Everything Is Not Always for The Best, But We Can Make the Best of Whatever Happens

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I’ve heard (and repeated) that many times throughout my life. I’ve said it looking forward, trying to console someone who’s suffered a loss about what the future will be like. I’ve said it looking backward, trying to connect the dots between today and something that happened long ago.

Maybe you’ve said it, too, or its cousin: “It’s all for the best.” That’s what’s called positive thinking—a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.

Today, I’m quite suspicious about both these adages, because they leave out the most important thing about dealing with loss or finding meaning in our life: what we choose to do beyond just thinking about it.

I had a dear family member (now deceased) who challenged me to understand the difference by the way she talked about the traumas in her life, including the loss of one of her children. She had been through some dark times and, to make matters worse, was a quiet (but quietly noticeable to those around her) alcoholic.

I can’t say where her mind went when she was (drinking) alone. But she had an insatiable appetite for positive thinking when she was with us—keeping the conversation on the wonderful (her favorite word) things that were happening in her life.

It must have been her way of coping—but, by keeping us away from her vulnerability, it kept many of us at arm’s length from the authentic part of her very loving and generous soul.

As much as I cared for her, I could feel myself tuning her out. I would try to deflect conversation that I knew she wanted to expound upon. I just didn’t want to keep hearing about all the wuuuunderful news when I knew that there were other parts of her life—and mine—that were also interesting and important to discuss.

Thinking only about what’s positive in our lives is not only ineffective, it’s borderline delusional. Positive thinking is not the same as positive psychology for one big reason: Stuff happens.

On certain days, things are really bad. In our world, this seems to be happening more and more lately. Disasters strike. Loved ones pass away too soon. People are thrown into poverty and disability. Feuds turn violent. Justice is not served. Relationships blow up. Laws are passed (or repealed) in service to the powerful instead of the many. Things happen that I would definitely say are not for the best, not for some grand, transcendent purpose.

Not what you expected to read in an article about positive psychology? Well, I’ll say it again: Positive psychology is not positive thinking. In fact, I’d say that where positive thinking ends is where positive psychology starts.

Ignoring—or putting a purely positive spin—on the crap hitting the fan is little more than a stiff drink of whiskey. It may numb the pain and help you feel better (or at least different) temporarily, but it doesn’t change what’s happened. And it doesn’t change our mindset about how to truly be resilient in the face of the real world.

Keeping ourselves ensconced in the positive can be useful, and those around us may appreciate it in certain situations, but it also can keep us from looking at what’s really happening and keep us at a distance from our authentic and thriving self.

Positive psychology does not blindly ignore the suffering around us, or in us. It doesn’t try to sugarcoat the traumas or explain them away as some kind of divine plan that we have to trust is “all for the best.”

It’s not only the study of what’s good, or what’s just, or what’s beautiful that leads to our happiness. It welcomes all those aspects of life—but does not guarantee them. It does not require faith that everything will turn out okay. Because, if we are being honest, sometimes things do not turn out okay.

Positive psychology instead offers us this guarantee: Whatever stuff happens, we can make the best of it.

The key word here is “make.” With the tools and teachings available through Wholebeing Institute and other positive psychology communities, you can find the meaning and purpose in life, find pleasure, find your strengths, find the other people in your life that matter, find the stories that give meaning to your life, find the path to flourishing. What you look for, you can find—and make.

Then, when stuff happens (and it will), you can make the best of whatever it is.

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

Finding What You Look For: The Shift from Fault Finder to Benefit Finder

Report cards.

As the father of three daughters, I’ve reviewed my share of them. Every single time, whether it happens at home or live in the classroom at the parent/teacher conference, I catch myself doing the same thing. Waiting for…

That moment.

I am sitting in a tiny chair meant for students. I am holding the report card in my hand, scanning quickly over the dozens of feedback statements that detail my young daughter’s performance. The teacher sits across from me. She’s probably talking to me, but I don’t hear a word. I am locked in. Way ahead of her, looking for it. It must be there somewhere.

Nope. Nope. Nothing here. Nope. La dee dah. OKAY OKAY blah blah blah. Nope. THERE!

There it is! What she needs to work on. Okay. There’s another one. Oh, right. That again. Gotta talk to her about that. She must get that from her mother. I thought we had fixed that last year.

I sit back in my chair and open my ears again. Did I miss something?

What I’ve most likely missed is the teacher sharing what it’s like to have my daughter in her classroom. What she seems to enjoy and how she contributes to the learning environment. Where she puts her energy. What triggers her joy.

In my frantic moment of searching, I found exactly what I was looking for: those few, and, almost always, modest little things that my daughter was stumbling over.

Which is to say, I’ve missed the point entirely.

Maybe you have meetings likes this at work. I did. Where, from the minute the discussion gets underway, the talk is about where the sheet is hitting the fan, and focused on finding faults instead of benefits.

If so, you know how it goes—the faults jump out, followed immediately by exasperation, annoyance, or worse. The discussion becomes entirely about trying to find a way out of the dilemma—who is causing this and what to do with (or to) them.

My experience in corporate life—15 years at some pretty innovative and sophisticated marketing organizations—tells me that this is rarely as useful as it seems at the time. When the meeting concludes, the team feels like it has made some progress by identifying the problems—and everyone is kind of worked up to fix them. But we also are left with doubt and discouraged that this stuff still keeps happening.

We leave with a list of things to do and the feeling that maybe things are worse than we had initially imagined.

What if we had spent some time examining what was working well? Centering the discussion on topics like an interpersonal collaboration that prevented a problem from mushrooming into a disaster, plans that are rolling out as scheduled, the small wins that happen every single day and go unnoticed, yet are the very reasons we are viable as a company?

Finding benefits isn’t about patting ourselves on the back. It’s about more deeply understanding the work we do—and drawing on our strengths to make the organization (or relationship) stronger.

Finding benefits isn’t about ignoring faults. Being confident about what’s working well is simply the best way to understand how to address what isn’t.

We don’t get stronger by dwelling on our weaknesses. Short term, we get stronger by using the muscles that are already strong to assist and build the muscles that need development. Longer term, we possibly even shuffle priorities to let the stronger muscles do more work until we determine if and when the weaker muscles can handle the strain.

So, this school year, I’m imagining a new approach to my parent/teacher conference.

I walk into the classroom, where the teacher greets me and walks over to the desk. Before I even look at the verdict, before we even sit down, I ask, “So what’s going well for her?” or perhaps “What do you like most about having her in the classroom?” or “When does she seem to be most focused and happy in her learning?”

With that line of questioning, I hope to get to the heart of the matter: the gifts she can develop to better herself and those around her.

Then comes the real payoff: When I go home and talk to my daughter about her report card, that conversation can be centered on her joys rather than her frustrations.

Did you see the look on that kid’s face at the end? Even if your reactions aren’t quite as vivid as that of the dad in the video, if your team or your children are anything like my middle schooler, you already know that benefit finding is a much more fruitful approach.

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

It’s Better to Give AND Receive: Unwrapping Our Gifts

The early days of a new year are my designated time for cleaning up, cleaning out, consolidating, and turning my attention to what I’ve been missing. I often find valuable nuggets amid the rubble of my office that I can use to direct me toward the next waypoint on my journey.

Amid this year’s stacks of papers and stupefying collection of random stuff* that somehow ended up in my office, I find two gifts.

The first is smaller than my computer mouse and wrapped in purple paper. I remember watching the store clerk (possibly at Kripalu) wrapping it, but can no longer recall what is inside or who I intended to give it to.

The other gift creates a different dilemma. It’s a bag of chocolates that I received in 2016 and never opened. I realize this only after I send a lovely thank-you email to the person who gave it to me, thinking it was a gift from this Christmas. Needless to say, Jenny was a little confused about my expression of gratitude—and we both wrote off the mistake as a side effect of midlife memory loss.

But, in fact, it was much more than that.

You see, I seem to have some kind of clinical blind spot about gifts—I like to buy them, but often get cold feet about actually giving them. And, while I like to receive them, I often don’t actually unbox or use them for a long time (if at all), and have even been known to leave them unwrapped.

Let’s just say this was not the first time that I was able to place this year’s Christmas gifts next to last year’s as they sat new in their boxes, stacked neatly for 12 months in the far corner of my office.

As I write this, both of these “gifts” still sit there in limbo—gifts in name only, since one was never given and the others, not really received.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this makes no sense (with which I would wholeheartedly concur), take a minute to consider the thought that dawns on me as I look at these artifacts.

Are these abandoned gifts signs of something deeper? Maybe I (and maybe you, too) have other “gifts” that have been hoarded or unappreciated.

What gifts do we have in our lives that are similarly ferreted away—ensconced in some kind of veil that keeps us from knowing what’s inside us?

Are there character strengths, talents, skills that we have developed that we’ve kept to ourselves? Do you have resources, ideas, or support that are available to be given freely, but something is keeping you from doing so? What do we have that can help someone else?

Or, conversely, are there gifts that we have failed to appreciate the way these kids have?

Are we ripping open our wrapping with gratitude and embracing all our gifts? Is there something inside us that we’ve declined to receive or to fully integrate with who we are as a person? Do you sit there, like I have, and look right past what’s been there all along?

Are people trying to reach out to you? Are you enjoying, embracing, and enhancing your life with the compassion and joy that life is offering you?

Is love being offered? Forgiveness? Empathy? Collaboration? Are you too set in your ways at work to be inclusive of others who can help? Are you too proud to let people share their resources and unique contributions with you? What are you refusing?

At work, do you really take the effort to find out what you and your colleagues can contribute beyond what you’ve been allowed to do?

At home, could you be a tiny bit more vulnerable, and more deeply appreciate what your family is giving you now? Or are you stuck measuring your loved ones solely by what you want them to be in the future?

For it is truly better to give and receive.

May this new year of 2018 be the time we share more of the gifts we have for others, and appreciate and accept the abundance that is right in front of us.

I’ll start by tasting these chocolate caramels. It’s never too late for that.

*For the record, this heap included a lost flathead screwdriver (whose replacement I bought just last week), a set of puzzle books, a Buddhist coloring book, mulling spice kits, a magnetic refrigerator clip, sunglasses, a $30 Justice coupon, an old iPad, a new Amazon Fire, automobile repair receipts, ticket stubs, four courtside seats to upcoming 76ers games, a hand-strengthening gadget, two and a half phone chargers, an old credit card, a camera, reader glasses, and a bottle of Icelandic water.

This post was originally created for Wholebeing Institute as a part of my installment series on the fundamental concepts and stories of positive psychology.  For the entire series, or to sign up now for a free two-part video training series and free e-workbook on evidence-based tools for flourishing, click here.

‘Lion’ Named Running Movie of the Year

Lion, the Academy Award-nominated film based on the true story of a child’s accidental separation from his family in India, has been selected Running Movie of the Year by TakingMulligans, a website that explores the emotional side of running.

The movie depicts the young Saroo’s natural reliance on running, not as a sport, but as an integral part of how he lives his life.  Saroo, played as a child by Sunny Pawar, doesn’t run for fitness or personal records, he runs because he is compelled to by circumstance. He runs because he can and because he has to.  In running, Saroo finds deliverance not only from imminent and nefarious threats to him as a child, but also later in life, in the imagery and emotion that the activity has seared into his memory.

Sunny Pawar plays the young Saroo in Lion, Taking Mulligan’s 2016 Running Movie of the Year


It is for this poignant, visceral and dramatic demonstration of the power of running to protect us physically and nurture us emotionally that has distinguished Lion as Running Movie of the Year.

Running serves the hero of the story in several pivotal ways.  First, in a practical way: it is how the small child navigates the harsh realities of living in his tiny village. He runs to do his work and return safely to his home.  He even finds safety in a mad dash for medical care after a startling childhood accident. Running also becomes his escape route when threatened by child kidnappers who prey upon his vulnerability.

Finally, when the boy, now grown into a man, and played by Academy Award nominee Dev Patel, seeks to reconstruct the clues to his childhood, running serves him one more time. As he relives the moments of his youth, he sees himself again through the eyes and emotions of that running child (with a little help from Google Earth).  Through the imprint that running to and through his village has made in his memory, the grown-up Saroo unlocks the answers of who he is and where he comes from.


Throughout Lion, the Academy Award-nominated film, the hero finds safety, deliverance and life-altering redemption in the physical and emotional gifts of running. (photo by Mark Rogers)

Other nominees this year included ‘Race,’ the story of  Jesse Owens and his triumphant victories in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in the days leading up to World War II, and Sully, the story of pilot Chesley Sullenburger, who found running to be a source of strength and emotional refuge which contributed to (and helped him deal with the aftermath of) his daring landing of a passenger jet in the Hudson River.   Sullenburger was featured in this Runners’ World article when the movie premiered.

Taking Mulligans’ Running Movie of the Year is chosen to reflect how running is more than just a sport or fitness activity, it can unlock emotions and serve as a catalyst for change and positive developments in life.

Mulligan Moment of 2016 – Running Edition

As loyal readers of Taking Mulligans know, the disappointing circumstances of my final high school track meet started a thread of endeavors that led me to, more than 30 years later, write an upcoming book and two major features stories for Runners’ World (The Mulligan Mile, Cross Country Romance).   I can only imagine where Justin DeLuzio’s final college cross country race will propel him.  Other than a cornfield.

In November, he was about a mile into running that race for Gwyneed Mercy University, when a deer blindsided him and knocked him airborne– and into the viral running clip of the year.   Click below for ESPN’s coverage of it.


CLICK HERE for Viral Running Clip of the Year

Getting knocked down may win you viral clip of the year. But it’s what’s not on this clip that won him our Mulligan Moment of the Year– getting back up to finish the last 4 miles of the race.   And what’s more, it’s a few thoughts he shared in this interview with NPR that resonated most with Taking Mulligans.  Listen and you’ll hear some good advice for going forward into 2017.  Surprisingly, he’s not the one in the interview that encourages us to get back up when we get knocked down.  His advice?  No resentment.  Be grateful.  Be aware.

And for that, Justin DeLuzio, an actuarial science student from Limerick, PA, wins Running’s Mulligan Moment of the Year.

photo from PennLive.comjustin-deluzio-4683b2d412c5a580_png__png_image__620-x-466_pixels_

CLICK HERE for Talking With Justin  to hear and read an interview with Justin.





Mulligan Moments of 2016 – Public Activism Edition

Sometime a mulligan is more than just a mulligan.  It’s a way forward that breaks abruptly with the past and establishes a whole new perspective on the world.  Here are two Mulligan Moments that may be harbingers of new understanding and appreciation of what’s best about our great nation and the towns that we live in.

The most startling and emotional moment came at the contentious location of Standing Rock, when a gathering of veterans offered a very public apology for transgressions of the United States government, military, and citizens upon the native peoples of the land of North America.  Seeking forgiveness is a humbling step.  And accepting forgiveness is a tremendous gift to all parties involved.  May this moment be the mulligan that heals and protects  and brings peace and justice to our nation and our Native American family.


A dear friend and inspiration of mine, Joyce Marin, pointed out that that not only do people have comeback stories, but a town can too.  Joyce, the executive director of RenewLV, reminded me of Iron Works Catasauqua and the work of their municipal council to push this project forward over the last 10 years.  According to Joyce, this year the council, led by Vincent Smith, Catasauqua, PA’s borough council president, passed the mixed-use zoning required to take a former industrial site and turn it into a new 13 acre walkable-bikeable neighborhood connected to their downtown.   May it be the start of something even bigger for what may become the Lehigh Valley’s Mulligan Town.



Mulligan Moments of 2016- Daughters Edition

Lots of talk this year about protecting our daughters from threats, both domestic and foreign.  I think about these quite frequently, as I have three daughters (and a tiny little granddaughter) in my own family.  I do have strong opinions about the poison that I believe is leaking into the way we relate to each other, but rather than amplify the horrifying rhetoric that divides us, I want to offer a few anecdotes of antidote.    Here are some Mulligan Moments of 2016 offered by friends of mine who have seen their daughters rise to the challenges they faced in their own lives — and who responded with grit and good old fashioned girl power.

We do need to protect our girls.  Not because they are helpless, but rather so that they can lead us.

Carry On  When an earthquake hit New Zealand a couple weeks ago, a National Outdoor Leadership School group was kayaking along the Clarence River, which soon started to fill with debris from rockslides.    The  group acted quickly to get themselves to higher ground and reduce the chances of being swept away by avalanches or the river itself, which ultimately did break through the dam holding it back.  The group of college students had to be air lifted out by helicopter.   In and of itself, that’s a great story with a  happy ending.   But here’s my favorite part: each student was given the option of cutting the rest of the outing short and returning home without penalty.  Keep in mind they’ve already been out on this expedition for about 2 months without as much as a call home.  Every single one stayed on and are now completing the trip as planned.  Among them is Paige Shetty, daughter of Lisa and Baba Shetty, who became dear friends of mine during graduate school at the University of Rochester.  Paige and her NOLS friends could have let the trauma of that experience, or the fear of the next potential calamity in the wilderness, force them into giving up on this adventure of a lifetime.  But they put aside both the brush with death and the future threats– and showed us how to make use of a Mulligan Moment.



Build Up  Resolve is required, but it is not enough by itself.  When you are trying to overcome an injury, physical or emotional, it takes more than just wanting to be healthy and whole.  You have to want to do what it takes to become healthy and whole.   Like when you tear your ACL the day before you realize your dream of playing in your first college basketball game, like Meagan Eripret did last year.  But, according to her father Marc Eripret, Meagan did whatever it took to heal and build up her strength– day in and day out.  And now she’s off to a solid start with her Lehigh teammates in this year’s season.  Resolve plus hard work equals a Mulligan Moment.   I am sure she learned this when I coached Meagan (alongside Marc and her mom, Bridget Eripret) for many seasons of youth league basketball and soccer.  So now I can see her (#13 below) and say I coached a Division I player. I take complete and unwarranted credit for all her athletic accomplishments.




Breathe Fire   Never underestimate the power of a teenage girl who is ready to fight.   Olivia Maniace showed us why this year, when she put together this video look at what she endures and overcomes in dealing with lungs compromised by cystic fibrosis.  I thank Lucy Sheelar-Gomez for bringing Olivia’s fight to my attention. And I thank Olivia for this Mulligan Moment and the reminder of what fighting the good fight really means.  My favorite part of the video is when she calls a piece of vital hospital equipment “annoying”.   This is a word my daughters use constantly.  Girls will be girls.   And thank God for that.

Begin again. Now go.