Parenting requires a huge dose of optimism. Who else but the glass-half-full crowd would dare bring children into a world fraught with injustices, Kardashians and high-fructose syrup? It can be an uphill battle to keep focused on the bright side.
I have a naturally Pollyanna personality, but I still need frequent reminders to help stay the course. I seek them out in stories, images, blips of conversation. I’m a heat-seeking missile when it comes to examples of the power of positive thinking.
Last week a reminder came from an icon in the world of optimism. I had the great pleasure to meet Bert Jacobs, co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist of the Life is Good Company. Jacobs was in Austin to wow a crowd of 7,000 at the Texas Conference for Women. His speech was everything you’d hope it would be: energizing, inspiring, tear-jerking and funny.
Afterwards I had the opportunity for a quick interview with him, and I went straight to the topic closest to my heart: family life.
Me: Cynicism seems a little too cool in our culture right now. How do we raise children to be optimists? Bert Jacobs: Tell your kids to look through history and find us the great pessimists. Find us the great cynics. You’ll be done with your assignment in 10 minutes. Then go through and find the great optimists, and you can do it for the next 3 years. Every hero you’ve ever had was an optimist, because they see things before they happen. In order to be optimistic, you have to be open-minded and ambitious.
My work is focused on the “small moments that tell the big stories of family life.” What’s one small moment in your life that tells your big story? I would say my mom at the dinner table saying, “Tell me something good that happened today.” That could look on a given day like a very small thing, but it changed our lives. It changed the trajectory of our whole path. It led us to greater business. It led us to a great kids foundation. And look how lucky we are, doing all the things we are doing. All from one thing that Mom said at the dinner table. The interesting thing is...and it’s not even in the book...is that she had huge challenges in her 20s. My mom was put in a mental institute and was told that she would never amount to anything or have a family. So I think her heightened appreciation for life, and never taking a day for granted, and teaching us “Tell me something good” came from a place where she was really challenged.
What did you want to be when you were 10 years old? A stuntman. I was a typical boy.
I went home and told the kids about my day, and we had a lively discussion about great people in history, about how we can all inject more optimism into our lives, and how (high five!) we are already doing the dinnertime sharing ritual, although ours comes in the form of “What are you thankful for?”
The interview and the conversations that followed with my family were both such lovely gifts. I enjoy any opportunity to talk with the kids about my inspirations as a parent and our goals as a family. The entire day was a great reminder that one small conversation can make an impression well beyond the people who initially shared it.
Knowing the power of that ripple effect, I have to admit one thing, my friends: I kept the stuntman detail to myself. The kids don’t need to know everything. I’m optimistic, not crazy.