We don’t always have dinner as a family, but many nights, we do. And each night my wife and I ask our three children about their day. It’s the standard, “How was your day?” question, and naturally our two older children (ages 10 and 8) shrug, and the 3-year-old stairs blankly. Then they look at the meal we prepared as though it were a hate crime, and ask for Mac and Cheese.
This is all totally normal, of course. I have a good relationship with my children, but the reality is, getting them to open up at dinnertime has always been a challenge. And sometimes I wonder if that means I’m doing something wrong.
I was thinking about this the other day when I came across the story of Bert and John Jacobs, two brothers who co-founded the multi-million dollar T-shirt company, Life Is Good, and it made me wonder if I’m just not asking the right question. According to their new book appropriately titled Life Is Good, their mother and father were in a major car accident during their elementary school years. The mother escaped with only a few broken bones, but their father lost the use of his right hand. It completely changed the trajectory of their lives. Their father yelled more, and he struggled to adjust to his new life with only one working hand. But their mother tried a different approach, one that was more optimistic.
Each night their mother, Joan, would ask her six children a simple question: “Tell me something good that happened today.”
According to Jacobs brothers, it changed everyone’s mood. During an interview with Business Insider, John Jacobs explained that this daily activity kept them from developing a victim’s mentality of “Oh, you wouldn’t believe this horrible thing that happened to me today.” Instead of complaining about a teacher or homework assignment, John said they’d laugh about a silly haircut or a cool school project.
I cannot help but read about their experiences and realize that this sounds very different from the shrugs I get from my children each evening, and yet, it’s such a simple question — “What good thing happened today?” — that I wonder if it just might work in my own home too.
According to the Jacbos brothers, the question their mother asked each night at the table helped them create their future company. It showed them that despite circumstances, being optimistic is a courageous choice one makes. This outlook on life became the backbone of their Life Is Good T-shirt company whose mission is to spread the power of optimism, with the tagline, “Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.”
Now I know some of you might be rolling your eyes, especially if you struggle with mental health issues. I’m with you. I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life, and I know that just getting out of bed can be a huge challenge. Never mind, slapping on an optimistic attitude. Because that just isn’t possible.
But at the same time, I wonder if this simple switch might be a catalyst in my young children’s lives. Perhaps it will better prepare them for the world beyond, and if they do develop depression and anxiety — like me — perhaps this will be a tool to help them overcome it or at least better manage it.
When I get home tonight, and my three kids are sitting at the table, shrugging at most of my questions, I’m going to ask them to tell me something good that happened today. I’m going to poke them a little bit about it. I’m going to tell them something good that happened to me. And then I’m going to hope that this changes their outlook on life, even if only a little bit, just like it did for Bert and John Jacobs.