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How To Stay Positive -
a Book Review of “Life and How to Survive it”

What makes some people be so exceptionally positive, likeable and successful? How do they manage to stay positive so consistently and seemingly effortlessly while giving the impression of enjoying themselves? What are the secrets of those “gold medal winners”? 

The authors Robin Skinner –a renowned family and group therapist and John Cleese –the comedian and
actor dedicated 2 books to those questions. The first one, “Families and How to Survive Them” explored the “psychological aspects of how families behave and function”. A book I plan to read in the near future too.

In “Life and how to survive it” they focus on 6 characteristics that seem to matter most in the quest of how to stay positive and explore them from different perspectives outside the family context.

Those 6 positive characteristics are:

1. Positive attitude

-being friendly, reaching out, trustful and generous – (not as a “chore” but out of intrinsic conviction, a feeling that this is really the only way to be - crucial to how to stay positive)

2. Love

-understood as enjoying intimacy with each other rather than dwelling in a dependency upon each other. In fact, independence and freedom are very important!

3. Clear Leadership

In a family parents have a clear authority that is paired with full consultation of the child. (Again; the authority doesn’t seem to be a result of mere enforcement but of trust stemming from a high level of the other 5 factors and the full consultation)

4. Straightforward Communication

direct, open and honest, with
  • acceptance of all basic needs and emotions as normal part of life
  • acceptance of ambivalence about them
  • respect for differences in opinions and world views
  • the ability to resolve conflicts as they arise and
  • avoidance of “mind reading” – instead full consultation

5. Clear sense of reality

Rather than living in dreams; having a very accurate mental “map [...] of the world around you and where you are in that world”. This gives a clear sense of what’s doable and how to do it. And it includes admitting and facing own shortcomings too.

6. Ability to deal with change

By asking for relief when needed, being able to adapt mental map with relative ease and, strong emotional support (p31ff)

Different Perspectives

Skynner and Cleese describe those factors really understandable in their first chapter already which focuses on individuals and the context of families. What I find most amazing though is how much more depth they gain in the following chapters. In the light of work groups, companies and other organisations, in society at large, through “stories”, in the light of politics, religion, money, ... - just to name a few – these factors begin to sparkle like a skilfully polished diamond.

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I love this book. It’s easy to read between chores and giving full attention to the kids - even though it’s quite a tome. It just doesn’t demand too much attention in a piece but gives lots to muse over. And wherever I happened to open it up I found another piece of insight to ponder later in the day.

At the beginning I was a bit uneasy with the dialogue style the book is written in. I wanted the information all bite sized ready for my left brain to collect and store. With the help of the book and its section on humour I realized that this drawback is actually a major plus! It makes it much easier to contemplate the contents and thus enables real learning.  

Overall: This is a fantastic book that I’m sure I’ll get out again and again. It’s this kind of stuff that tends to get forgotten when everyday life runs smoothly but could prevent some of life’s turmoils. I recommend it to anyone who’s not only interested in becoming more positive but also in how to stay positive. I also find it to describe the basics of all positive parenting skills very well.

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