Appreciating What’s Right With Life – Arnett Hartsfield

When 92 year old Arnett Hartsfield looked back on his life, he recalled dark and disappointing times. Chief among them was dealing with the realities of segregated life in the 1940’s as a black man.  Even with an engineering degree and later a law degree from UCLA his opportunities were severely limited.Arnett Hartsfield You can read about some of the dehumanizing experiences he had working as an LA Firefighter while going to law school in the LA Times November 14 new article at

His reflections on this life experience, as he was awarded the Fire Department’s first Lifetime Achievement Award,  are profound.  “Back then, when I was working, I was bitterly complaining all the time.  As long as I was busy complaining, all I saw was the dark side:  I can’t promote (to a higher level job). ”  Hartsfield’s insight about only seeing the negative has been shown by positive psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson to be in fact true.  If we get on a negative track, our brain literally can’t get off it and that is all that we can see.  Of course the opposite turns out to be also true.

Hartsfield says that now he appreciates what went right in his life. “In three years in the infantry , I never was even shot at, thanks to prejudice and segregation.”   Taking a moment to appreciate what is right in life has been shown to be a powerful antidote for the many challenges and stresses that we all face.   And by appreciating what is right in life, you can literally shift your brain over to that positive track and experience what Frederickson describes as the “upward spiral” of positivity.  Appreciating what is right is the foundation of Appreciative Inquiry, an approach I use in my coaching and consulting practice.

It is never too late to start appreciating what is right with your life.  Hartsfield says, “A puppy’s  eyes open in seven days.  It took me 50 years to finally figure out I’ve been blessed.”



p.s. I always am interested in what you think about these discussions. Please post your thoughts…your constructive criticism and support is appreciated! Sign up for my newsletter here.
Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach.  Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values.


  1. Calla Gold on November 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    It really is important to appreciate what is right in life. Thinking positively can really impact your life, and getting stuck in a negative rut can drag you down. Hartsfield sounds like he’s come a long way, and good for him!

    • lynnkjones on November 30, 2010 at 3:04 am

      I agree! What an impressive person Hartsfield is. You would think that after what he went through that all hope of appreciating life would be dashed. What the research shows is that it really is through adversity that we learn to truly appreciate life. So, just when we feel we have been dealt a big blow, it might be just the gift we are looking for!

  2. Shelly Dixon on November 30, 2010 at 4:18 am

    I started a practice recently where every morning I write down 10 things that I did right in the last 24hrs and 10 things that went right in the universe in the past 24hrs. Its really amazing how powerful this practice is! Thank you Lynn for this post!! I am sure it will be on my list in the morning!!

    • lynnkjones on November 30, 2010 at 4:21 am

      Shelly, That is a wonderful practice! In the book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make you Happier Robert Emmons wrote about research regarding people that kept a gratitude log. Those people were not only happier, they were physically healthier!

  3. Linda E. Menesez on November 30, 2010 at 5:04 am

    This is wonderful, Lynn! I so believe that our attitude and focus create our reality. I just replied to a Facebook post that you made, saying that my favorite Einstein quote is “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” What a joy to be always looking for those miracles and blessings and feeling gratitude for them. Focusing on problems only brings more problems.

    Thanks for an inspiring post!


  4. lynnkjones on November 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Linda, One of the central tenets of Appreciative Inquiry is that what we focus on does become our reality. Have you ever had the experience of being at a large conference and noticing someone because you are behind them in line (or something like that) and then you find that everywhere you turn around they are there? That is when I become aware of how true it is that what you focus on becomes your reality. Because we focus on one person out of thousands, you then notice them all the time.

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