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Happiness Is Doing the Opposite

How the power of positive thinking, and Seinfeld, helped a lonely woman get out of a rut.

positive thinking tips: happiness is doing the opposite

Another Saturday night, and I was home alone. As usual.

Not like I’d be good company anyway, I thought, glancing down at my wrinkled pajamas, which I hadn’t changed out of since I had crawled out of bed at noon.

I burrowed deeper into the couch and clicked the TV remote. Maybe there was something halfway decent on. Something that would get my mind off my own pathetic existence.

Okay, to be fair, things weren’t all bad. I had a good job in the marketing department of an Oklahoma City hospital. Good friends, too. But they had their own lives. They were married with kids—like I’d always imagined I would be. Instead, here I was, 35 and single.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t want to be in a relationship. For ages I’d been begging God to send me that special someone to share my life with. And last year, I thought he finally had. I met a man and fell hard. He was strong yet sensitive enough to tell me often, “I love you.” The problem, I found out, was that he was telling three other women the same thing. I felt so betrayed—not just by the man I’d trusted my heart to, but even more, by God. I gave up on church, on prayer. If God really cared about me, why was I still alone? Still miserable?

I clicked the remote again. A Seinfeld rerun. Might as well watch, I thought. Don’t have anything better to do. Strangely, I got caught up in the episode. George, a lovable loser type, decided that since everything he normally did turned out abysmally, he’d change his luck by doing the opposite. And it worked: He found a girlfriend, landed a great job and moved out of his parents’ house.

I laughed for the first time in weeks. That’s when it occurred to me. Like George, I was unhappy with the rut I was in. Could I change my life by doing the opposite of what I normally did?

The next week, my department went on a retreat at a ropes course. I’m athletically challenged, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to all the activities. But the facilitator, Jina, urged us on with such sparkle and enthusiasm, even I got into the team-building games. I never would have thought I’d be able to walk on a high wire or rappel from a perch in the treetops, let alone have fun doing it!

Jina was around my age and wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, yet she seemed content. No, it was more than that. She was joyful. During lunch, I stretched out on the grass close to her. I wanted to soak up some of her spirit.


“This course is a lot like life,” Jina told our group. “Sometimes you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and just trust that you’ll get where you want to go.” We relived the fear and excitement of edging across a rope strung between two tall utility poles, counting on coworkers on the ground to belay us if we slipped. Jina laughed, delighted that she had gotten through to us. “If you think this is challenging,” she said, her green eyes dancing, “you should come hiking and rock climbing with me and my friends next weekend.”

My coworkers shook their heads and chuckled. “This is enough for me,” one of the guys said. Me, too, I thought. I was a city girl. The only hiking I’d ever done was from the parking lot into the air-conditioned shopping mall. And rock climbing? That sounded dangerous.

Then I remembered that Seinfeld episode. Do the opposite.

Before I knew it, I was telling Jina, “Count me in.”

All week long, I kept thinking, I must be crazy! Every time I was about to pick up the phone and call Jina to cancel, I’d remember how excited she seemed about life. I wanted to live like that. I couldn’t back out of this.

Early Saturday morning, I met Jina and half a dozen others at a wildlife refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. She’d brought a pack full of gear for me. “We’ll hike in and rest near the rocks before we climb the slab,” she said, hoisting the 30-pound pack onto my back.

I didn’t ask what she meant by “slab.” This was already so different from my usual routine of sleeping till noon then sitting in front of the TV that I figured I’d be learning every step of the way.

We walked single-file through quiet fields, following a worn dirt path that zigzagged upward. Green and brown grass tickled my shins. Wildflowers spread out here and there like blankets. As the sun rose higher in the sky, we hopped on rocks to traverse a narrow stream. I breathed in the fresh air, starting to feel renewed. The pack on my back seemed light compared to the hurt and loneliness and negativity I’d carried around for so long.

“There’s Elk Slab,” Jina said, pointing to a vertical area atop a hill so enormous it might as well have been a mountain. “It’s a two-hour hike up before we get to the climbing course.”

So that was the slab. I eyed the terrain ahead of us and tried to fight the anxiety rising in me. The incline was such that I couldn’t look around without getting vertigo. I could only move forward by keeping my eyes on the hiking boots of the person in front of me.

At last we came to the climbing course. We rested on a natural rock shelf at the base of the slab. I peeked down at the massive hill we’d climbed. Not bad for a city girl, I thought. My anxiety faded a little, and a sense of accomplishment filtered in.

“That was about a 50-degree climb,” Jina said. “The slab is much steeper, almost a 90-degree angle. It’s incredible when you get to the top.”

I knew she was being encouraging, but that sense of accomplishment whooshed right out of me. I’d never done anything this physically challenging.

We took off our hiking boots and laced on climbing shoes. I stepped into a harness and cinched it tight around my hips. Jina went first to demonstrate the climbing route using the clips fastened into cracks in the rock.

I watched her make her way up the course, trying to memorize each move. At the top, she waved and threw the rope down to me.

I craned my neck to look up at the sheer rock face. My heart pounded. What was I thinking when I said I’d go climbing with Jina? “I’ll sit this one out. You go ahead,” I said, motioning to the climber behind me.

“Come on, Steph,” Jina shouted. “Just trust that you can do it!”

She seemed so sure I would make it. Why couldn’t I believe that myself?
Do the opposite.

I fastened the rope through the carabiner in my harness and called, “Belay on.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my shorts, reached up into a cleft in the rock with my fingers and positioned my foot on a clip. I started climbing, slowly, laboriously calculating each move.

Halfway up, my strength was sapped. I got confused. Was this where Jina climbed to the right? I tried to retrace her steps, but I couldn’t find a place to put my hand or foot. I was stuck. Every muscle in my body quivered.

I chanced a glance down. My head swam. I won’t make it. I’m going to fall. I’m a failure. The negative thoughts swarmed. Tears spilled from my eyes.

Do the opposite came the thought, quiet as a whisper.

Then I remembered Jina’s words: Just trust.

That was the exact opposite of what I’d been doing these past months. I closed my eyes and rested my cheek against the cool rock. Okay, God, I’m trusting you to help me.

I opened my eyes and looked up. What was that? A crevice…a handhold! I hadn’t noticed it before. I gripped it with my fingers. Energy surged through me. My mind cleared. I started climbing again. It felt like someone was pushing my hips up and lifting my torso, it was so effortless. I had no trouble finding handholds and clips the rest of the way.

At the top of the slab, I slipped off my gear and sank down beside Jina. She offered me her canteen.

“Thanks,” I said. “Not just for the water, but for pulling me up with the rope when I got stuck.”

Jina looked at me quizzically. “I didn’t pull you. The rope would have only prevented you from falling more than a few feet if you slipped.”

“Someone was lifting me from above and pushing me from below,” I insisted. “I was exhausted. There’s no way I could have made it up here by myself.”

Jina grinned. “Maybe you didn’t,” she said. “Maybe you had help, but it wasn’t from me.”

I looked up into a sky that seemed bluer and closer than ever before. I wasn’t alone. Never had been. I didn’t need to do the opposite anymore. I was headed in the right direction.

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