Why is Pollyanna Defined So Harshly?

Have you ever been called a Pollyanna? Did you take it as a compliment? As defined in dictionaries, Pollyanna is an insult. Here’s why the definition inaccurately depicts the novel’s character.

Pollyanna defined
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Is Pollyanna Defined Correctly?

One day at work, I mentioned something about annoyingly positive people. One of my coworkers overheard and turned around to ask, “Like you?” Nice. Googling Pollyanna returns results such these:

  • “An excessively cheerful or optimistic person.” [Google SERP]
  • “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.” [Merriam Webster]
  • “an excessively or blindly optimistic person.” [Dictionary.com]
  • “One who is persistently cheerful and optimistic, even when given cause not to be so.” [Wiktionary]
  • “an excessively or persistently optimistic person.” [yourdictionary.com]

Why is Pollyanna Defined So Harshly?

Excessively cheery, irrepressible optimism and blindly optimistic are some of the words we see when we define Pollyanna. The word Pollyanna has some highly negative connotations for positive people!

The synonyms are less harsh: dreamer, hoper, idealist, positive thinker. Still, people use the name Pollyanna as an insult!

True, overly positive people can be annoying. We’ve known them. Apparently, I’m one. Lifehack suggests that positive people are more likable. [1] Why do we dislike them so much?

Researching Pollyanna, the search engines returned many differing and contradicting philosophies. I cover Pollyannaism and Pollyanna Syndrome in other posts. To dig deeper, I decided to get to know the real Pollyanna. Turns out she’s just a character in a story, so I read the Eleanor H. Porter novel see if Pollyanna is defined correctly.

The Character Pollyanna

Pollyanna was just a kid. Her positive nature was definitely helped by her naivety. There is something annoying about the seemingly naive positive person. We assume they’re positive only because they’ve never faced adversity or experience tough times.

Still, I found the character to be annoying at times. To clarify, I think Porter intentionally portrayed Pollyanna as annoying. The adults, initially annoyed by her naive optimism, ultimately turn around to embrace Pollyanna’s mindset.

Her father taught her a game called “The Glad Game.” To play, you simply look for something to be glad about in trying situations.

3 Reasons Pollyanna Was Not a Pollyanna

Although I disagree with Jurriaan Kamp’s conclusion that Pollyanna was not an Optimist [2], I think our disagreement is only in semantics. There are three reasons Pollyanna wasn’t a Pollyanna.

  1. Pollyanna recognized the situation is bad.
  2. She played “The Glad Game” to help others.
  3. She worked to help improve the bad situation.

Pollyanna Recognized the Situation is Bad

First, never in the story does Pollyanna assume that everything will turn out great. Never does she ignore a negative situation. She even struggles with her own “Glad Game” when faced with extreme hardship later in the story. Conversely, she acknowledges the situations as they are and works to come up with an aspect of the unpleasant situation to be glad about.

Pollyanna Helped Others Become Positive

Secondly, she cared about others. Pollyanna didn’t just relish her positive existence and ignore everyone else. Conversely, she acknowledged everyone else’s suffering.

She felt sympathy for them. She let them know she understood how they were feeling by sharing the story of when her father taught her “The Glad Game.” Then she gave them suggestions on what they could be glad about in the trying times.

Pollyanna Worked to Help Improve the Bad Situations

Most importantly, Pollyanna acted on her glad findings. Every person she taught the game to acted on their new mindset. When she met a boy who didn’t have a home, she didn’t just suggest that he look for his dark cloud’s silver lining. Rather, she worked hard to help him. She begged her aunt, ladies at a church, and wealthy grumpy man to take care of the boy.

In my opinion, we should not define Pollyanna so negatively. It’s just a name, though. Our mindset and actions, what we do every day, are more vital than what we name it.

Embrace Your Pollyannaism!

So I say embrace your Pollyannaism. If someone calls you a Pollyanna intending it as an insult, thank them. Neither a positive outlook or a negative outlook is better than the other–as long as you don’t have the so-called Pollyanna Syndrome–but a positive outlook will make you happier.

Being a Pollyannas will likely make you happier as well as more pleasant, helpful, and productive.

Pollyanna Syndrome

Pollyanna Syndrome sounds like a scary movie! Poor kid. We use her name to describe all these negative traits! Please make sure you heed the dangers of the Pollyanna Syndrome.

Want to keep a better perspective without being called a Pollyanna?

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Why do you think Pollyanna gets a bad rap?


[1] https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/10-traits-likeable-people.html

[2] Pollyanna Was Not an Optimist


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