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5 Things Parents Can Learn From a Professional Optimist

09/29/2015 08:01 EDT | Updated 09/29/2016 05:12 EDT
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glass of water half empty on...

Let's be clear, when the glass is half-full, it is still half empty. Even when the glass is 100 per cent full, it is on it's way to being half-empty.

I live by this mantra. So you won't find me posting inspirational quotes with sunrises in the background (up at sunrise -- blech), or putting a cheery face on an difficult situation. I know some people gather strength by those things, but I don't. In fact, I'm so cynical that I often think the people posting all those rainbows and happiness quotes are way further down the negativity rabbit hole than I am.

But the business of optimism surounds me. This push to the sunny side of the street can make us natural cynics even more cynical. Happiness and optimism is the new aspirational must-have, to go along with your gleaming children, Fitbit, Pinterest cupcakes and labradoodle puppy.

I'm not knocking optimism, if anything, I'm a little envious of those who are optimistic. I don't think it is in my DNA, and my kids aren't far behind me on the cynicism front. Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to be optimistic? Could I still make snarky jokes? Who would I be if I was glass half-full kind of person

So it's always interesting when a natural cynic like me meets someone who is a natural optimist like John Jacobs, co-founder of the Life is Good company. You probably know John's products -- T-shirts, ballcaps, mugs all with a positive message about life being good.

I am going to be honest I find that stuff cute but super cheeseball.

Like any good positive person, Jacobs was not put off by my negativity. Happiness is different than optimism which, said the company's Chief Optimism Officer, is a strategy.

And it turns out, a strategy I can get behind.

As Jacobs describes it, a key part to optimism is accepting that life isn't perfect or easy but life is good and we can make a conscious decision to focus on the good. But how do we do that when life is so busy that we forget the hockey sticks on the way to the hockey game?

Jacobs has some ideas -- and a lot of them are about tapping into feeling grateful. Here are his top five ideas:

Tune into the highs and lows of day: The father of three young kids has a nightly ritual where all the kids give their "mad props" for the day. In our house we do "highs and lows," some families do "roses and thorns." When you take a moment to focus on a highs and lows of the day, you are reminding your kids that a day can be good and bad. That even bad days have something funny, and sometimes really good days also have some downtimes. Life is textured and complicated and they got through it all and ended up at the dinner table -- how great is that?

Change your thinking: A simple shift from "I have to" to "I get to" has been a powerful tool for Jacobs. So instead of "I have to go to this meeting, he thinks "I get to... go to this meeting, or walk to school, or eat this sandwich." This idea has partially been fueled by the powerful responses to his products. The Life is Good company hears from their customers almost every day on how their positive message has helped them get through some tough times.

Practice gratefulness: Even a man peddling optimism admits that he had down moments, which can be an opportunity to exercise gratefulness. He asks: "Can you practice gratitude in the harder moments. Can you remember the core things that make you who you are and tune into them?" That is optimism, he says. And much to my surprise it's something I already to. Maybe I'm not such a cynic after all.

Don't rule over your kids: Jacobs says that he is a type A hippie, which probably helps when building a $100 million business about optimism but sometimes he let that type A get in the way of parenting. One thing his kids have taught him, is that he needs to let them lead the way.

Reflect on the good: The Jacobs family went through some tough times, John and Bert who run the company are two out of eight kids. They grew up in Boston with a "difficult dad" and a mom who chose to focus on the good in everyday. "Every night at dinner our mother would ask, 'tell me something good?' And it would change the atmosphere in the house."

Other key elements of the Jacobs brand of optimism: openness, courage, simplicity, humor, gratitude, compassion, fun, creativity, authenticity and love are all detailed in his book -- Life is Good: The Book -- how to live with purpose and enjoy the ride. They call them superpowers -- I call them good values, and I hope that I show some of them on any given day.

The more Jacobs talked about optimism being a strategy the more I realized that I am much more an optimist than I thought. And that idea of being grateful, and the knowledge that I have the tools to get through tough times is something I am passing on to my kids.

Life isn't black and white we don't have to choose to rule out optimism or happiness just because sometimes we live in the dark -- most of us live somewhere in the grey. So, I still say the glass is still half empty, but that's OK I know where the tap is, and I get to walk over there whenever I need to.

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