Coffee. Puppies. Spongebob Squarepants.
This is my definition of the ideal Sunday morning. Slowly waking up to the gurgling of the coffee maker and the sweet aroma of fresh-brewed French Roast; the sight of my two dogs, Coco and Cece, eagerly waiting for permission to get on the bed; and tuning in to Nickelodeon for a few episodes of Spongebob Squarepants.
Spongebob Squarepants is about the cockamamie adventures of a sea-dwelling buck-toothed anthropomorphic sponge. He lives in a pineapple in the underwater metropolis of Bikini Bottom, with a pet snail named Gary, Squidward Tentacles his chronically cranky neighbor (and comic foil), and a pink starfish sidekick named Patrick. He works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab, a greasy-spoon restaurant owned by Eugene Krabs, going through life with youthful exuberance.
I’m a huge Spongebob Squarepants fan, and probably watch more Spongebob than the average six year old (it helps that Nickelodeon runs an endless number of episodes during the day). It’s not high-brow entertainment, and humor is a combination slapstick and absurdist, consisting of one silly scene after another… perfect for those with viewing patience like mine. Created by artist and former marine biologist, Stephen Hillenburg, the show is one of the most popular cartoons on Nickelodeon, consistently ranking in the Top 10 in the Nielsen ratings, recipient of six Emmy nominations and winner of five Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice awards.
Amid all his misadventures, Spongebob never ceases to find the positives in any given situation. He is the epitome of friendliness, enthusiasm and resilience – the very picture of “Zen” happiness. And he’s the cartoon character I most relate to. An online “personality test” confirms this. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend Brenda sent me a “personality test” with a series of questions asking for my preferences in dates, movies, music, etc. Anyone scoring 29-35 points resembles Spongebob Squarepants. I scored 30 points.
According to the description: You are the classic person that everyone loves. You are the best friend that anyone could ever have and never wants to lose. You never cause harm to anyone and they would never misunderstand your feelings. Life is a journey, it’s funny and calm for the most part.
Ehem. Okay, even if this (admittedly fatuous) crackpot test isn’t true, I’d say I’m still “sponge worthy,” opting to see the sunny side of things and finding humor in every day life. David Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness, says that “Happiness is rather like cholesterol level – influenced genetically, but also by things we can do.” Often, when I start to feel sad, I self-medicate by watching hours of cartoons and comedy. Laughter really is the best medicine.
With the holiday season coming up, laughter and lightheartedness becomes even more important. Work, shopping, cleaning, visiting relatives, wrapping presents, and the slew of dizzying chores can be overwhelming, sometimes resulting in strain and gloominess. The Mayo Clinic identifies three main trigger points for holiday stress and depression: relationships, finances, and physical/emotional demands. The lack of relationships can lead to loneliness, while being around a continuous stream of family and friends can be exasperating. Whereas some folks overspend during the holidays, others feel guilt for not having enough resources to buy that “perfect” gift. And finally, fleeting from mall to mall, and party to party, can simply wipe us out. To ensure happy holidays, perhaps we can all take a cue from Spongebob.
First, become a friendlier person.
Spongebob has a knack for remembering the names of Krusty Krab patrons, and never fails to acknowledge people he passes on the street. Author and psychologist William James once said that, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” But often, we are so consumed with receiving validation that we forget to dish it out – we focus on being loveable instead of being loving. Sincere appreciation costs us nothing to give, and means the world to those who receive it. Not flattery – sincere appreciation and recognition, which can come from a simple smile, a greeting, and a genuine interest in the other person. And in becoming friendlier, begin with nurturing existing relationships. Bonus points: studies have shown that those in intimate relationships – both men and women – have lower death rates than single people.
Next, live with enthusiasm.
Spongebob starts each day with the mantra “I’mmm ready! I’mmm ready!” Whether he is flipping Krabby patties or chasing after jellyfish, Spongebob tackles everything with enthusiasm and maximizes the fun in any endeavor. Aristotle called enthusiasm “the regenerative force of conviction.” It is a manifestation of confidence, positive attitude, and optimism.
Perhaps the best description of enthusiasm is its Greek root word entheos, “having the god within,” from en, “in, within,” and theos, “god.” Inner fire is infectious and can be the difference between mediocre and magnificent. Live with enthusiasm, and learn how to arouse enthusiasm in others. Remember that “a candle loses nothing of it’s light by lighting another candle.”
Finally, develop emotional resilience.
Regardless of what trouble Spongebob finds himself in, he remains positive and resilient. Even international leadership training organizations think that Spongebob is a good character to emulate. Using the model created by Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, researchers from the Hay Group in the United Kingdom evaluated Spongebob’s emotional astuteness and determined that while IQ-wise, he is not the sharpest, he possesses a high level of EQ, or Emotional Intelligence. Consistently demonstrating integrity and empathy, Spongebob is flexible and adaptable in his approach to adversity, trudging forward despite difficulties and setbacks.
This holiday season, if you ever find the need for a quick jolt of cheer, tune in to Nickelodeon and watch an episode or two of Spongebob Squarepants, a positive role model for adults and kids alike. And Happy Holidays!