It may be the quintessential American success story. But for entrepreneurs, clothing manufacturers and authors Bert and John Jacobs, their business plan, their brand and their very lifestyle boils down to three simple words: Life is Good.
With those three words, the Jacobs brothers stumbled upon not just success and a $100 million clothing company—they found the principle that governs their lives. And, they say, if you let this kind of optimism govern yours, you can live a life of better health, resilience and fun.
Life is Good, The Book: How to Live with Purpose and Enjoy the Ride (National Geographic Books, September 2015) is not simply the story of how the Jacobs brothers turned $78 and a used minivan into their thriving clothing empire. It’s a primer on the one, simple ingredient that powered their success: optimism.
They don’t mean irrational cheerfulness or blind positivity. “Optimism is a powerful and pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life,” the write. “By acknowledging obstacles and opportunities—but focusing on the opportunities—optimism enables us to explore the world with open arms and an eye toward solutions, progress and growth.
“It also makes life a hell of a lot more fun,” they write.
The Jacobs brothers had a tough upbringing in working-class Boston. But they also had a mother who was known for her ability to put a humorous and positive spin on any problem the family encountered. “I like running out of money,” she would say. “Then I don’t have to worry about what I need to buy.”
The brothers “didn’t want a real job, but weren’t afraid to work,” they write in the book. So, after graduating from college, they decided to make a living by creating art. “Designing and selling T-shirts seemed like a fun, simple way to take a shot at starting a business,” they write.
The brothers bought a used mini-van, tore out the back seats, and for five years drove up and down the East Coast selling T-shirts in the streets and in college dorms. “We lived on peanut butter and jelly, slept in the van and showered when we could,” the write. “The ladies were not impressed.”
By 1994, the brothers considered giving up on their open-ended road trip. “But one highway conversation about the daily flood of negative news led to one idea that led to one shirt that led to one brand, called Life is Good,” they write.
The “Life is Good” T-shirt (and philosophy) was embraced so powerfully by the public that the brothers’ company took off. Customers began sharing their stories of optimism, even in the face of great adversity, such as severe illness or the loss of loved ones. “Their courageous stories demonstrated how optimism can empower us even in the hardest times,” wrote the brothers. They were inspired by these stories, and used that inspiration as fuel for their T-shirt line. “That’s when a growing tribe began to rally around Life is Good’s deeper meaning,” they wrote.
Today, the brothers helm a company whose runaway success is powered by what they call the 10 “superpowers” that are bestowed upon the optimistic person:
Their book explores these concepts in a manner as lighthearted as their bright and cheerful T-shirts. They not only tell their story, but offer cheery, practical self-help meant to inspire and empower readers to embrace a life filled with daring and delight. “The choice of optimism opens our minds to infinite possibilities,” they write. “We get one wild ride on this beautiful planet, right? How are you spending your time? Are you doing what you love? Are you loving what you do? When you look back on your life, will you feel you made the most of it? Those are big questions for all of us, and they can be both exciting and daunting.”
But as daunting as those questions can be, with optimism, the answers can be invigorating, life-affirming and transformative. As the brothers point out in the book, studies have shown a strong link between optimism and increased mental and physical health, greater resilience in the face of stress and adversity, and a higher overall quality of life.
For the brothers, and the millions of people who they’ve reached, life truly is good. “As a community of optimists with superpowers,” they write, “we are capable of anything.”