On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.
During my cancer journey, I noticed one of the patients at the Juravinski Cancer Centre wearing a T-shirt with a grinning stick figure and the message: Life is Good. I asked about the T-shirt and learned that it was part of an apparel line launched by two enterprising young men in Massachusetts. Many cancer warriors throughout Canada and the United States wear these T-shirts during their treatments.
Here’s the inspiring story of Life is Good…
The story of Life is Good begins not with the company’s founding but in the childhood of Bert and John Jacobs. The youngest of six children, the two brothers grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Life in the Jacobs household was, by many people’s standards, hard. The second floor of their small home had no heat. Their dad had a temper. And they couldn’t always afford basic necessities. Their mom, Joan, joked that she bought them food they didn’t like so that it would last longer.
Despite all of this, Joan was a resilient and cheerful woman who focused on the positive. Every night at the dinner table, she asked all six children to share one good thing that happened to them that day. As the kids talked about finding a Rolling Stones CD at the dump, hearing a funny joke, or learning something cool in school, the energy of the room transformed. Everyone started laughing and smiling. Joan’s optimism lifted them up. “I like running out of money,” she would tell them, “because then I don’t have to worry about what I need to buy.” From her, the boys learned that joy comes form our mindset, not just your circumstances.
In 1989, when they were in their twenties, Bert and John started a business designing printed T-shirts, which they sold on the streets of Boston. They also traveled up and down the East Coast, selling the shirts door-to-door on college campuses, each time making barely enough money to fund the next road trip. They slept in their van, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and showered when they could.
On the road, they spent a lot of time talking. During one trip, they discussed the way the media inundates the culture with stories of murder, rape, war, and suffering day after day. Though bad things happen and it’s important to know about them, they agreed, the world is also full of good news. They thought of Joan and her ability to turn a light on in a dark room. They decided they wanted to promote her values in their work, to create a symbol that would serve as an antidote to the cynicism they saw in the culture–a superhero whose power was optimism.
John sketched a grinning stick figure on a T-shirt. He called the character Jake. When they got back to Boston, they threw a party and pinned the new T-shirt on a wall. Their friends loved it. One of them wrote on the wall next to the T-shirt, “This guy’s got life figured out,” with an arrow pointing to Jake.
The brothers distilled that phrase to three words: “Life is good.” Then, they printed the image of Jake and the phrase on forty-eight T-shirts. When they set up their stand on a sidewalk in Cambridge, they sold all of the shirts in less than an hour–a first for them. That was in 1994. At the time, they had $78 to their name. Today, they run a $100 million lifestyle brand.
As their business grew, they started receiving letters and emails from people who had faced and were facing difficult life circumstances, including cancer, the loss of a loved one, homelessness, and natural disasters. These people wrote about how moved they were by the Life is Good message, and how they had emerged from their adversity with a deeper appreciation of and gratitude for life.
In 2010, the company launched a non-profit arm called Life is Good Kids Foundation, devoted to children who are living with illnesses, violence, abuse, poverty, and other adversities.The primary program of the foundation is called Playmakers, an initiative that offers training and enrichment workshops to childcare providers like teacher, social workers, and hospital workers. Since its founding, the foundation has trained over 6,000 Playmakers who are working to improve the lives of over 120,000 kids each day. Each year, Life is Good donates 10 percent of its net profits to help kids in need.
Source: The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith