About six months ago, it was not a great time for the gym I go to. Likely the result of financial difficulties, the quality and consistency of some basic gym amenities started to suffer. Occasionally there would be no soap in the showers, the TVs would be broken, the sauna would stop working, or there wouldn’t be any towels for showering. Additionally, the cleanliness of the facility was going downhill and, as a result of all of these issues, my friends at the gym started complaining.
It’s funny – but whether it’s gym buddies, coworkers, teammates, roommates or classmates – people that spend a lot of time together usually find something to bond over. It can be something good or something bad, but after spending enough time together there’s usually some common experience that starts to define the group. Something good to bond over is mutual achievement. There’s nothing like a big “win” to get people to come together. However, in the absence of something positive, it’s also very easy for people to bond over complaining about something negative. Surely you can think of an example.
At one of my old jobs, the number one thing that employees bonded over was how terribly the company was run. The funny thing is – it was remarkably successful at bringing people together. Everyone became very close complaining about senior management. It was totally a vicious cycle. People would complain – bond – and then complain some more. Before we knew it, the primary thing that everyone would talk about at work was how awful the company was to work for.
This exact same vicious cycle was starting to play out at my gym. Until one day, Greg showed up.
Greg is a 6’ 2”, bald, Jamaican man in his mid-thirties. He is incredibly muscular and has a loud voice with a thick Jamaican accent. What makes Greg special? He is the single happiest, friendliest man I have ever met.
I’ve been going to the same gym for a long time and it took me about a year of going four times per week before I said hi to anyone. After just one week, Greg knew everyone in the gym. Walking through the gym floor, you’d think he was a celebrity. Going person to person he stops and shakes every hand in the gym, all the while belting out boisterous greetings in his Jamaican accent.
“How we doin’!?”
“Good morning Mr. Bill!”
“It’s going to be a good one!”
A funny thing happened after Greg started coming to the gym. People stopped complaining about the poor gym conditions. In actuality, the conditions didn’t get any better, we just had something new to bond over. Instead of complaining about the gym, we started talking about how Greg was so friendly and happy.
“How can he be so happy and awake at 7am?”
“If only I could feel as good as he does.”
“That guy has the best attitude I’ve ever seen.”
So this begs the question, what makes Greg so happy? One day I asked him.
Greg has an interesting story. He used to be a deliveryman for UPS. One day he was unloading packages from his truck in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. When he walked out from behind the truck with the packages, he was run over by a wreckless driver. Greg was thrown into the air and landed on the concrete with a broken back and several other fractures. Since the accident, Greg has undergone dozens of surgeries and endured years of physical therapy.
When I heard this story, I was stunned. Even after a terrible, life changing accident, Greg was still the friendliest person I’ve ever met. That’s when I realized why Greg was so special. He wasn’t friendly because he had to be and he wasn’t friendly because he had an easy life. He’s happy simply because he chooses to be happy.
Each day when I see Greg in the morning, he never ceases to amaze me. Just one person, who against all odds has chosen to be happy, now completely defines the culture of the entire gym.
What an incredible impact.