By Fahad Ken Alden
Many people believe that optimism is something inherited, that as little kids, they were always cheerful and bubbly and go-getters. For me, becoming an optimist was something I had to develop through trial and error.
Even at eight years old, I would groan and complain about everything from going to school to going to the playground. To some extent, there was a reason I was so miserable at that age. As a Middle Eastern boy, my heritage and culture made me an easy target. Things escalated as I got older when a group of kids taunted me for years with racial slurs. The fact that I also was horrible at sports made it harder for me to make friends with other boys my age. I was pulled out of classes to be in special education classes as well, which made me an even easier target.
While these factors help to explain why I was a bitter and miserable person, they do not excuse it. Yes, I dealt with hardships, but I allowed my flaws and weaknesses to define who I was. No one wanted to be around me because all I would do was complain. I also grew envious of kids who were more athletic or more intelligent than me, thinking that the universe dealt them better cards.
This pathology is something no one should subscribe to. When I fixated on everything that was wrong with my life, I neglected the great things I had: loving parents, living in a safe neighborhood, and having food on my plate.
I left this toxic mindset once I watched a video about spirals. A negative spiral is when you go to school thinking of the worst-case scenario, such as when you think about how you will go to your first day of classes, no one will look like you, and you will eat lunch alone.
Positive spirals are about flipping that script. An example would be “I am going to go to school and make many friends.” Another example is, “I am going to shine this year in physics, and my parents will be proud of me.” At the beginning, this may feel inauthentic or not natural. But, just like learning to ride your bike, you may fall a couple of times, but it is important to get back up and keep trying.
So how might one go about changing their mindset? The first suggestion is to start listening to empowering music, such as the work of R&B and rap artists. Their music highlights being assertive, making money, and loving yourself. When a rapper talks about how their lyric game is on point, and they’re the best in the game, envision yourself as the best at what you do. I began to carry myself differently when I stepped away from sad songs and switched to confident and upbeat songs.
Second, expand your reading horizons. When you’re reading a self-help book, it is like engaging in a conversation. You are hearing a story and an experience with some sprinkles of advice on top. Reading about world leaders’ or spiritual advisors’ advice will help you on your journey. Reading books from Gandhi or Oprah will make you feel like you are meeting them in real life. You will hear about their advice, their triumphs, and their failures, reminding you that life is not a linear path to success.
Third, keep a journal so you can better track and monitor your emotions. You can also list things you are grateful for. Start small, such as writing that you are thankful for having a bed, listing one friend you cherish, and being able to have a job. While those may seem like simple things, when you realize how much privilege you have (which I learned when I volunteered at a homeless shelter), you realize how big those can actually be.
Finally, I also recommend meditation. Go to a quiet area, preferably outside on the beach or at a park, and close your eyes. Reflect on the positive things in your life and on things you could be doing better, and think about how you are lucky to have a safe and calm place to decompress, how fortunate you are to have the opportunity to continue your education, and how you are able to have food to eat and a roof over your head. Feel all your emotions, whether they be sadness or anger, happiness or joy. Make time for yourself to feel these emotions rather than distracting yourself through work, relationships, or partying.
Fahad Alden is a sophomore Digital Media major with a minor in Law at the University of Massachusetts – Lowell. He also works at Kids Club and hosts a podcast on Spotify called “Lessons We Can Take from Today,” where he interviews professionals from state representatives to teachers about life lessons anyone can learn. He also serves as a member of the Bedford Library’s Board of Trustees, making him the first Middle Eastern and youngest person elected in Bedford history.
He says, “Growing up in America, where English was my second language, and coming from a working-class refugee family, taught me a lot about dealing with adversity. Dealing with those setbacks in many ways set me up to be a more resilient and stronger person.” At UMass – Lowell, he is a well-being leader where he advises students on stress management and directs them to mental health resources and holistic psychology approaches.
He said he was inspired to begin this column to help high school and college students to navigate one of the most challenging situations that may come to the horizon during these critical times.
Nice read bro 🔥🙏
Insightful as ever! The difference these changes have made for you is evident and I’m sure they will benefit many others
Great read! Inspirational and such good advice.
Great article! I cannot wait for the next one!