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Bright Side Up

Given the serious topics of the last few parenting titles I’ve blogged about, Amy Spencer’s Bright Side Up is a breath of fresh air.  As parents, we know only too well how life doesn’t always go as planned, but according to Spencer, you don’t need to reinvent your whole life to be happier.  You just need to turn it bright side up.  Whether your social life has gone awry or your career isn’t going your way, Bright Side Up helps you appreciate the little things with unique tips like asking your one-hundred-year-old self.

Three areas of Spencer’s book really resonate with me, and here are some samples from each:

When You’re Not Feeling Like Your Fantastic Self…

  • Steer life like a motorcycle.  Maybe, it’s because I’ve been watching the documentary, Long Way Round, where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ride motorcycles around the world, but I loved how Spencer informs readers of the golden rule of riding: “Look where you want to go and the bike will steer you straight to it.”  As Spencer notes, this is great advice for life itself.
  • Keep your eyes on your own paper.  Maybe, it’s because I’m a teacher, but I loved Spencer’s reference to our grade school days.  She’s right to encourage readers to become content with who they are.  Spencer writes, “It’s wonderful advice when you find yourself feeling you’re not as good as, or smart as, or enough as someone else.”
  • Fill in the easiest answer first.  Maybe, it’s because I’ve yet to master crossword puzzles, but I liked how Spencer compares life to them.  Bright Side Up explains, “When the possibilities of life overwhelm you – nearly as much as a big, blank puzzle on a page – don’t worry about the tough stuff that lies ahead.  Just fill in the easiest answers first.”

When Family and Friends Are Stressing You Out…

  • See “help” is not a four-letter word.  Maybe, it’s because I often fall victim to the Super Mom fallacy, but I love how Spencer reminds readers of the importance of letting family and friends help you be your best.  Spencer writes, “Asking for help is a sign of strength.  It says you know your capabilities and your limits, and you could simply use a hand to get things done.”
  • Out your oughts!  Maybe, it’s because I often feel guilty about following my heart instead of doing what I think I should, but I like how Spencer uses the example of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who quit his position at a Columbian law school to write the Nobel Prize winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, to illustrate her point.  She argues, “Don’t live someone else’s dreams.  True happiness comes by following your own.”
  • Peek in your picnic basket.  Maybe, it’s because I remember bringing a bottle of Tabasco sauce on a boat ride I took down the Amazon River in order to spice up bland meals that I love how Spencer suggests you remember the importance of bringing something to every situation to make it more palatable.  Bright Side Up claims, “If something in life is leaving a bad taste in your mouth, you still have choices.”

When Your Relationships Could Use a Reboot…

  • Feel warmth within the quills.  Maybe, it’s because after my husband has cleaned up from dinner I often wonder why wiping off the counter wasn’t included, but I could appreciate Spencer’s suggestion to think big picture.  She claims, “Little aggravations are a small price to pay for a partner in crime on the journey of life.”
  • Don’t waste worries on the “what-ifs.”  Maybe, it’s because I often second-guess my decisions, but I loved how Spencer compared life to a game of Twister.  Spencer believes, “Either take a small first step or put yourself in the hands of life until it tells you what’s coming.”
  • Take the tourist’s point of view.  Maybe, it’s because I love to travel, but I liked how Spencer encourages readers to appreciate what’s right in front of them.  She believes you need to fight the powers of habituation and see the “wow” in worthy things.

Drawing upon interviews from her career in journalism as well as real-life anecdotes, Bright Side Up offers a fun but practical guide to getting the happily-ever-after you’ve been dreaming of.  Spencer ultimately presents a compelling case, arguing that “Every date doesn’t lead to love, every week of hard work doesn’t lead to success, and every car ride isn’t full of green lights, but finding value and joy in the experience along the way is what makes the difference between a life that feels full of roadblocks or full of joy.”


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Read my other blog Befriending Forty at and find out what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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