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A Positive Life Lesson from Mister Rogers

Accepting all our feelings—both “good” and “bad”—is this icon’s most lasting gift to us all.

A life lesson from Mister Rogers

“You’re special just the way you are.”

“There’s no one in the world who’s exactly like you.”

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day.”

These phrases from the wonderful Fred “Mister” Rogers, whose life is celebrated in a new film starring Tom Hanks, are as iconic as the red sweater Rogers donned on his PBS television show. Mister Rogers is remembered for his insatiable devotion to the values of kindness, friendship and emotional literacy, and he is universally viewed as a positive role model.

But Rogers’ most lasting gift—even and maybe especially to the adults who, like me, grew up watching his wonderful world of make-believe—is the way he taught, again and again, that all feelings are real, important and valid. He embodied the idea of authentic positivity, which teaches that only when we embrace the full range of our emotions, including the so-called “negative” feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness and fear, can we learn to walk through life with a genuinely positive outlook.

“The host considered all feelings natural — including the dark ones — and believed they don’t need fixing,” the philosophy professor Mariana Alessandri recently wrote in The New York Times. Rogers lived by the adage, “what is mentionable is manageable,” and again and again he modeled ways to acknowledge difficult feelings like frustration and sadness—and handle those feelings in healthy ways, like playing music, running fast to release energy and asking questions to face fear with facts

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was purportedly a show for children,” Alessandri wrote. “But I think Rogers also meant it for adults. We’d be better off if we’d stop negating children’s dark emotions with stifling commands like ‘Don’t cry,’ ‘Calm down,’ ‘Be quiet.’” 

I’d add that we should stop negating our own “dark” feelings, instead giving ourselves permission to see—and like—ourselves, just the way we are.

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