“Life is a traumatic experience for everyone,” says
Growing the Good
Gross, who turns 50 this year. “No one escapes loss,
pain and illness. But how do you meet the challenges
of life in a courageous, optimistic and fun way? How
do you bring your optimal vibe every time?”
Gross personally learned this life lesson not through
adversity, but through example. “I was brought up in
a home where my Dad measured success not by the
money you made, but by the people whose lives you
His father was a super-duper do-gooder, who left
his prestigious and high-paying job as a tenured math
professor at MIT to teach math at little-known Bunker
Hill Community College in Boston because, says Gross,
“He knew that the students there needed him
more.”“How come you broke your leg, but didn’t break
your nails?” he asked.
Life’s all about connecting—and bringing joy to others,
Gross says. “We have no control over our birth. We
have little control over our death. But we have lots of
control of the journey in between. And if you’re not
helping someone, what good are you?”
Yes, there’s even a term that Gross has created for
this notion of concurrently empowering and spreading
joy to others: goodification.
The ability to spread optimism, however, is a three-step process, he says.
Step 1: Be aware and see the good in yourself and others.
Step 2: Focus your intentions on the good.
Step 3: Take action by growing the good.
For example, he notes, after the Boston Marathon
bomber attack that killed three and injured dozens,
the stories mostly focused on the evil of the two bomb-
ers. But, he notes, hundreds of “first responders” risked
their lives to help others—as did dozens of bystanders.
Good grew from bad.
But it was as a 15-year-old camp counselor that
Gross personally learned of the true value of growing
the good—particularly for kids. Gross worked with kids
who suffered from unusually low self-esteem. One kid,
in particular, refused to participate in camp activities
and refused to get into the camp swimming pool. Gross
finally encouraged the young boy let him to carry the
boy into the pool. “He held my neck so tightly, I could
barely breathe,” Gross recalls.
Within a week, the boy was jumping into his arms
in the pool—and before the summer ended, the young
man was swimming. “I taught this boy not only how
to swim, but how to navigate his fears,” says Gross. “I
learned what a huge difference you can make in a child’s
life just by making them feel comfortable.”
That was his first hands-on experience as a “play-
maker” he says. His impact, at a critical time in one
child’s life, changed the game for that child. And the
positive thrill of it got Gross hooked.
But goodification doesn’t just work on kids. It works
on employees. It works on customers. It works—but
only if we take the time to use it.
Every convenience store has a potential chief play-
maker, Gross says. That’s the owner, manager or
leader of the store. As that leader , he says, your mis-
sion is to meet the needs of customers in the most
pleasant way possible. Asking employees or custom-
ers something as simple as “How’s it going?” opens
up the possibilities for more conversation—and,
ultimately, more business. “Never make a customer
feel they’ve made it inconvenient for you by walking
into your convenience store,” he says.
Remembering the names of regular customers is
huge, he says. When Gross was in fifth grade, he and
his friends loved walking to the local convenience store,
appropriately named Convenient, where the owner,
Mr. Malaney, adored kids. He always made conversa-
tion with the kids—and knew all of them by name. And
he mixed special slush drinks for the boys by blending
all of the flavors together. If a kid was short on money,
Mr. Malaney never minded being short-changed. “Mr.
Malaney was a life changer,” Gross says.
Connections can be made with strangers, too. Every
time Gross travels to Los Angeles on business, he stops
at the same 7-Eleven not far from Los Angeles
“How do you meet the
challenges of life in a
and fun way? How do
you bring your optimal
vibe every time?”