Can You Choose to Be Happy?

Some of us find comfort in dissatisfaction. In fact, the chronically unhappy often refuse to get help.

Is There a Negative “Dog” in Your House?

How being more positive can save your relationship.

When your partner walks through the door after work, do you receive a lot of negative feedback about his or her day? I’m routinely bombarded by everything that’s gone wrong and the supposedly insurmountable problems my husband has. The “Hi, honey” period has become annoying. How do you transform a negative person — or yourself — into a positive one? 

I spoke with Jon Gordon, author of The Positive Dog: A Story About the Power of Positivity, to see if there were ways to teach my “old dog” new tricks. Jon, who lost his job during the crash, admits he was extremely negative until his wife gave him an ultimatum: “Where is the guy I married…the guy with all these possibilities and dreams?” She added, “I am not going to live my life like this.” 

Gordon’s situation mirrored what many experience when stressed by the economy or the responsibilities of having young children. “I wasn’t in a job I loved and was working for a pay check,” Gordon said. “I was consumed with work and trying to be successful for my family. My relationships weren’t my number one priority, but my wife’s unhappiness was enough to make me see that I had to change my attitude and approach.” The wake-up call pushed Jon to delve into the field of positive psychology, inspiring mantras and habits that ultimately led to The Positive Dog.

Jon was motivated, but what about Mr. Negative with whom I live? When I tell my husband he has a bad attitude, his response is, “I’m not being negative; I’m being realistic.” Jon Gordon is quick to tell me, “Life or circumstance is how you perceive something.” Surprisingly, Jon found the benefits of this positive outlook in the offices of Silicon Valley, where industry leaders and employees seem to weather the recession with a “collective optimism.” Instead of dwelling on the negative, Jon explained, they were too busy focusing on success. 

For those of you who are in a relationship with a negative person — like I am — The Positive Dog offers a seven-day plan to weed out negative aspects in your own or someone else’s life. For instance, Day 1 instructs you to take a “Thank You Walk.” His research shows thinking thoughts of gratitude during physical exercise can de-stress and uplift. Day 3 calls for celebrating your success of the day right before going to bed, something Gordon borrowed from sports psychologist Jim Fannin. Fannin explains that every thought and feeling within the 30 minutes before falling asleep is replayed by the subconscious mind as often as 15-17 times during the night. Negative thoughts before bed can mean negativity in the morning. 

Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, confirms this. In her book, Breaking Murphy’s Law, Segerstrom says that the motivating power of persistent positive thinking shouldn’t be taken for granted, as she told Jane Brody of The New York Times. Like Jon Gordon, both Segerstrom and Mayo Clinic researchers recommend, “A few minutes at the end of each day to write down three positive things that happened that day, ending the day on an upbeat note.”

On Day 6, Gordon urges readers to use a “telescope” to peer into their future. He channels psychologist Barbara Fredrickson’s book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life; she suggests dreaming about goals and visualizing future success can increase an overall positive outlook. Gordon also brings positivity into relationships with others, encouraging at least five acts of kindness on Day 5. He found that kind acts, like assisting an elderly neighbor or volunteering, boost feelings of happiness. 

For starters at my house, I am going to gift wrap a copy of The Positive Dog for my husband for Father’s Day. Wish him — and me — luck!


Brody, Jane E. A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full. The New York Times, May 21, 2012,

Fannin, Jim. The Anatomy of a Divorce. “The Jim Fannin’s Champion’s Club,”  

Fredrickson, Barbara. Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life (Crown Publishers, 2009).

Gordon, Jon. The Positive Dog: A Story About the Power of Positivity (Wiley, 2012),

Can You Choose to Be Happy?