From the page to the road, the Jacobs brothers are teaching the world about the power of good vibes

By Diana Pearl
Updated October 05, 2015 03:30 PM
Courtesy Life is Good

Stay positive.

It’s a mantra that’s constantly repeated, but often difficult to put into practice in everyday life.

For the past 20 years, brothers Bert and John Jacobs have been sending out positive vibes through their company Life Is Good. Best known for selling colorful T-shirts with a now-familiar stick figure (named Jake) doing everything from skiing to eating ice cream, the business also launched a charitable organization, the Life Is Good Kids Foundation, to better the lives of children around the world.

Now, the Jacobs brothers are taking their optimistic message from fabric to paper with the release of Life is Good: The Book, and a complementary tour.

Bert describes the brothers’ first book as a “self-help book,” with each chapter focusing on a certain “super power” – like gratitude, authenticity, humor or love – that readers can implement in their day-to-day lives.

“Optimism is a lot more than a philosophical viewpoint,” John says. “We see it as a pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a happy and fulfilling life.”

Along with the advice, each chapter includes snippets of John and Bert’s own personal memories along with stories from the Life Is Good community – people who have written to John and Bert with their own stories of using optimism to overcome adversity. Today, they call these stories their “fuel.”

An ounce of “fuel” that continues to inspire them today is from Lindsey Beggan. Nearly 16 years ago, the brothers spotted Beggan, then 11, wearing a Life Is Good hat in a newspaper article about her battle with terminal bone cancer.

The brothers reached out to her and struck up a friendship; since meeting, Beggan has beaten cancer and the three reunited during the book tour.

In their own lives, the brothers largely credit optimism for their success. Growing up, the Jacobs never had enough money, and they almost lost their parents in a car accident, which forever altered their father’s personality. But throughout it all, they were able to look to their mother to keep their spirits up. Every evening at the dinner table, she’d ask her children to tell the family about one good thing that happened that day. Just that one question, John said, altered the energy in the room.

“We didn’t realize until long after starting Life Is Good, but she was really the inspiration for the whole thing,” Bert says. “She taught us that in the most difficult times, that’s when optimism is needed the most.”

After college, the brothers wanted to start a business that would enable them to sell their artwork. Rather than trying to break into the “intimidating” world of fine art, they decided to sell T-shirts. Quickly, they found it was a great way to communicate with people. They sold the shirts for five years with little commercial success, until designing the first-ever “Life Is Good” tee.

“We wanted to come up with a rallying cry for optimists,” Bert says of the concept.

It was a good one: On the streets of Boston, they sold 48 of the original “Life Is Good” shirts in 45 minutes. Soon after, companies were contacting the duo, asking the brothers to design “Life Is Good” shirts that reflected their respective businesses: “Jake” eating ice cream, or “Jake” mountain biking. From there, as the brand’s popularity began to snowball, Bert and John connected with more and more people who wrote to them with their stories of optimism – and now, their business is worth nearly $100 million.

Hitting the Road
Like the book, the brothers’ upcoming tour is all about “growing the good.” In 60 days, they’re traveling to 40 different communities to work with children’s charities and by the tour’s conclusion, raise more than $1 million for kids in need. They’re also encouraging people to share photos from the events with the hashtag #GrowTheGood; for every photo shared, they’ll donate another dollar to the cause.

They’re doing a variety of events on the tour – a trombone giveaway in New Orleans, a flash mob on the Santa Monica Pier and an event with children’s cancer charity Alex’s Lemonade Stand in Los Angeles, to name a few. But whether they’re listening to someone share a story of loss or recreating an epic dance scene for a flash mob, both Bert and John believe the events teach others about the power of optimism.

“Even the sillier ones have a positive impact,” John says. “It’s about focusing on the good.”

But at its core, the tour is a return to the brothers’ roots of combining travel with helping others. Long before they dreamed up Life Is Good, the two were driving around the country in a van.

“After 20 years, we’re back in the van.” Bert says. “This time, it’s just a little nicer.”