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A thief traumatizes a California woman by breaking into her car and stealing almost everything she owns, but she's heartened by the fact she didn't lose "the most comfortable and uplifting article of clothing she's ever owned."

A 12-year-old child in Ohio finds the courage to battle cancer with the help of a simple cap that reminds her to "look on the bright side because things could always be worse."

A U.S. State Department employee living in Baghdad meets the daily challenges of her assignment with stickers and a frisbee that fulfill the war-torn city's thirst for optimism and help her "keep the right focus."

All three items were emblazoned with a smiling stick figure and three words that inspire, not despite of, but because of its simplicity: Life is good.

On Saturday, Newland Communities plays host to a Life is good Pumpkin Festival at FishHawk Ranch in Lithia. Bert Jacobs, chief executive officer for the Boston-based clothing company, will be on hand to share in the food, games and live music. The event will benefit the company's philosophy of hope.

"It's like an old-fashioned country fair with a modern twist," said Jacobs, who will compete in one of the day's signature events, the World's Greatest Backyard Athlete contest.

You could tell the story of the Life is good phenomenon by noting it's a $100-million apparel business sold in 29 countries. You could talk about the rags-to-riches tale of Jacobs and his brother John and how they went from selling T-shirts out of a van in 1994 to selling more than 200-million shirts at 5,000 outlets.

But it's the words of its loyal customers that best illustrate how the company's "optimistic cultural hero," Jake, has become a inspiring symbol found on shirts, jackets, pants, socks, boxers, etc.

There is no shortage of stories. Life is good apparel has been credited for giving confidence to a smart but terribly shy student who faced bullying on a daily basis. It inspired a young man in need of a kidney transplant and strengthened the resilience of a family who lost a loved one to cancer.

"The foundation of our philosophy isn't just that optimism is healthy, we believe it's empowering," Jacobs said. "Our very best customers tend to be people who have faced tremendous adversity in their lives. They're the ones who end up embracing the message and appreciating life's simple pleasures. It's very humbling."

Bert Jacobs says sometimes he has to stop in the middle of the day and take a deep breath when he thinks of the stories people have shared with him, but those stories also are at the core of the company's success.

"Life is good tapped into an emotional ethos that struck a chord with where the culture was at a certain point in time," Susan Fournier, a brand expert and associate professor of marketing at Boston University, told The New York Times. "That is not done by a marketing budget but by their customers who become evangelists and give the brand visibility and credibility."

The question is how far can that visibility extend. Will the economic downturn and society's other ongoing challenges negate the Life is good mantra, like thorns choking off seeds of hope? Naturally, Jacobs believes people will continue to focus on what's right with the world instead of what's wrong.

"What America needs now, more than ever, is a healthy, optimistic attitude," Jacobs said. "We need solutions rather than finger pointing. We always say, 'Don't knock something, build something.' "

Build something? How about a dam to hold back the waves of cynicism? How about a ladder, to climb from the depths of despair?

How about a shirt with three simple words that allows us to rise above troubles?

Life is good, if you want it to be.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at or 226-3406.


Living the good life

What: Life is good Pumpkin Festival

When: 3-10 p.m. Saturday,

Where: Park Square Town Center at Fish Hawk Ranch

What: Live music, food, games

Proceeds: HomeAid and Project Joy through the Life is good Kids Foundation.

More info: (813) 685-7500,