I was reading stuff I’d written about myself in the late 90s and one of the things I’d described myself as was “relentlessly cheerful.” I don’t think that’s entirely true anymore–I can do “grouchy” really well when I get impatient with idiots who are wasting my life–but it’s still largely true. About 20 years ago, my ex-wife gave me a cartoon that shows a man looking happily at a glass with a couple tablespoons of water in it thinking “Hey, my glass is 1/32 full!” And this is still an accurate description: My life works on optimism. Things happen serendipitously. Things manifest when I need them. The universe frequently lines up to make the shot easier for me. I win things. All of these things happen as a result of my belief that they will and that they should.
I’d tried to explain this to people for a number of years, because it really is the best way to go about things. My dear, departed friend Sharma said once that she had decided working with counselling patients that the optimists tended to see things through rose-colored glasses. The pessimists see things exactly as they are, which is to say, pretty crappy. Life is hard, “nasty, brutish, and short,” as the saying goes. Optimists tend to be happier and more resilient to life’s slings and arrows. She was trying to help the pessimists be more optimistic, which kinda boiled down to getting them to relax and be in a bit of denial about the reality they saw so clearly.
There’s a book by Martin Seligman that’s been out for about 20 years that can help people get to this point. It’s called “Learned Optimism” and the whole focus of the book is teaching you how to do these things for yourself. Most of the book shows you that you deserve to have what you want.
But there’s another element to this that I like sharing. A magazine article I read years ago described “power thinking,” a phrase that’s horribly overused if you care to look at Google to try to find the article I read. The gist of the article is a key to optimism and serendipity: you can’t close things off. You have to give the universe room to work. If, for example, you say “I’d like to buy a new car, but I can’t afford the payments,” you’ve already beaten yourself. Maybe you can’t afford the payments and maybe you can, but the presumption of the second half is that because you can’t afford the payments that life’s ready to stop and no further discussion is warranted. Very simply, the author said, when you find yourself saying “I want A, but B,” you should change the “but” to an “and,” so the sentence reads “I want A and B.” The assumption in the second sentence is that the second half is merely an obstacle or a condition that must be dealt with, but it’s not the final obstacle that Stops All Further Movement. From this, you might say “Well, if I can’t afford a payment, how can I work out a deal to obtain a car without having to make a big payment or even any payment? Can I trade something? Can I get a car and then sell advertising space on it? Can I share a car with someone else?” A wide variety of other possibilities may spring to mind when you say “and.” I like this technique a lot. I encourage everyone to try it out on their next three problems.
Failing any of this, you might just want to hope for the best. Things can and do happen. And be sure to buy at least one state lottery or Powerball ticket in the next week. It’s only a buck and wotthehell?