Yukun Zhao, MAPP '10, was born and raised near Shanghai in China. He is the Founder and President of Huaren Applied Positive Psychology Institute (HAPPI), which is dedicated to promoting positive psychology and its applications in Chinese communities. He co-founded the Global Chinese Positive Psychology Association. He is also an acclaimed author of two books published in China. Full bio. Yukun's articles for Positive Psychology News Daily are here.
If you caught one or two spelling errors in the title, then I have a great story for you.
On the night of February 4th, at Madison Square Garden, Mike D’Antoni, the coach of New York Knicks, felt devastated. His team had lost 11 of the past 13 games, and was now trailing behind the visiting New Jersey Nets. He knew the biggest weakness of his team was the point guard. But what could he do? His starting point guard was injured, and his backup couldn’t deliver. He turned to the third-string point guard, an Asian American player named Jeremy Lin. Lin stood up from the bench and went to the court.He DID it.
Lin scored 25 points, and added 7 assists and 5 rebounds. The Knicks won 97-92. Everyone was stunned. In an article about the game, Stephenson reported that Nets forward Williams admitted that he had never heard of Lin before. Neither had most of the world. Who would’ve known a player who was not drafted by any NBA team to begin with and was then laid off twice and sent to the development league three times? As a matter of fact, Lin was praying that Knicks wouldn’t let him go just a few nights before this game, while sleeping on the couch of his brother’s one-bedroom apartment.
This was only the beginning. In the next game against Utah Jazz, Lin scored 28 points and led the team to win. In two weeks, Lin led the previously losing Knicks to 7 wins in a row. His dramatic rise quickly won him numerous fans and media attention, dubbed Linsanity.
Many new words appeared in the Linsanity lexicon, including linfinity, linpossible, linpressed, lincredible, and of course, Linderella. Cinderella became a princess with the magic of a fairy godmother. What’s the magic behind the Linderella story? In a Forbes.com article, Jackson summarized 10 lessons we could learn from Lin. As you read this list, think about the character strengths demonstrated:
- Believe in yourself when no one else does.
- Seize the opportunity when it comes up.
- Your family will always be there for you, so be there for them.
- Find the system that works for your style.
- Don’t overlook talent that might exist around you today on your team.
- People will love you for being an original, not trying to be someone else.
- Stay humble.
- When you make others around you look good, they will love you forever.
- Never forget about the importance of luck or fate in life.
- Work your butt off.
Here’s my list of the character strengths exemplified by this one person: persistence, optimism, humility, love, kindness, creativity, social intelligence, self-regulation, and gratitude. Lin shows strengths not mentioned here, including humor. Just watch his video, How to Get into Harvard. After an ESPN report that included an ethnic slur, both the writer and ESPN apologized. Lin accepted the apologies, “I don’t think it was on purpose or whatever. At the same time, they’ve apologized, and so from my end I don’t care anymore.”
To me, Lin’s most impressive strength is spirituality (or, as any linsane writer would put it, spiritualinty). This strength can actually explain why he has so many other strengths.
Lin is a devout Christian. Forgiveness, humility, and love are obvious examples of strengths that are espoused by Christianity. His religion also played a key role helping him through the tough times. In a testimony he shared with Taiwanese Christians, he said that in the beginning, “I wanted to play for my fans, I wanted to play for my career, I wanted to play for my fame, but I forgot to play for God.” He put big pressure on himself, couldn’t sleep well, and wrote in his diary, “I feel like a failure.” Eventually his pastor suggested that he spend one hour with God every day. He reflected on his life and decided to remember to play for God.
This did the magic. He kept practicing when no one else seemed to believe in him and kept training hard during the 2011 NBA lockout. He was ready when the opportunity suddenly came. Steger and Dik have noted that people who find their work meaningful can cope better with stress and often have an enhanced sense of the meaning in their lives. Lin attributes his success to the fact that he was playing without putting pressure on himself, “I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.” This links with an observation by Pargament and Mahoney, “In spirituality, however, we can find ways to understand and deal with our fundamental human insufficiency, the fact that there are limits to our control.”
Of course I am not saying that spirituality alone explains the miracle of Jeremy Lin. I just want to point out an underrated strength of this until now underrated man. Spirituality is a strength that even a non-religious person like me admires. Why? As Peterson and Seligman put it, spirituality is different from religiousness in that it describes not only “the private, intimate relationship between humans and the divine,” but also “the range of virtues that result from that relationship.” I think spirituality probably played the role of the fairy godmother that transformed a talented man into a paragon of virtues.
Lin, J., (2011). Jeremy Lin telling his life story
Pargament, K. I. & Mahoney, A. (2005). Spirituality: Discovering and conserving the sacred. In In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology. 646-662. New York: Oxford University Press. Quotation from page 655.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The quotations are from pages 602-603.
Steger, M. F. (2009). Meaning in life. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (2nd Edition). Oxford University Press.
Steger, M. F. & Dik, B. J. (2010). Work as meaning: Individual and organizational benefits of engaging in meaningful work. In P. A. Linley, S. Harrington & N. Garcea (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work. (pp. 131-142). Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia (2012). Jeremy Lin.