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Stop Glossing Over the Good Stuff (How To Be Positive and Happy)

As simple as it seems, taking the time to recognize the good stuff can have a huge positive impact on your relationships with colleagues, significant others, friends, and clients.

Jason and Ali

We Take a Good Thing for Granted

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m kind of a shitty person by default.

With very few exceptions, nearly every part of my day goes off perfectly.

I wake up fully rested in a comfortable bed, have a delicious, organic breakfast with the love of my life, have a cup of coffee from a local roaster that regularly wins national awards, and settle down to work (for myself) from the comfort of my own home on projects that I find both extremely interesting and intensely satisfying.

In the evenings, I meet with friends whose company I truly enjoy at cocktail lounges employing bartenders that look at an old-fashioned with the same air of professionalism as a surgeon about to perform a double bypass.

If we’re not up for drinks, we eat at a restaurant operated by a chef who’s won the James Beard Award more than once.

Every so often I’m asked to speak at a conference, which means I get paid to travel to a cool city like Austin or San Francisco and share my ideas with people who love web design as much as I do.

I’m not telling you this to brag about how great my life is.

I’m trying to paint a picture of what an entitled asshole I can be.

Ask Me How My Day Was

With all the great things I’m lucky enough to do on a regular basis, you might think that I wear a permanent grin on my face and pour out gratitude at Niagara-esque volumes.

But if you asked me how my day was a year ago, you’d probably hear something like:

“It’s okay, I guess.”

“Super busy. I’m so tired.”

“It’d be better if _____ would finally _____.”

What an ungrateful dick, right?

“Are You Actually Complaining Right Now?”

One of my long-term clients is a company called Precision Nutrition. It’s run by Dr. John Berardi and Phil Caravaggio, and employs a good number of truly brilliant people, including my long-time friend Nate Green.

During a trip to Toronto for an all-hands PN meeting, JB, Phil, Nate, and myself went out for dinner at a very cool Italian restaurant. We had an incredible family-style meal, and afterward we started talking about whatever was on our minds.

During the course of conversation, I made a couple negative comments about my life; essentially, I started complaining about my situation.

Phil looked me in the eye and asked, point blank, “Are you actually complaining right now?”

It caught me off guard to be questioned like that, because I was used to commiserating with other entrepreneurs about how “hard” our lives were and all the things we wished we could change.

Yet here was a fellow business owner staring at me like I just set the restaurant on fire.

Dining room at Gusto The exact table at Gusto where Jason decided to start being more positive.

“How Many Good Things Happened Today?”

I started feeling foolish and fought the urge to start rambling in an attempt to backpedal. I decided the best thing I could do was try to steer into the skid.

“I guess I was, yeah.”

JB leaned in. “How many good things have happened to you today?”

My four-star hotel room and the day’s extremely successful meeting with PN flashed through my mind. I felt blood rushing to my cheeks.

“And how many bad things?”

I had to think pretty hard. I forgot toothpaste and had to call the front desk to get some. They sent peppermint, but I prefer spearmint. I had to wait in line for a taxi for, like, ten minutes.

I was being a colossal tool.

The Precision Nutrition team Schools Me

“We tend to forget all the good things that happen to us. I mean, why make a note of something that goes well?”

Nate had joined the conversation.

“But if something goes wrong, that sticks out in our minds. So when we think about our days, just the negative stuff jumps out at us and we complain.”

JB smiled and said, “It’s a psychological default. We all do it.” He looked at Phil.

“Until we decide to stop doing it,” Phil continued.

JB swirled his wine and said, “This is going to feel silly, but list three good things about today. Doesn’t matter what they are.”

I felt like a kid getting a lecture, but I knew they had all done this previously, so I played along.

“My hotel has a great shower, our meeting today has really good implications for my business, and this is one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had.”

Phil beamed; he had picked the restaurant.

“It feels silly,” said JB, “but every time I find myself complaining, I immediately stop and list off three good things about my day.”

“Over time I stopped complaining, partly because I felt silly having to stop mid-conversation to derail a complaint,” JB paused to make eye contact, “and partly because I just didn’t think of the negative as much.”

Reprogramming My Brain

In the weeks that followed, that conversation stuck with me. I was acutely aware of my negativity, and admonished myself publicly by stopping mid-complaint to apologize and list the day’s high points.

It didn’t take long for me to notice a significant drop in complaints. But that wasn’t the only thing that happened; I started to pay more attention to the positive things as well.

No complaining

Don’t Let the Good Go Unnoticed

In my new effort to curb negativity, I started making “anti-complaints”.

“How easy was airport security today?”

“Our waitress was really excellent tonight.”

“This project is going really smoothly.”

These anti-complaints did more than realign my perception of the world, though; I started to see the people around me becoming more positive as well, which made for better experiences in both my professional and personal life.

Putting Positivity into Practice

Being positive doesn’t stop at making you sound less whiny at dinner: a positive outlook can be the catalyst for huge improvements in all areas of your life.

Positivity at Work

In a healthy workplace, you’ll be asked for feedback on projects, and it’s inevitable that some of that feedback will be negative.

By taking the time to point out the good things your colleagues are doing, the negative feedback will be tempered.

Without positive feedback, a coworker may feel that you only have negative things to say about his work, and that can cause tension that just doesn’t need to exist.

It’s not weak or overly emotional to tell someone you appreciate them. In fact, it’s empowering.

Positivity at Home

Every day I tell my girlfriend, Alison, what makes her special to me. Whether it’s her outfit, something cute she did that put a smile on my face, or just the fact that—to my eternal bewilderment—she still hasn’t thrown all of my things out the window and changed the locks.

As a result, I can share my frustrations with her without it feeling like the relationship is ruined. We still fight, but those fights happen with the understanding that we don’t hate each other, we’re just pissed that one of us was supposed to do laundry and instead watched an entire season of The West Wing.

Even When It’s Bad, It’s Not That Bad

If your partner makes a decision you disagree with, or a colleague shows you a project that you think needs work, it’s extremely important to remember that very few things are a total failure.

Try to start by acknowledging the effort that was put in, and listing any positive aspects. Remember whose team you’re on, and that everything can be fixed if you’re working together.

Next time in you’re in this position, try this experiment: Don’t look at the project as a failure with salvageable parts; see it as a solid effort with room for improvement.

Make Sure to Share the Love

Positivity works best when it’s shared. The people around you can’t read minds, so even if you’re noting all the things they do that you appreciate and admire, they’ll never know it unless you tell them.

If you make a habit of sharing all the good things, the bad things will be easier to hear.

Imagine a situation where you turn in projects to your boss, and she never says anything. Every project is accepted silently without any feedback.

Then a project gets rejected. Your boss tells you all the things that are wrong with the project and sends you on your way to try again.

It doesn’t matter that every project before this one was accepted; the only feedback you’ve received from her has been negative.

However, in the exact same situation, if every accepted project had been accompanied with positive feedback—“great job on the layout here”; “I love this sentence here”; “I really appreciate you getting this in on time”—the negative feedback wouldn’t have felt so jarring.

It would have been feedback as usual, working with you toward a better end product.

Life Is Exactly as Good or as Bad as We Choose to Experience It

In the year or so since I’ve forced my brain to focus on—and share—the positive things in my life, I’ve seen a marked improvement in my relationships across the board. This has led to a better home life, a better workplace, and happier clientele.

All of these things have improved my happiness, made my business, Copter Labs, more successful, and (I hope) made me more pleasant to spend time with.

I think it’s important to note that nothing else changed while these improvements were happening. I was living the same life, working the same job, spending my time with the same people.

The only thing that changed was the lens through which I chose to view my world.

Your Turn: List 3 good things that happened today

You can change your life too, starting today. Share your experiences and tell me 3 good things that happened today.




About the Author: Jason Lengstorf is the founder of Copter Labs, a small design and development firm based in Portland, OR. You can find him on Facebook.

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