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The Up Beat
By Amy Wong

Positive Thinking Tip: Read the Obits

Last week I blogged about transforming negative thoughts into positivity-filled Power Thoughts and finding blessings in a bad situation. Well, here’s another good thing about being laid up with a knee injury: Since I’m not spending all my free time out and about, I can read my paper and my magazines in their entirety. It feels like such a luxury. Usually I skim headlines, pick pieces here and there, then save the rest to finish “when I have time” (the towering stack of half-read New Yorker and ESPN mags by my bed should tell you how deluded that idea is).

My leisurely perusal of the paper yesterday led me to one of my favorite sections and reminded me of a surprisingly reliable positive thinking technique: reading the obituaries. How morbid, you might think. Not at all. It’s actually life-affirming because the obits are not so much about how people died but how they lived. And as we often say here at Guideposts, everyone has a story.

I like finding out tidbits about famous people, but I prefer to read about those who aren’t quite household names. Like Jean Craighead George, a prolific children’s book author who died Tuesday at 92. She wrote a book that utterly captivated me when I was in third grade: Julie of the Wolves, about an Eskimo girl who runs off into the wild and learns to survive with the help of a pack of wolves. (I still have my 1970s celery-green paperback on my bookshelf.)

George lived a life as shaped by a love of nature as her fictional heroine’s. She came from a family of naturalists, took her kids on wilderness adventures and shared her home with 173 wild animals. As The New York Times reported, “Among them were a crow that gathered coins and deposited them in the rainspout of the local bank and an owl that adored taking showers in the family tub. (Overnight guests at the George home were met with a cautionary sign: ‘Please remove owl after showering.’).”

Quirky little details like that never fail to brighten my day. They’re confirmation that the world is an interesting place filled with interesting people. And it’s hard to have a negative attitude if you believe that.

P.S. It’s not just big-time big-city newspapers like the Old Gray Lady where you can find interesting obituaries. Check out Andrew Meacham’s pieces in the Tampa Bay Times memorializing people from all walks of life. Or this recent obit from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, about Dale Radke, who for almost 40 years was the voice behind the local Lutheran church’s dial-a-prayer line, 414-GOD-LOVE.

Amy Wong is the executive editor of Guideposts and was a founding editor of Positive Thinking. She lives in New York City with her adopted dog, Winky, a natural-born positive thinker who believes that everyone has a treat for her and every day is the best day of her life. Amy hopes to be that optimistic someday (she’s working on it!).