The Great Eight: How to Be Happy (Even when You Have Every Reason to Be Miserable)
Few Olympic medalists have stayed in the spotlight as long as figure skater Scott Hamilton, who turned “pro,” added “entertainment” elements such as the back flip to his repertoire, and took an ongoing principal role in the Stars on Ice touring production. He has been a sports commentator, played himself in a movie at age 50, and run the paces of Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” Hamilton exudes a joie de vivre. He seems to have done something right. Here, in this inspiring book, he shares his “secret” with the world.
Twenty-five years ago Scott Hamilton won the Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating. Despite some mistakes on the televised, choreographed program, Hamilton took the top prize because he had scored so well on the prescribed technical routine. His specialty? The mandatory figure eights, which require precision, balance, stamina --- and endless practice. “Everything I’ve learned about how to find happiness stems from what I learned through the repetition and discipline of perfecting my figure eights.”
Jumping off from that theme of “eights,” Hamilton lays out eight principles for finding happiness that have served him well, despite professional setbacks, a battle with testicular cancer and, later, the trauma of a benign brain tumor. Each chapter, connected to some aspect of his sport/profession, outlines a self-help book that is so personal it also might be categorized as a memoir.
Hamilton’s slow-start --- sickly --- childhood is covered in chapter 1: “Fall, Get Up, and Land Your First Jumps.” Here he introduces the happiness found not just in winning but in “process.” “I have always been happiest when I was doing just as I did as a beginner skater, putting one foot in front of the other and progressing, having the attitude that whatever comes of it comes of it.”
The chapter covering his training years, “Trust Your Almighty Coach,” has a spiritual overtone: “My long, winding journey to finding the right coach for me was not unlike my journey to finding God.”
Chapters 3 and 4 are particularly strong: “Make Your Losses Your Wins” and “Keep the Ice Clear,” which is about relationships --- Hamilton working through a fear of confrontation and learning to be direct in his communication. “Win by Going Last” has leadership advice, which served Hamilton well in his role in the Stars on Ice shows.
Portions of the book clearly speak to a middle-aged reader (facing baldness, career challenges); even so, I intend to give it to a teenage boy who has been temporarily sidelined in sports because of an injury. Virtually every page provides solid advice that promotes courage and a bright outlook for one’s future, even if that future includes a change from one’s original plan --- a topic addressed in chapter 7, “Learn a New Routine.”
There may not be anything here that hasn’t already been presented by Norman Vincent Peale, the positive-thinking persona of a previous generation. But Hamilton packages it in a fresh framework that is engaging, easy to read and downright inspiring.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on January 6, 2009