Blog, Bookish Life, Social Justice

Pollyanna – The OG Joyful Warrior

Line of text saying above an image of a pin that says "Thinking about new merch". The 1900s era pin says "Join the Pollyanna Club and Be Glad". Underneath in parenthesis it says "Only slightly joking"

When I was nine years old, Pollyanna Whittier, my OG joyful warrior, walked into my life. She joined Sara Crewe and Mary Lennox and those three – my Squad™ – helped make me, me. Each teaching me something different and leaving their indelible mark on me. Maybe one day we’ll get into what Sara and Mary did for me but today, well today is all about Pollyanna.

Pollyanna taught me how joy can be the backbone of resilience.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about Pollyanna Whittier, an orphan who moves to Vermont to live with her single – and incredibly uptight – Aunt Polly. Before Vermont, Pollyanna and her father were in the western territories bringing religion to the masses. As part of their life they received missionary barrels, packages from their home church with the equivalent of a random GoodWill grab bag in them. Once he wrote to his church asking for a doll for Pollyanna for Christmas and they got crutches instead. 

Seeing his heartbroken daughter he pulled out the greatest parenting trick ever and made up “The Glad Game”.

The book then comically details Aunt Polly’s struggle to understand Pollyanna’s preternatural optimism. It also describes the way that Pollyanna joyful warrior nature changes the vibes of this New England town. Everything from rule enforcement to attempts at punishment – because of The Glad Game – are opportunities for Pollyanna to look for something to be happy about.

As an activist who works in gun violence prevention, there are times where I feel like the mountain I am trying to climb is unscalable. In the darkest moments after a controversial bill has been passed I wonder how I am going to keep going. But instead of staying down too long I try think about one good thing that happened during the process. Or one joyful moment that happened.

Then I exploit that nugget for all it is worth.

Oppressors everywhere want to see us indulge in the hurt and pain of activism. Whether they’re Aunts who only talk about “duty”, or systems which treat you as a 3-D printer for more babies. This is especially true when you’re doing the work of dismantling systems built into the foundations of the country. But who has that kind of time when 52 women die by firearm every month by their partner due to domestic violence?

Or when 100 Americans die every day?

Quote that says "Joy is Defiant" courtesy of Brittany Packnett Cunningham
Don’t you forget it, ok?

In the words of Brittany Packnett Cunningham, joy is not indulgent. Joy is defiant and my OG joyful warrior Pollyanna was already on that tip in 1913.

As a first-gen American with a single mother who was busting her ass, there were so many times I felt the yoke of “duty” and “obligation” around my neck. I had to do everything I could to make sure the sacrifices made were not in vain; and that to have resilience and perseverance I had to be like Pollyanna. I had to find joy in what I was doing. Some scrap of happiness, and you know what? I did it.

I’m playing my life with the “Glad Game” mode on and reader, it has made all the difference. 

Eleanor H. Porter certainly did not have a chubby, bespectacled, nine-year old Dominican girl as her target audience in 1913 when she wrote Pollyanna. But that’s the beauty of good books. 107 years later and I’m wrapping myself up with the quilt that makes up who I am – which runs with bright yellow spots thanks to Pollyanna.

And I’m very glad about that.


Natalia Santana is a compliance professional by day, and an activist, student and parent...also by day. Interested in the intersection of activism and education, her joy in life is taking complicated concepts and distilling them into easy to understand Twitter rants. Favorite genres: science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction books.


  1. Carrie L Curtis

    Thank you for your modern perspective of Pollyanna. I am recording a podcast about Pollyanna today and really enjoyed how you are using positivity as a tool for activism today.

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