Who are we to declare that life is good? Good question. We’re two ordinary brothers from Boston who didn’t want a real job but weren’t afraid to work. After graduating college, we decided we wanted to make a living by creating art. Designing and selling T-shirts seemed like a fun, simple way to take a shot at starting a business.
When we started back in 1989, we had no experience but we were game for an adventure. We bought a used minivan, tore out the back seats, and called it “The Enterprise,” telling each other we would “boldly go where no T-shirt guys had gone before.”
For five years, we drove The Enterprise up and down the East Coast, selling our T-shirts in the streets and door-to-door in college dorms. We lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in the van, and showered when we could. The ladies were not impressed.
By 1994, with a combined total of $78 to our names, we were considering giving up on the ultimate road trip. But one highway conversation about the daily flood of negative news led to one idea that led to one shirt that led to one brand, called Life is Good.
Those three words changed our lives forever. We continued to stumble forward, making mistakes left and right — but the power of that one idea was too strong for even us to screw up. Customers embraced the brand and took its simple yet powerful message to heart. Although we had no idea what a business plan was (we once asked our bookkeeper if mountain bikes were tangible assets), the business grew because people were craving something positive amid the steady storm of doom and gloom.
And – then as now — our customers helped to plot our course for the long haul. We started getting great mail from optimists celebrating the simple things that made their lives good. Unexpectedly, we started receiving many letters and emails from people fighting to overcome great adversity, like cancer and the loss of loved ones. Their courageous stories demonstrated how optimism can empower us even in the hardest of times. We were inspired and moved by all of these stories, which we started calling “Fuel.” But we never knew what to do with them — until it occurred to us to share them. That’s when a growing tribe began to rally around Life is Good’s deeper meaning.
Optimism is not just a philosophical viewpoint. It’s not irrational cheerfulness, and it’s not “blind” positivity. Optimism is a powerful and pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life. By acknowledging obstacles and opportunities, but focusing on the opportunities, optimism enables us to explore the world with open arms and an eye toward solutions, progress, and growth. It also makes life a hell of a lot more fun.
Fortunately, over the past 20 years, the benefits of optimism have been validated by a large, growing body of scientific research. Studies have demonstrated a strong link between optimism and increased mental and physical health, greater resilience in the face of stress and adversity, and a higher overall quality of life.
The choice of optimism opens our minds to infinite possibilities. We all get one wild ride on this beautiful planet, right? How are you spending your time? Are you doing what you love? Are you loving what you do? When you look back on your life, will you feel you made the most of it? Those are big questions for all of us, and they can be both exciting and daunting.
This article is excerpted and adapted from the book Life is Good by Bert and John Jacobs, published by National Geographic on September 1, 2015. Copyright © 2015 The Life is Good Company.