While it seems like a contradiction in terms, it takes a lot of hard work to achieve nothingness, as any zen master will attest.

But now it’s not only wise Buddhists who value the art of doing nothing. The University of Fine Arts in Hamburg is offering you the opportunity to turn your back on productivity — and be rewarded for it.

Here’s the application. Get to work!

According to Friedrich von Borries, professor of design theory and creator of the scholarship project, our rabid belief in success, growth and money has led us to the precipice, both environmentally and socially. “We wanted to turn that upside down — giving a grant not for the ‘best’ and for ‘doing a project,’ but for doing nothing,” von Borries told CNN.

It’s what zen practitioners have long espoused: when one refrains from doing something, it will benefit others who would otherwise be impacted by the negative consequences of our actions.

But if you feel you lack the skillset needed to do nothing well, you might want to bone up on the practice before trying to convince the profs in Hamburg that you have what it takes.

There’s a book for everything today.

From now until September 15th, you can apply for the scholarship designed to promote “active inactivity.”  It may be the last actual effort you make for quite a while.*

*Naturally, there’s a catch. In order to claim the scholarship money, you’ll need to write an analysis of what it was like to try to do nothing. And since the audience for your paper are a bunch of academics, be prepared to sweat your tuchus off trying to win their approval.




A Muslim, a Catholic, an African American, a Jewish person, a Hispanic, a Wasp, a native American, a lesbian, an old woman, a gender-neutral person, a Chinese communist, a Russian oligarch, an Iranian mullah, a red state Republican and an Upper West Side Democrat walk into a bar…*

First of all, have you smiled? Or are you already getting your back up at the possibility that someone could be made fun of as this story unfolds? This is a litmus test to your future well-being. Can you survive in the cancel culture without cancelling yourself out?

Let’s start with the facts. Humans are the nuttiest creatures on the planet, and our ability to be “triggered” has become so sensitized that each of us now needs a personal injury lawyer just to leave our homes in the morning.  Our big brains and thin skins leave lots of time to parse language, self-select into special interest groups, and worry ourselves over slights both real and perceived. Each person would prefer it if other people agreed with their opinions. Naturally, each person would also like the freedom to render judgment on those who don’t.

Meanwhile, tribal hostility has been going on since homo sapiens first noticed differences in their appearance (“Hey, you’re not wearing the same bearskin as me. I’ll feel safer if I make fun of your outfit!”) and will no doubt continue despite corporate offices hanging up “Zero Tolerance” banners. Because humans love conflict, and deep down they love feeling superior to other humans, even when that superiority is based on how “caring” or “woke” they are!

If all the wars of history (current skirmishes included) were not proof enough of this idea, we salivate over professional sports, rooting for the home team to “kill” the opposition and raise the championship flag over our particular city of “winners.”

Meanwhile, the media and industry have been harnessing trigger words for years to gain audience share and exploit our interest in being wise vs. being gullible. We like being triggered when it’s “easy” or “secret” or “free.”  We go the other way when it’s “complicated” or “difficult” or “overpriced.”

SuperOptimists understand that people are different, and that these differences should be respected and celebrated. We also know that being overly sensitive is not an enjoyable way to go through life, as you become predictable and boring and whiny and nobody really wants to hang around you (except for other overly-sensitive people).

What’s the best solution? Pure, unadulterated laughter at the absurdity of it all, especially a good laugh at ourselves. We’re all fallible creatures, after all. Laughter is a tonic for all colors of skin, sexual preferences, religious convictions, or gender reclassifications. Laughter is one of the core emotional expressions of joy. Who has ever wanted to turn away more spiritual joy – besides ruthless dictators and antagonists in Charles Dickens’ novels, that is.

So if you think you’re special because you’re a “woke white,” go fuck yourself! And if you think you’re special because you’re multi-ethnic, or a member of a fringe group, or call yourself “they” instead of “he” or “she”,  go fuck yourself! As for us, writing this post with the superior attitude of know-it-alls, we’ll go fuck ourselves too!

See? Now we’ve all got something in common!

*As for the joke that started this column, the fact that there is no ending is what’s funny about it.  To us, anyway.

It’s clear that humans like creating contests — and picking winners. There’s a huge number of competitions ranging from small local prizes to large international Grands Prix, judging what makes for success and failure, good and bad, winners and also rans. A lot of comparing goes on to decide who is “better” and who is “worse.”

People can go batshit crazy comparing themselves to other people. Is the winner really better than you? Do they have superior bloodlines? Did they go to an Ivy League college? Do they have deep skills you don’t? Why do people like hanging around them more than you? Is it their shoes? Do they have rich and powerful friends? Do they go skiing with famous people? Pure insanity!

The only competition you should care about is the internal competition with yourself.  Look at what you were doing five years ago and see if you’ve made any progress. If you do an honest analysis and have made no progress towards better work in the last five years – great! This realization means your progress can start today.

Take it from some accomplished artists: you never know what might set you on a new course.  Artists from Picasso to Gerhard Richter have radically changed their styles seeking a better way to express themselves. This kind of evolution is also available to you right now — free of charge — if you only give yourself permission to change what you’re doing and go “off recipe.”

Experimenting with a new style or process means going off the map into the unknown, and possibly taking a turn down a mysterious dark highway and ending up with one last $10 chip in a Northern California casino. But most people (reliable airline pilots excluded) are supposed to crash occasionally.

Here’s how Mr. David Bowie (the musician, not the spider), framed it:

“…if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Are your feet touching the bottom? Wade out farther. Now isn’t that better?

Note: if you’d like more recognition for your efforts, we recommend purchasing a trophy for yourself.  The bigger, the better. When anyone asks how you got it, you can tell them “I’m a winner at life.” Who can argue with that?

Thinking that life has become pretty routine? Wondering if the world will ever recognize your accomplishments in middle management? Concerned that your obituary will read like a boilerplate legal document? If you want to leave a mark before you go, we suggest getting your name in the record books.

For world-class athletes like sprinter Usain Bolt and tight-roper Nik Wallenda, attempting to break a new world record in their respective fields requires a great deal of intense training and unwavering focus. Luckily for the rest of us mere mortals, there are hundreds of other less glamorous records out there begging to be broken by anyone with a pulse.

How about “most t-shirts put on at one time. (current record: 31) Most tennis balls held in one hand (Current record: 26).  Fastest time to assemble a Mr. Potatohead while blindfolded (current record: 16.17 seconds). Most apples crushed with bicep in one minute (current record: 8). Fastest time to duct tape a person to a wall (28.53 seconds).  Most pieces of pumpkin pie eaten in 10 minutes (48, or 16.8 lbs. of pie).

Better yet, make up your own amazing feat to astound and delight.* Remember, all records start with envisioning the impossible, and then determining that you can overcome the odds.

*How about “most superoptimist.com blog posts read in a single sitting?” (This record is up for grabs, as far as we know).


Society has bred us to be eager for an acknowledgment from others.  We work extra hard for the praise that comes from a job well done.  And yet when one steps back from the daily striving, much of what we labor to accomplish is merely an illusion, as are the bon mots that come with it.

Pick a profession.  How much is satisfying about the job, and how much is simply busywork?  When the boss says “good work” on a power point presentation, does that overcome the inner suspicion that 12 hours spent unearthing stock photos of satisfied consumers was a waste of time?

To set a goal that doesn’t get you a pat on the head (and may never) takes courage, especially in a world where many people behave like the proverbial student waiting for the teacher to anoint them with a gold star.

Here’s an idea.   Don’t rely on others to acknowledge your effort.  Give yourself props, and lots of them.  For example, tomorrow when you wake up, if you make it out of bed, give yourself a gold star.  And another one for brushing your teeth.  And another for making yourself breakfast.  This way, you’ll be having a four-star day even before you leave the house!

Question: why did facebook create “likes” instead of gold stars?  We recommend they change this to a more universally recognized system of praise.


Ignorance is, in fact, a blissful state.  This theory was proven by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who in their landmark 1999 study, found that people who have virtually no skill in something often rate themselves as near experts.  Why?  Because they have no idea how much they don’t know, and how much they still have to learn.

Now the Dunning-Kruger effect might be something to avoid if you’re interested in becoming a thoracic surgeon, industrial architect, or Supreme Court justice.  But for the rest of us, embracing a lack of  “structured learning” may lead to fresh and exciting work.

Picasso himself said that it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.  Why is that something to strive for?  One could argue that a five-year-old has no Yale-educated intelligence about art.  And yet, how magical are the paintings a 5-year-old brings home to hang on the refrigerator?

Buddhists strive for this kind of openness to life, minus judgment or criticism, calling it “beginner’s mind.” They practice detachment from thought in order to experience each moment with a fresh perspective.

Perhaps the Dunning-Kruger Effect isn’t something to sidestep, but to adopt.  Enjoying a bit of “illusory superiority” can’t hurt if you’re wielding a paintbrush, or writing a poem. Though the opposite is true if you’re operating a 15-story construction crane, or facing your Thesis Examination Committee at MIT.

Or serving as President of the United States.