Happiness Is All About Perspective

People are usually as happy as they make their minds up to be.

This maxim, often referenced by famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, is a reminder that the attitude we assume when faced with disappointment is truly up to us.

The influence of his father helped Coach Wooden develop a mental approach that responded to disappointment with self-control and reason, rather than reacting emotionally.

Related: Why Self-Control Is So Important​

In his book My Personal Best with Steve Jamison, Coach recalled an incident that exemplified this mental approach:

“In the final seconds of the 1928 Indiana state high school championship, with Martinsville leading by one point, Muncie Central’s Charlie Secrist flung a desperation underhand shot from half-court that literally went up to the rafters and came down straight through the hoop. It was impossible. Here’s how impossible it was: In my 40 years of coaching basketball at Dayton High School, South Bend Central, Indiana State Teachers College and UCLA, I never saw anyone make that shot again in competition. But I did see it once—Saturday night, March 17, 1928, in the final seconds of the Indiana state high school championship. Martinsville lost 13–12. Muncie Central fans were nearly hysterical at the buzzer.

“In our locker room afterward, the Artesians, stunned and almost grieving, sat on the benches holding towels over their faces as they wept. Charlie Secrist’s last-second shot had been crushing, and all of the players just quietly lowered their heads and cried. All but one. I couldn’t cry. The loss hurt me deeply inside, but I also knew I’d done the best I could do. Disappointed? Yes. Devastated or depressed? No. Dad taught us on the farm, ‘Don’t worry about being better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be.’ I had done that. Now, as a member of the Martinsville Artesians basketball team, Dad’s instructions and example were put to the test. You lose, you feel bad—sometimes very, very bad. But a much worse feeling is knowing that you haven’t done everything you possibly could have done to prepare and compete. I had done what my father taught me to do, including his two sets of threes, one of which was don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses. That loss in the 1928 Indiana state high school championships, when the Artesians were defending champions and I was their captain, is still painful to recall. But I couldn’t cry. Dad didn’t cry when he lost the farm. How could I now?”

Related: How to Handle Adversity: Don’t Whine, Don’t Complain, Don’t Make Excuses.​

As a teacher, Coach would sometimes help his students look at a potentially negative situation with a different perspective and thus improve the outcome.

In the book How to Be like Coach Wooden by Pat Williams, Bob Thau, an attorney who played for the UCLA freshman team in the 1950s, described an example:

“In the ‘70s, two of my sons went to a John Wooden summer camp. Our youngest, Jordan, was 7 at the time, and after the second day, he called and asked if he could come home. He was whimpering and crying, and when I asked him what was wrong, he said, ‘It’s not good here. I’m not a good player, and the other boys aren’t being nice to me.” I urged him to give it one more day. The next evening, Jordan called and said, ‘I met Coach Wooden today, and he wants to meet my parents.’ I asked why, and Jordan replied, ‘Coach told me that if you’re homesick, that means you have a very good home.’ Coach also told Jordan that he was ‘the bravest boy in camp’ because he was sticking it out, even though he was homesick. ‘I’m very proud of you,’ Coach told him. Jordan came home thrilled because Coach Wooden was so interested in him. It still amazes me that with almost 700 kids at camp, Coach would spend time with Jordan and show so much interest. It proves what a remarkable teacher and coach he is. He took the negative of Jordan’s struggle and turned it into a positive.”

People are usually as happy as they make their minds up to be, and sometimes a great teacher can show a student how to do it.

Related: 10 Traits of an Effective Teacher​


As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.

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