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Happiness Is Doing the Opposite

How the power of positive thinking, and Seinfeld, helped a lonely woman get out of a rut.

By Stephanie Thompson, Edmond, Oklahoma

Another Saturday night, and I was home alone. As usual.

Not like I'd be good company anyway, I thought, glancing down at my wrinkled pajamas, which I hadn't changed out of since I had crawled out of bed at noon.

I burrowed deeper into the couch and clicked the TV remote. Maybe there was something halfway decent on. Something that would get my mind off my own pathetic existence.

Okay, to be fair, things weren't all bad. I had a good job in the marketing department of an Oklahoma City hospital. Good friends, too. But they had their own lives. They were married with kids—like I'd always imagined I would be. Instead, here I was, 35 and single.

It wasn't as if I didn't want to be in a relationship. For ages I'd been begging God to send me that special someone to share my life with. And last year, I thought he finally had. I met a man and fell hard. He was strong yet sensitive enough to tell me often, "I love you." The problem, I found out, was that he was telling three other women the same thing. I felt so betrayed—not just by the man I'd trusted my heart to, but even more, by God. I gave up on church, on prayer. If God really cared about me, why was I still alone? Still miserable?

I clicked the remote again. A Seinfeld rerun. Might as well watch, I thought. Don't have anything better to do. Strangely, I got caught up in the episode. George, a lovable loser type, decided that since everything he normally did turned out abysmally, he'd change his luck by doing the opposite. And it worked: He found a girlfriend, landed a great job and moved out of his parents' house.

I laughed for the first time in weeks. That's when it occurred to me. Like George, I was unhappy with the rut I was in. Could I change my life by doing the opposite of what I normally did?

The next week, my department went on a retreat at a ropes course. I'm athletically challenged, so I wasn't exactly looking forward to all the activities. But the facilitator, Jina, urged us on with such sparkle and enthusiasm, even I got into the team-building games. I never would have thought I'd be able to walk on a high wire or rappel from a perch in the treetops, let alone have fun doing it!

Jina was around my age and wasn't wearing a wedding ring, yet she seemed content. No, it was more than that. She was joyful. During lunch, I stretched out on the grass close to her. I wanted to soak up some of her spirit.

"This course is a lot like life," Jina told our group. "Sometimes you've got to step out of your comfort zone and just trust that you'll get where you want to go." We relived the fear and excitement of edging across a rope strung between two tall utility poles, counting on coworkers on the ground to belay us if we slipped. Jina laughed, delighted that she had gotten through to us. "If you think this is challenging," she said, her green eyes dancing, "you should come hiking and rock climbing with me and my friends next weekend."

My coworkers shook their heads and chuckled. "This is enough for me," one of the guys said. Me, too, I thought. I was a city girl. The only hiking I'd ever done was from the parking lot into the air-conditioned shopping mall. And rock climbing? That sounded dangerous.

Then I remembered that Seinfeld episode. Do the opposite.

Before I knew it, I was telling Jina, "Count me in."

All week long, I kept thinking, I must be crazy! Every time I was about to pick up the phone and call Jina to cancel, I'd remember how excited she seemed about life. I wanted to live like that. I couldn't back out of this.

Early Saturday morning, I met Jina and half a dozen others at a wildlife refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. She'd brought a pack full of gear for me. "We'll hike in and rest near the rocks before we climb the slab," she said, hoisting the 30-pound pack onto my back.