Don't Worry, Be Happy

Throughout my life I’ve looked at the world through a positive lens.


While most believe this mentality is optimal, experiences have proven otherwise.


I've often been questioned - even ridiculed - because of this positive mindset.

For example:


As a high school student, I was regularly reminded, “Nice guys finish last.”

As a college student, peers mocked me for being too friendly.

As a high school teacher, I was told, “You are too easygoing.”

As a middle school administrator, a parent told me I smile too much.

As a high school administrator, I was told my emails were "too happy.”

As a superintendent, other school leaders suggested I'm "too optimistic."


This constant discouragement has caused me to question my rosy view of the world: Maybe I’m too positive?


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Several years ago, I was shopping with my (now ex-) wife at an outlet mall. Realizing we were going to be there a while, I told my her "I'm gonna do my own thing - text me if you need anything" and wandered into a nearby bookstore.


Browsing the business aisle, I stumbled upon the 5 Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell.


I picked up a copy and skimmed through several pages. Towards the middle of the book an excerpt caught my attention that reads as follows: "I have sometimes been criticized for being too positive. But it’s a weakness I’m willing to live with because the usual benefits are so high."


"Wait - did I read that correctly?”


Fascinated, I continued reading: "Besides, I’d rather live as a positive person and occasionally get burned than be constantly skeptical and negative."


"I was right!" I rejoiced while reading the excerpt a few more times.


Discovering this paragraph changed my life. Desperately needing a reminder that positivity always wins, this passage provided the confidence to ignore society and to live life with an optimistic mindset.


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To be clear, there is a fine line between being positive and being a pushover.


Many think that positive leaders are nice, undisciplined, happy-go-lucky people who smile all the time and believe that results are not important. This could not be further from the truth. Positive leaders are demanding without being demeaning. They have high expectations for their people and expect continuous improvement from their organization.


One concept that plays a key role in positive work environments is to assume positive intent.


When employees make decisions, leaders have two options: assume the best and trust the employee or assume the worst and scrutinize the decision. Leaders who assume positive intent always believe employees are working to the best of their ability with the resources and information they have.


But don't forget Maxwell's warning: Positive people occasionally get burned. Similar to how kids test parents, employees may see how far they can push a trusting boss. When this happens, leaders must immediately address the situation. Not only will the defiant employee realize this behavior is not tolerated, employees skeptical of an optimistic boss are less likely to question the philosophy.


As leaders, our daily mindset has a profound impact on our organization. Cheerful to cynical and everything in between - we must realize our mentality eventually trickles down to employees at every level.


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Ok enough about work. This is supposed to be about personal growth!


One of the best books I’ve read on the importance of living a positive life is The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Achor explains when our mindset and mood are positive, we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.


Essentially, life success depends on personal happiness.


“Jared – you seem happy all the time,” some readers may be thinking. “That’s just not me.”


To be clear, I am not happy all of the time. I have dealt with moderate anxiety all of my life. I take a high dosage of daily antidepressants (40 mg), and pop a (doctor prescribed) Xanax when my anxiety gets too out of whack. Factor in my ulcerative colitis, and I take more pills each day than my 90-year-old Grandma (love you Grandma Schiffer!).


However, I have been able to overcome most of these issues by installing several ideas into my life that provide bursts of positivity. These ideas have helped me overcome my anxiety issues so that I can focus on living life.


While there are countless ideas I have tried, here are six of my favorites:


Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness: The act of altruism – giving to friends and strangers alike – decreases stress and contributes to enhanced mental health. Always look for opportunities to brighten the day of others. Those who follow my blog understand that I send over 2,000 positive postcards a year to students, staff, community members, and colleagues in the field.


Infuse Positivity into your Surroundings: While we may not always have complete control over our surroundings, we can make specific efforts to infuse them with positivity. Put up pictures that make you happy. Listen to music you enjoy. Turn on your favorite scents (my current go-to is a diffuser with tea tree oil). Quit watching TV. Limit your social media.


Journal: People who take time each day to write are proven to be calmer and happier. While journaling takes many forms, two ideas I have implemented into my life are documenting daily gratitudes (what am I thankful for?) and daily lessons (what did I learn today?).


Utilize Strengths: Everyone is good at something. Each time we use a skill, we experience a burst of positivity. Whether you are a great cook, have an excellent singing voice, or have a green thumb (none of which are me, by the way), look for opportunities to insert these activities into your life.


Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to: Did you know people who just think about watching their favorite movie increase happiness by 27 percent? Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. Reminding yourself about an upcoming trip, a night out with friends, or sipping on coffee while reading a good book (my personal favorite) lights up the pleasure centers around your brain as much as the actual reward.


Spend Money (but not on Stuff): Money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things. You may not want to hear this, but the feelings we get form buying material objects (designer clothes, fancy cars, massive houses) are fleeting. Spending money on experiences – my personal favorite is country concerts – produces positive emotions that are both meaningful and longer lasting.


As you integrate these happiness exercises into your daily life, you’ll not only start to feel better, but you’ll also notice how your enhanced positivity makes you more efficient, motivated, and productive.


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We all have the power to decide how live our life. We can choose to be grumpy and bitter or we can choose to have a smile on our face. While the latter seems like the natural choice, realize there will always be pessimists who question this approach.


Do you share these experiences? Similar to what Maxwell's book did for me, let these words give you the confidence to lead with a hopeful mindset.


During moments of ridicule, have faith that positivity wins in the long run.

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