I’ve about had my fill, lately, of talk of positive energy, positive environments, and the damned Secret. It’s not that I don’t think these things are good ideas, they clearly are, it’s that my friends seem to think I need them so badly. Okay, I’m no Mister Sunshine, I know that. But I’ve always been of the mind that being both marginally intelligent and observant requires that you see a lot of bad, both present and on its way. People tell me that I need to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. That’s all fine and good if half of the glass is full, but it you’ve lived any appreciable amount of time and have had to make your own living (e.g. you've never starred on The Hills and know what "student loans" are), you know that the glass is usually only about five percent full. And this requires a new definition of optimism – New Optimism – the kind that I think, if you'll forgive the self-aggrandizing, that I’ve got in spades.
New Optimism is to see that same glass, and believe that you’ve got a great chance to fill it all the way to the top. Because, to my mind, seeing 5% of the glass as 50% is the same sort of thinking that will lead you to believe that we are all really the product of Xenu, the ruler of the Galactic Confederacy bringing billions of frozen people to Earth 75 million years ago, stacking them around volcanoes and blowing them up with H-bombs (which may also end up with you jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch). No, New Optimism is to see the vast array of disappointment in front of your face and to believe that you can still be happy and satisfied. In the 1980 movie, Somewhere In Time, Christopher Reeves wanted to travel back in time and did so by sitting in an empty room, chanting and convincing himself that it was, in fact, 1912… traditional optimists believe that this is precisely how you find happiness. I suppose I could spend my time trying to convince myself that the situation and place that I’m in is exactly where I want to be – but I’d rather spend that same time trying to get where I actually believe that it is, no delusion required. In the end, isn’t it the same amount of energy spent? Why should optimists be so bent about it?
We are surrounded by a crushing majority of the affected and disappointed – trudging through life as a function of obligation rather than any actual zest for it. Don’t believe me? Head out to a Costco on a Sunday or sit at a McDonald’s for a couple of hours. It’s enough to make to you go home and cry. We’ve tried to commoditize happiness and done a really bad job of it – and raised the price nonetheless. The reality of most relationships is that they are either convenient or quid pro quo arrangements for sex and money. Why is she with him? Yes, because he’s rich. Is it so hard to admit that this sort of thing surrounds us? What sort of delusive happiness requires that I look at the world and see hearts, flowers, rainbows, and Care Bears everywhere? No thanks. New Optimists believe that despite all of that, that they can live a happy and meaningful life, and find relationships that are full of love, respect and giving for its own sake.
Unlike traditional optimists, New Optimists have bad days – just not bad weeks. Sometimes, things don’t go your way, and pretending that they did is about as intellectually valuable as a dissertation on unicorns. But New Optimists wake up the next day believing that it’s going to be better, there’s a clean slate, and another great chance for success. I mean, if you want to be able to look in the mirror and always see something you like, maybe you need one of those “magic” numbers from Snow White (of course, we all know how that turned out for the queen). Believing in the “fighting chance” and not just the “chance” is what New Optimism is all about. New Optimists believe that they can create their own luck, that fortune favors the bold, and that if nothing is ventured, nothing can be gained (breaking my own record for clichés used in a single sentence). But, honestly, wishing for something and wanting something are two different things – because you’ll work for the things you want. New Optimists want happiness, they don’t wish for it.
Optimists can always see the good in people… and isn’t that lovely? The reality is that some people are just bad, selfish and evil. Sure, they someday may not be, but your new internet startup may someday be Google… it’s just not a great bet. Some people are ridiculous. Sometimes people are stupid, through no fault but their own. New Optimists can smile and laugh at this – and not try to see a budding genius in that jerk-off teenager wearing his pants half-off his ass, with too much hair gel and revving the engine of his Honda Civic like he’s in a NASCAR race. We know he's just taking up oxygen that could be used by actually productive people, and eating food better sent to starving nations. New Optimists are, however, grateful to such individuals who provide so many examples of what not to be and what not to do, and find joy in a world which permits such amazing intellectual and expressive diversity. They’re just not ready or willing to pin medals on the world’s idiots. Someone accused me of being too negative when I railed on Ms. Teen South Carolina – really? Rather than make excuses, finding positive spin, or just ignoring it – I took the opportunity to give folks a little laugh, and extract a social statement from the otherwise mindless drivel and shameless exploitation that surrounded the event. Negative? No. Just New Optimistic.
In fairness, New Optimism isn’t optimism. It’s optimism with a kick, optimism with brains, optimism with your eyes open. Because while it’s all well and good to sit in an empty room, and chant until you’ve changed the world around you, there’s always going to be that penny that sends you crashing back. I’d rather put that penny in my pocket and keep rolling towards my happy place – which, for all I know, could be just over that next hill.