Jason Brown skating at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 27, 2019 in Detroit.
Happiness might just happen on Happiness Happens Day, an annual event which takes place on Aug. 8 and is meant to encourage happiness all day long, but 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist Jason Brown attributed his happy and positive attitude to his parents. We talked with his mom and dad, Marla and Steve, about five ways they made happiness happen in their home.
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1) Try To Make The Best Out Of Any Situation
With three kids, ages 21-26 (Jason being the middle child at 24 years old), Marla admitted that even though the siblings are very different, when it comes to their positive attitude, they are all pretty similar. “They all have that camper spirit,” their mom revealed. “There are always things that can go wrong, but they are similar in making the best of a bad situation.”
“We just have a positive outlook on life,” Steve said about himself and his wife of almost 33 years. “Some people always see the glass as half empty no matter what they have.”
But not Marla. Steve recalled a time when she almost ran out of gas.
“Instead of being upset, she was like, ‘THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING THING! WILL WE MAKE IT TO THE GAS STATION?’” he remembered. “I think it’s really the approach. You can look at that as what a horrible moment, or you can say what an adventure. And I think our kids generally see the world as an adventure...
“You know the story about the guy who works and everyone wants his job because he’s so happy?” Steve asked. “But when they switch jobs with him, the job isn’t so great. And then the guy is in another job and he’s so happy they want that job. I think happiness is a mindset. I think happy people are typically happy in most settings. But if you’re not happy, I don’t care what you’re given, you always think it’s the thing you don’t have that would make you happy — but it doesn’t.”
2) Make Family The Most Important Thing
When their kids were younger, Marla and Steve agreed on a couple of family rules that they stuck to. One was “no television during the week,” Steve said.
“We were also very strict that our kids didn’t have cell phones until high school, which at that time that was kind of late,” Marla added.
“[They] didn’t have Nintendo, or anything like that. In fact, it was a joke when our kids were little. I told them that our house didn’t come with Nintendo. Dylan, our youngest, thought it was kind of like how our house didn’t have a fireplace. Until one day he came home and was like, ‘Mom, did you know you can buy Nintendo?’” she laughed. “And it’s not to say that we never watched TV, or a movie together, but we just tried not to let that be a replacement for family time.”
3) Don’t Over-Celebrate The Big Things
As the parents of a professional athlete, Marla and Steve know the job comes with a lot of highs and lows; but Steve said that didn’t mean they had to follow suit.
“I think that was the thing that was important as parents,” he said, “if they did well, we didn’t over-celebrate and make it like that was the greatest thing in the world. And if they did poorly, we didn’t make it like that was the worst thing in the world.”
“We tried not to overdo either one,” Marla recalled. “I remember when Jason was younger and won some early event. On the way home we stopped at a gas station and he wanted one of those big fat, long pencils, so I bought him that. When we came home someone said, ‘Did you have a party? Did you celebrate? Did everyone come over?’ And I was like, I bought him this fat pencil at the gas station.
“Kids are smart, I think if you over-celebrate on the one side, they feel that when they don’t do well. So for that reason, we never tried to overdo either one.
“Plus, believe me, as Jason got older, he beat himself up enough. He certainly didn’t need us to.”
4) Let Your Kids Be The Engine
In addition to the job of professional athlete coming with highs and lows, it also comes with a lot of pressure and expectations. But Marla and Steve were in agreement that they didn’t want to pile any of their own on top of that.
“We never gave that added pressure of we’ve done all of this, so if it doesn’t go well then we’re not doing it anymore,” Steve said.
Thankfully it was Jason who did all the pushing.
“We were never really the engine,” Marla remembered. “Jason was always driving himself.”
Though it was his dad who was doing the driving, literally.
“I would tell him, if you want to get up, I will take you,” Steve said. “But I just won’t wake you. And I have to tell you, when I came into his room at 5 in the morning, he was always up. I don’t know what would have happened if he wasn’t. I think I would have just let him sleep.”
“Steve and I are both conscious that this is one small phase in Jason’s life,” Marla remarked. “It’s one thing he is doing. And what he’s doing right now. But we want him to have a positive attitude and look at life broader than just skating. Hopefully his attitude is, I’m working hard at this now and I want to do well, but when this is over there are other things I want to do and am interested in. I’m not defined by one success or failure.”
They agreed that Jason could have let his failure to make the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team define him, but instead Steve remembered, “He worked through it. I am sure he questioned a lot of things in that moment, but even then we didn’t say, you need to go and skate. We said, ‘You need to go and work it out — and if you want to skate, great, and if you want to move on with your life, look at all the wonderful things ahead of you,’” he said. “It was always on him.”
5) It’s What You Do Versus What You Say
Do as we say, not as we do was not a motto Steve and Marla lived by. Instead, the couple — who have known each other since they were 12, modeled good behavior, and then found themselves surprised to see it mirrored in their children.
“It’s surprising because you didn’t say to do it,” Steve said about watching his kids push themselves so hard. “I feel like Marla and I put pressure on ourselves to be successful, to work hard at things, to achieve certain things; so when you see it in your kids, you realize it’s much more what you model than what you say.”
That doesn’t mean the pep talks go by the wayside, but as Marla explained, “We say do your best. but the kids know that we want their best to be because they worked hard.”
And if they don’t, Marla said, “they are harder on themselves, and will be much more upset than we will.”
A freelance writer based in Orlando, Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2011.