Positive Thinking for a Positive Town

This week I had a very rousing evening watching the celebrations for Republic Day at the new town Square in Didim. What a fantastic site – one which, it has been claimed, cannot be rivalled anywhere else in Turkey. Not even Istanbul!

It got me thinking to how far this city has come since I first landed here back in 2002. My first trip was a cold, wet, grey April morning after a 13 hour bus ride from Istanbul. We offloaded our bags onto the balcony of the little 2-bed apartment my (now) husband had just bought for a price that went into the ‘millions’ but was then only translated into a few quid. And seeing as the nearest cafe just happened to be Alo24, conveniently located just a few doors away, we sat there with steaming glasses of tea to await the arrival of his brother and the apartment key.

The outlook from that same seat in Alo24 is as different today as if we had been transported to another town altogether. Ataturk Boulevard, which now snakes its way from the Temple to the beach, lush after years of planting and landscaping, bustling with activity, new businesses, national and international brand names, was at that time nothing but a long strip of pretty much dirt track which did nothing but encourage the boy (and not so ‘boy’) racers to perform death defying dares.

Since then the town exploded at an unbelievable rate. I recently found some very interesting statistics below which chart the increase in population since 1960:

YEAR

POPULATION

1960

1,770

1985

5,063

1990

11,378

2000

25,699

2009

41,246

2012

47,872

Source: www.yerelnet.org.tr

With any massive growth spurt there are bound to be problems – and Didim has certainly encountered its fair share. It has been the scene of many a dodgy deal, corrupt goings-on, mayors on ‘gardening-leave’, shootings, international court cases, tax officials descending en masse, raids on government offices, whimsical building regulations, and basically bad bad community decisions (golf course anyone?).

But Didim has also been a destination for thousands of returning European Turks looking to get back to their roots. It has become the permanent home to thousands of UK ex-pats looking for a better quality of life. It has become a mecca for thousands of retired Turks looking to live out at least half their life on the sandy beaches, away from their city centre apartments.

And as the town has increased, so have the businesses and institutions that serve these people – banks, schools, supermarkets, insurance offices, government offices, restaurants, petrol stations, social security offices, doctor’s surgeries, and of course, dentists – all employing often young, professional people who are marrying, settling, and having their own families. When I first arrived in Didim, there was just one ‘pre-school’ (affectionately known as the ‘mushroom’ school). Today there are six that I can count off the top of my head. And they are all busy!

Neighbourhoods are growing and developing their own identities, roads are being laid and the public areas surrounding them landscaped into green areas with ample trees being planted, old, grotty buildings are being demolished and replaced with modern, swanky, glass fronted ones. The marina is settling well into its role in the town, and offering an upmarket alternative to the usual holiday haunts. Whatever your opinion of whether the changes are ‘good’ or not, there can be no doubt that fantastic progress is being made, and will indeed continue to be made.

What a busy, buzzy, 12-month cosmopolitan city Didim is becoming. It is also the place where my husband and I have decided once and for all to stay and raise our own four kids.

But then we are pretty positive people, and throughout all our years here we have chosen to think in a continuously positive and forward looking manner throughout many low, and difficult periods.

There is a great piece of research that I quote constantly to my Thrive trainees – it is called ‘The Undoing Effect of Positive Emotions (Frederikson, Mancuso, Branigan, Tugade; 2000). And I quote directly from the paper:

“Many negative emotions narrow individuals’ though-action repertoires by calling forth specific action tendencies (eg: attack, flee), whereas many positive emotions broaden individuals’ thought-action repertoires, prompting them to pursue a wider range of thoughts and actions.”

“Individuals who express or report higher levels of positive emotion show more constructive and flexible coping, more abstract and long-term thinking, and greater emotional distance following stressful negative events.”

Throughout the years I have been in Didim there has been a lot of negative thinking, talking the place down, looking at it through dirty, grey tinted glasses. While I know that many people have had bad experiences, I also know that those who have dealt with their bad experiences with a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude, have prevailed with their sanity intact (if not always their pockets).

As the research shows, a negative view on life narrows your perception. So ultimately you end up only looking for those things around you that ‘reinforce’ your negative view – whether it is the over-abundance of street dogs, litter, or unfinished roads, for example. A positive outlook enables you to look at, and beyond, all these problems with greater perspective, and see many potential ways forward.

But more importantly, this positive, broadened outlook on the world helps you to build resilience – ‘a variety of enduring personal resources’. So whereas negative emotions are designed to help in moments of immediate danger (the fight-flight response), positive emotions are there to counterbalance the effect of short-term negative emotions once that immediate danger has dissipated, and long term survival skills are required.