Madison Square Garden, 1998: In his first NBA All-Star game, 19-year-old Kobe Bryant gets pitted against the NBA's greatest, Michael Jordan. Kobe takes his best shot at trying to upstage the legend, but can't resist asking him for some tips during the game—and MJ willingly drops some knowledge.
Bryant later tells reporters, “Michael’s one of the best players of all time. What better way to learn the game than going at him?”
Though Jordan outscored Bryant and won MVP that night, it’s no surprise that years later, Bryant went on to surpass his idol in scoring. Sure, he’s got raw talent, but he owes at least part of his success to his association with the best in the business (read: he won three of his five championships with teammate Shaquille O’neal, and all of them coached by Phil Jackson).
Okay, non sports fans—there’s a deeper message here. Surrounding oneself with the brightest and best is a great way to win at life. Don't worry about "unfriending" toxic friends (online and in real life). They’ll drop off naturally if you focus energy on recruiting these four positive people into your squad.
There are naysayers who push buttons and champions who push boundaries. It’s great to have a person in life who’ll do the latter and be the inspiration for charging past limits and hitting new plateaus. Watching someone work hard and do it with pride and excellence is a sure way to get pumped up. This type of challenger is hard to hate, too, since they’re not necessarily all about winning, but also seem to care about boosting others in the process. Instead of falling into routine and complacency, having someone who keeps you on your toes will help you bring your A-game, always.
When the chips are down, everyone could use a cheerleader in their corner. This kind of person can make loved ones feel like anything is possible. When there’s a game winning shot—or something more concrete, say, a career goal—on the line, nothing can be more motivating than having someone around who wholeheartedly believes you’re going to nail it.
Cheerleaders thrive on hope and optimism, and anyone close to them can’t help but absorb that positive energy. This support is essential to focusing on positive aspects in high-pressure situations. After all, optimists tend to be more successful than pessimists when it comes to dealing with adversity as well as pursuing important life goals, whether they’re realized or not.
Getting something off your chest can be so hard when there’s a fear of being judged. The best person to talk to in this case is that friend or family member who stays neutral. Unsolicited advice is not really fun to get, and can actually cause the dynamic of a relationship to change. According to Boston College research professor, Peter Gray, PhD, unsolicited advice can cause a relationship to shift from one between equals to one with unbalanced power (the advisee feeling pressure to adhere to the advisor’s ideas).
Humans naturally crave freedom and autonomy, and being told what to do and how to do it can complicate problems even more. Nonpartisans are awesome because they give individuals the freedom to talk through their problems and make their own decisions, and they tend not to engage in feeding highly charged emotions. And if their opinion is wanted, they usually keep it real.
Laughter is definitely contagious, and being around someone who does it constantly is a no-brainer mood-booster. A good laugh can reduce stress, and in turn work indirectly to ease tension, improve immune function and circulation, boost mood, and sharpen cognitive function. Punctuating a dramatic event in life with laughter can distract from terrible feelings. Not to shove pain aside, but realizing that there is some humor to even the saddest of situations is not a bad outlook to consider.
Of course, some people might find constant laughter grating. If this is the case, consider it a lesson in acceptance and just go with it. Faking it can actually be just as beneficial. Life is short, sometimes ugly—bursting into a few good belly laughs in the midst of it all will always be worth it.
Illustration by Karley Koenig