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Life is Good

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January 2021

They were almost broke. But they had attitude and drive, which can be worth more than a bank full of money. Brothers John and Bert Jacobs dreamt that they could make a living selling T-shirts. For five years starting in the late ’80s, they drove up and down the East Coast selling shirts at parades and college dorms. They slept in an old van, lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, occasionally bathed, and talked a lot. Sales were paltry, which fed their recurring fear: they might need real jobs.

Returning from yet another unsuccessful road trip, they showed friends their latest design ideas. A friend liked the look of a broadly smiling, beret-wearing stick figure. To her, the figure seemed to understand what life was about. The brothers were optimists, and their friend’s comment struck a chord in them. With $78 to their names, they designed a T-shirt emblazoned with the stick figure—Jake. The shirt bore three words: “life is good.” They saw the shirt as countering the increasing negativity of society. At a street fair, John and Bert sold 48 shirts in 45 minutes. Jake was a hit. The brothers were shocked. And then they realized they were onto something: people wanted show their own optimism about life. What better way to do it than with a T-shirt?

The Jacobs brothers have turned their $78 investment into a $100+ million business. Amazingly, they’ve sold their shirts, hats, and sweats without spending a nickel on advertising. Their secrets? They listen to their customers. Their business model draws on “superpowers” that resonate with customers: openness, simplicity, humor, gratitude, compassion, fun, creativity, courage, authenticity, and love. The Jacobses have opened their hearts to children, whom they see as the ultimate optimists. Life is Good Company donates 10% of net profits to a foundation helping needy kids. The brothers admit they’ve made lots of mistakes along the way. But those years sleeping in the van were times of happiness and fulfillment. They still plan to grow the business. Their dream is for everyone to “enjoy the ride.”

The Life is Good corporate story is more than a case study on a successful startup. It’s also a lesson on how to win hearts needed to rebuild a true culture of life. Those “superpowers” the brothers adopted were what the rest of us call values. Nothing more, but nothing less. Values are our priorities in life. They are our life’s motivators. We make important decisions and then act upon them based on our values. For example, if we value health, we will eat the right foods, exercise regularly, and get proper rest. If we value holiness, we will make God a daily part of our lives through prayer and outreach. Values help us do what is objectively good, to find happiness and authentic pride in ourselves and how we live. And ultimately, our values speak loudly about who we are.

The abortion industry has long recognized that enlisting values is good for business. Abortion providers value wealth—lots of it. Planned Parenthood doesn’t advertise, “Come in, we’ll kill your baby for you.” That’s a turn-off, like if Satan were to show off his true colors. Instead, abortionists appeal customer values. Planned Parenthood and the others promote “choice,” without ever mentioning abortion. It resonates with women and men caught in the dilemma of an unintended pregnancy. They become easy prey.

Many politicians do the same thing. They value power—lots of it. Like abortionists, they do not talk about abortion, and certainly not about what it means. When was the last time you heard politicians say that they want to give women the right to kill babies? Politicians want their public images to be about kissing babies, not killing them. So they talk about “human rights,” “equality,” and “choice.” The message sells.

We need to learn from them. It’s not enough for us to talk about the evils of abortion. It’s all true, and it’s all needed, but it’s not enough. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily motivate people to take the next steps—to work at rebuilding our messed-up culture. Many people are against legal abortion, but if asked what they’ll do to end it, they simply say, “I won’t have one.” That’s good but not good enough, for others will.

We need to appeal to what resonates in the hearts of people. We need to re-awaken people about the values of life, values that in our every day, fast-paced, noisy, cluttered, distractible, wrong-way world get too easily lost. For if can we do it, people will again realize that life itself is the all-encompassing value. They will come to abhor abortion as intrinsically evil. And they will abhor it because life is so good.

So what’s good about life? Life is beauty, and not just what we see and hear around us. It is the inner beauty of another person, someone who has touched our lives and those of others. Life is growth—of a flower, of a mind, of a heart and soul. Life is courage, the courage to stand up and be counted, the courage to face an inner demon. Life is humility, the ability to know our weaknesses and ask for help. Life is struggle—to get out of bed, to fail again, to know fear, to fight on. Life is accomplishment, big or little, that makes the struggles worthwhile. Life is gratitude, the willingness to be thankful and to provide opportunities for thanks. Life is love, the kind we feel, the kind that helps us sacrifice. Life is the best of what the world offers.

Our job is to teach the value of life. We must teach everyone, but especially our young. They are the future. If we fail, others will educate them in the wrong values. They already are. It is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity.

The Jacobs brothers like to say: “Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.” Life is not to be missed. Not by us. And not by those yet to be born.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2021. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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