By Bert and John Jacobs
“It’s hard to be grateful all the time, you know? And some days I wake up and I feel like I’m on the wrong side of the bed and I can’t appreciate everything that happens around me. But I believe in practicing gratitude in the same way that you practice free throws, or anything else. You can consciously choose to focus on what you’re thankful for, rather than what frustrates you. And if you have positive thoughts, positive words, a positive mental attitude, and positive actions then eventually it becomes easier and easier to become positive.” – Michael Franti
While Alex’s letter is one of a kind, over the years we’ve received thousands of communications that have touched and inspired us from people all over the world. We share a number of them throughout this book. Those who write to us often find an authentic, personal connection to Life is Good’s messages. We learned early on that this brand is not about us; it’s about a broad community of optimists from all walks of life.
Customers have told us about wearing their LIG gear through major life events — the joys of weddings, births, adoptions, and reunions. And of course, while enjoying simple pleasures like hiking, grilling, camping, gardening, hanging with friends, or walking the dog. Even more often, people have been moved to share their stories of wearing Life is Good while holding tenaciously to their optimism through the toughest of times. Through the perils of joblessness, homelessness, the deaths of loved ones, chemotherapy, addiction, harrowing accidents, house fires, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and more.
Over and over, people have told us that when they want to prepare themselves for a challenging day, or simply celebrate another one, they find in Life is Good a mantra that grounds them. We get letters about the softness of our t-shirts and artwork, sure — but it’s the message that matters. For many, their clothing choice is both a self-reminder, as well as an empowering message for others. We have heard the same sentiment many times from cancer patients who wear our hats, and once from an amputee who tattooed Life is Good on his prosthetic: “I want others to see clearly that my attitude defines me, not my physical condition or life situation.”
We didn’t know what to do with these letters and emails when we first started receiving them. We were trying to figure out our little business, so while we read them and were moved by them, we just tucked them away in a drawer. We were busy discovering answers to basic questions like “What’s a sales forecast?” But you can’t keep something that good in a drawer. Around 2000, it finally dawned on us that all we had to do with these letters was share them. We started by sharing them internally with our own crew, reading them aloud before meetings and work shifts, and at company-wide gatherings. Back then, we were only a few dozen people. Today, the team of around 200 packs in and listens just as closely to every word. When the daily grind of activities begins to obscure the value of our work, these inspiring stories lift us up and remind us we are members of a much bigger tribe. That’s why we gave this amazing flow of correspondence the name “Fuel”. The ongoing journey of Life is Good is a road trip, and these letters and emails always refill our tank and recharge our spirits for the road ahead.
After a while we put a bound selection of Fuel letters in stores for our customers to discover, and posted a growing number of them on our website. Inspired sharing led to further inspired sharing, as a growing community of readers took the time to pass along their own stories. Looking back, we see how these riveting personal narratives from total strangers helped to shape our organization’s singular, unifying mission: To spread the power of optimism. Lesson learned yet again: listen to your customers. Listen to the people around you. They will help you discover and express your best self.
Fuel brought us something else we’re grateful for: two simple words that can change our daily approach to many situations. They came to us by way of a letter from Regina Brett, an inspiring columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She wrote to us about her column entitled “Chemo Hat’s Power Is In the Message.” It told the story of a time when life didn’t feel good for her, when she was about to undergo her first chemotherapy treatment and couldn’t imagine going bald. Her friend Frank gave her a Life is Good baseball cap, and she chronicled how she wore it until her hair grew back, and how subsequently it was passed along and helped to raise the spirits of at least eight others who were undergoing chemo treatments.
So Frank’s gift keeps rippling. But he had another gift. Here’s how Regina described it:
Frank is a magical kind of guy. A painter by trade, he lives by two simple words: Get to. They remind him to be grateful for everything. Instead of saying, “I have to go to work today,” Frank tells himself, “I get to go to work.” Instead of saying, “I have to get groceries,” he gets to. It works for everything.
Simple phrases are powerful, and Frank’s succinct nugget really spoke to us at LIG. In its simplicity and wisdom, it has become the Swiss army knife of gratitude. We have always believed that where others see obstacles, optimists see opportunities. Where some may feel burdened by daily tasks and commitments (“have to’s”), it’s possible for you to flick that mental light switch and turn them into “get to’s.” The choice is ours. “I have to write that report/do the laundry/pay the bills/pick up groceries.” Or “I get to write that report/pay the bills,” and so on. Most of us get to do these things because we have fingers to type, or a home to live in. We get to pick up the groceries because we have two legs to walk on, and two eyes to read the labels in the aisles, and live in a country with an incredible abundance of available food. That one little word choice (from have to get) represents a major mind shift that can help transform us from default pessimists to proactive optimists. Our Fuel letters taught us that a “get to” attitude is the earned default of those who have faced great adversity. But all of us can utilize “get to” as a powerful reminder to view our lives from a solid foundation of gratitude.
The field of psychology has traditionally been focused more on understanding distress and illness than on understanding wellness and positive emotions. Only in recent years has there been more systematic study of gratitude and its positive effects. The body of research is large and growing, and the findings support impressive conclusions about the strong links between gratitude, mental health, and wellbeing. It’s been reported that grateful people are happier, more open and sociable, less depressed and neurotic, and express higher levels of satisfaction with their lives and relationships. Grateful people have higher levels of personal growth and self-acceptance, and they have stronger coping skills for the challenges and setbacks they experience. They also share a greater willingness to seek out help from others, spend more time planning how to address issues, and demonstrate the ability to interpret challenging events in ways that help them grow. In short, the data confirms there is nothing but upside to practicing gratitude—but see for yourself. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you.
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.