{getting it} Bright Side Up

by Rachel on February 3, 2012

Two years ago, right around this time, I came across a blog called The Dating Optimist, written by a woman named Amy Spencer. I distinctly remember sitting on my couch in a pink sweatshirt and huge comfy men’s basketball pants, reading every single post and feeling like a light bulb was going off. I pre-ordered  Meeting Your Half-Orange that night, and, after reading it, changed my approach to love and relationships. I also put a picture of an orange on my vision board, and, two months later, was introduced to my half-orange.

Since then, I’ve become friendly with Amy through the magic of the Internet and feel a little bit of happiness every time I see her name in a magazine, whether she is interviewing the cover celebrity or, rather frequently, simply the author of the one article in the magazine that I found thoughtful, smart, and worthwhile. I look up to her so much as a writer, and when I heard she had a new book coming out, I was really excited for her.

Bright Side Up is all about applying that optimism to all aspects of your life, not just your love life.

The book is divided into several sections and each one features mini-chapters on how to apply optimism in these areas. The sections include the big stuff — your whole self-image, your career, family and friends, relationships — and the small — life’s little annoyances, technology breakdowns, and traveling snafus.

When I saw the format, I thought it would be a fast and easy read, with each mini-chapter similar to a blog post. But what I was delighted to find was that each mini-chapter is more like an article. They are short but weighty. Many of them include commentary from experts on topics like neuroplasticity (actually changing your brain’s structure through things like positive thinking) and human psychology. Of course, Amy uses a lot of her own experiences, and the experiences of her family, friends, and the celebrities she’s interviewed, to make her points too. I felt like there was a really great balance between the expert advice and the personal experiences.

I wanted to share some of my favorite chapters here, but there are so many good ones, it’s hard to even choose! But here are a few tips I really liked.

Take the tourist’s point of view. The same way tourists see all the best things about a city — while the natives have never even visited the main attractions — we should try to see the exciting, special things right in front of us. Think about how you’d talk about your life as if you were a tour guide explaining it to a tourist. What would you say about your job, your house, your relationship if you were looking upon them with fresh eyes?

See it through a “look up to” lens. The next time you catch yourself grumbling or growling ready to roll out your worst self among strangers, imagine they’re people you look up to. Amy says that by seeing other people as people who we look up to (like someone’s mom or teacher), the more likely we are to make kinder, gentler choices and not experience road rage, “you f*cked up my order rage,” etc.

Lower your standards. Sort of. A lot of times we fall into the trap that to do something, we have to do The Best Job Ever at it. But we can lower our standards for starting. “An imperfect effort is better than no effort at all…look at your next big goal and decide to do less than you think you can achieve, ” Amy writes. “Once you get started, you may find you can’t help but produce something better. But either way, a started something is better than nothing at all.”

Be your own gift with purchase. When looking for a partner, we often seek out the qualities we want to have; for example, we want someone who is creative and successful so we feel creative and successful too. It’s the gift with purchase, the easy way to get these things. But rather than expecting romantic partners or even friends to give us these things, we can give them to ourselves.

I loved the book and I think it’s because she’s so damn good at being optimistic while still being realistic. I cried reading the chapter in which she described how she felt after having three miscarriages, and then I laughed until I cried over the story of what happened to her husband when he was a kid and wanted to participate in his school’s day-after-Halloween parade. (His mom spoke little English and was not familiar with American traditions, so did not know that it was actually an All Saints’ Day parade, where kids dressed up as their favorite saints. Not their favorite Star Wars characters. I’m laughing again just thinking about it.)

While I love Amy’s work and had high expectations, Bright Side Up actually exceeded them. Right before I started reading it, I got a little nervous that it would be super cheesy, like a lot of “ways to be happier right now” advice is. But it’s not at all. To me, it’s a shot of optimism for smart, modern women with real problems who need a bit more than a “hang in there” poster of a kitten to feel better when life is sucking. I definitely recommend it; it’s sort of like a feel-good encyclopedia that you can reference whenever you need it, or read all at once if you feel like you could use a dose of optimism in all aspects of your life. It will come in paperback and Kindle editions; you can pre-order now and it will be available on February 7.

Now, some exciting news! Amy offered to do a Q & A for my blog and I suggested that you all could submit questions for her to answer. So if you have questions about half-orange dating optimism, all-around optimism, or — if you’re me –Andy Samberg (the day I saw she interviewed him for Glamour magazine, my heart nearly exploded), let’s hear them! She’ll pick a handful to answer next week and I’ll be giving away a copy of the book then too.

Note: Amy e-mailed me last week to ask me if I’d be interested in getting a copy to review and doing a giveaway. I honestly felt bad accepting because I was already planning to buy the book and I wanted to support her; however, I knew that my writing about it sooner rather than later would ultimately be better for her, so I went ahead and got the book early. After I finished it, I ended up pre-ordering a copy anyway as a gift for a friend who I felt like could benefit from reading it. Anyway, all of this is to make the FTC happy and also say that my review is not influenced by the fact that it was free. 

Leave your questions for Amy in the comments!