watched on ESPN about a high school football coach in Cadillac, Michigan in the 1970s, who decided to start playing Kiss music in the locker room to reframe his players’ attitudes. He felt they were too serious and this was why they were losing. After he started playing Kiss, their attitudes transformed and they began winning again and again. Kiss heard about the story and actually visited the town and high school—ESPN showed pictures of the mayor donned in full makeup along with the band!
I also shared with the group that just recently, my husband was listening to ESPN radio in the car, and the host was talking about Mariano Rivera retiring from the Yankees and how they’d miss how he always walked onto the field to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The host proposed, “Wouldn’t it be great if when you walked into work every day, your boss played your theme song for you?” He then asked the listeners, “What would your song be?” That moment, my husband called me from the car and asked me what my theme song would be. I shared something I had never told him—that any time I need to feel better about a bad situation or pump myself up for something important, I play the Laverne & Shirley Theme Song, Making Our Dreams Come True (yes, I do that).
Then I asked the group what their theme songs would be? They shared their songs and we talked about how sad music, negative self-talk, and pessimism reinforce a negative outlook, but if we simply change the music, switch to positive self-talk, and an optimistic outlook, we transform our worlds.
After we talked about theme songs, I read some pieces from Contagious Optimism, and shared a personal story about finding the good in a bad situation. I asked if they had ever had a challenging experience that they learned from and found positivity in. A deep, meaningful, and personal sharing began…and didn’t stop until 20 minutes past when the program was scheduled to end. People shared how they had found wisdom and strength in family and work-related struggles, and members provided one another with guidance, support, empathy, empowerment, and validation. It was the beginning of something that has become a monthly highlight in my life, and I believe, in the group members’ lives. At this writing, the Sayreville Library Contagious Optimism Wellness Group has been running 17 months strong. We have members who have never missed a meeting. And we continue to grow and evolve.
When Piscataway Public Library learned about the group, they asked to start one. 16 people came to our first meeting in September 2014 and we just had our fifth monthly meeting. The honestly and empathy that the group provides one another fills me with hope. We have had friends, spouses, and mother/daughter teams come to the group together. They are another group of amazing humans who inspire me.
Just when I thought this optimism spreading journey couldn’t get any more awesome, the Piscataway Senior Center contacted me to start a group. Yesterday, we held our first meeting and 17 sensational seniors attended. When I asked them what brings them joy in life, they told stories of finding optimism and happiness in their children and grandchildren, their co-workers, their good friends, meeting new people, teaching/training others, taking photographs of nature, music and dancing, cooking, gardening, volunteer work, and my personal favorite—a member who loves anything that involves adrenaline—in particular, when she jumped out of an airplane for her 65th birthday! As someone who likes my feet planted firmly on the ground, she just wows me.
So maybe I wasn’t destined to run a therapy group, but I was absolutely meant to facilitate optimism wellness groups. I have found a purpose here. Each meeting (now I get to do three a month!) I learn something new from the group members, feel inspired by who they are, and have the gift of knowing that together, we are spreading optimism like a positive contagion, helping one another see the wonderful possibilities that exist now and beyond.
P.S. In case you were wondering what my husband’s theme song is, he has a few. The Superman Theme Song and Star Wars Theme Song to get pumped up, and Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror to remain in check and remember what’s important. One of the many reasons why I love this guy ;-) And, here's my son, Josh, singing his theme song, Pharrell's Happy, in Hershey Park, PA in Summer 2014 :-)
So…What’s your theme song?