Here we are in the middle of February, with skies of grey and more snow in the forecast. Fatigue from lack of warmth and reduced daylight hours is only natural. So what’s a northerner to do? Here at SuperOptimist headquarters, in addition to a hearty mug of hot cocoa, we find there’s nothing like a short winter’s nap to reinvigorate the senses. (Unless, of course, it’s a long winter’s nap.  Both rate high in our book.)

That’s why we’re pleased to report that the nation’s military leaders are also proponents of sleeping on the job. According to the recently issued Army Field Manual, the armed forces have officially embraced an afternoon snooze for sleep-deprived soldiers.

“When regular nighttime sleep is not possible due to mission requirements, soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance,” according to the manual. “When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available.”

Like civilians, soldiers cannot be trained to perform better on less sleep.  That’s where officially authorized naps fit in. A stage 2 power nap, encompassing 15 to 20 minutes of snooze time, helps reset the system and produces a burst of alertness and increased motor performance.  The slow-wave nap lasting 30 to 60 minutes is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Going for 60 to 90 minutes of napping, complete with REM activity, plays a role in solving creative problems.

Then there’s the hypnagogic. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that true inspiration could be found in the the state of half-wake, half-sleep when the brain slips into an impressionistic state, untethered from a rational framework.  Pushing that idea farther, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali would take micro-naps in order to stay in stage one of sleep, that taps into vivid imagery and sensation.

In Dali’s case, his naps lasted less than 1 second at a time.  How is this possible? By holding a key or spoon between his fingers so when he nodded off, the clang of dropped metal would awaken him. Dali claimed that “slumber with a key” revivified both mind and body, and generated powerful visual ideas. Of course, being Salvador Dali probably helped.

Want to read more about the positivity of nap time? Here’s what the brainiacs at Harvard have to say about it. The Mayo Clinic weighs in here. And let’s not forget the wags at McSweeney’s, who uncovered this list of quotes that take naps.

*We’re writing this on President’s Day, as it’s no secret that the occupants of the White House have always taken naps behind the curtains of the oval office, from LBJ to Reagan to Clinton to…well, we assume 78-year-old Joe Biden likes his daily refresher as well.

Nurses are there for you in times like these. They have big hearts, and don’t judge questionable behavior, but instead provide care and comfort, even if it’s the result of a mistake on your part.

It turns out that this celebration of caregivers begins each year on May 6th and ends on May 12th — Florence Nightingale’s birthday. That’s nice and all, but really, every day should be Nurses Day.

So we hereby extend National Nurses Day for the entire calendar year of 2020, and encourage you to recognize and appreciate the nurses in your life. Not just the hospital variety, who will be working overtime due to American distaste for following rules and guidelines, but the mother who fusses over every sniffle and scrape, the neighbor who rushes over with a bandage after you slip with the electric hedge trimmer, or the concerned friend who hasn’t heard from you in 24 hours and calls repeatedly to make sure you’re still ambulatory.

As for a gift? We recommend following the zen principle of doing absolutely nothing. Not getting in a skateboard mishap. Not overdoing it in your zoom yoga class. Not crowding into a barber shop and catching C19. What better way to say “thanks” than not showing up at the hospital?*

 *When the time is right, we also recommend getting a large tattoo of your favorite nurse on a forearm or neck to show your unwavering devotion. Remember: nurses work hard, and they have to stand all day in ugly shoes.  They deserve more than a day of thanks.  Let the year-long celebration begin!

Today the SuperOptimist turns 141.* (Not in years, but in columns placed on the world wide web.) Naturally, this is cause for revelry, so we’d like to invite you to join us as we dig in to a generous slice of our favorite pie.

At the same time, we pause to reflect on the great gift bestowed upon us as transmitters of SuperOptimist thought. We were first visited by this powerful force in 2006, which resulted in a book that offered a contrarian take on what most humans refer to as “problems.”

Secrets of the SuperOptimist

We thought we had completed our mission with the book’s publication and subsequent second edition, and spent the next 11 years practicing SuperOptimism like a figure skater practices a triple lutz, or an equestrian practices dressage. Yet the spirit channel contacted us again in the spring of 2019, perhaps in anticipation of a major world event which would disrupt our lives the following year.

So we recommitted to writing down the signals we received, sent during the wee hours via lucid dreaming, walking meditation, and glimpses into the space-time continuum.  And now, there may be much more the SuperOptimist wishes to impart to help people survive — and thrive — in this decade and beyond.

We will continue to share these wisdom transmissions, while celebrating each day as if there is no tomorrow. The fact that death can come quick or slow, that money can evaporate after years of saving, that your team may not win the next three-game series  — it’s living in the mystery that makes life an exciting, if unpredictable, adventure.

Finally, we celebrate you for spending some time with us. We hope you will continue to enjoy more slices of our pie in the future.

*At a time when friends have unexpectedly taken flight due to something smaller than the smallest bacterium, we dedicate this column to Bob Levine, one very cool dude who brought joy and humor to many.  

 

Is rushing out to buy a closet full of face masks really the best way to confront your fear of catching the deadly COVID-19?

We think not.

For one thing, masks are really intended for those doing the spreading of disease, not those who are trying to avoid it. They offer little guarantee of preventing the illness due to the size of the microbes that can penetrate the mask (not to mention people’s habit of removing the masks to touch, scratch, and poke at their face).

But perhaps most important, these masks make you look like you’re already on your way to the hospital — or worse. Just by putting one on, you’re admitting you’re scared to death of getting sick. This fear and stress is a real turn-off to your immune system, and can cause you to be more susceptible to catching the virus, not less!

For a SuperOptimist, a face mask is not the weapon of choice for confronting the coronavirus. Facing a pandemic we have no control over, we recommend confronting it head on — by wearing the helmet of your choice.*

Whether it be Roman Gladiator, Viking, vintage leather football, World War II infantry, or standard construction model, sporting a good, solid helmet at all times makes it clear to the world that a deadly virus will not intimidate you, no siree. A helmet says you’re not to be messed with by airborne particles (or anything else, for that matter).

Not only that, the confidence you’ll exhibit wearing a helmet will have your colleagues at work taking a step back in order to let you pass. That’s a good thing, as the farther they are away from you, the less likely you’ll pick up their germs. Plus if you live in an urban environment, a helmet will protect you from falling debris from construction sites, of which there are many.

So rather than quarantine yourself in public behind a surgical mask, we advise you to wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with sick people, and grab yourself a helmet.  Now get out there and show those microbes of malfeasance who’s boss!

*While we subscribe to time-honored holistic methods of healthcare, we are not licensed physicians. Ask your doctor if SuperOptimism is right for you.

 

There’s a groundswell of opinion out there that unfettered positivity is the key to a happy, successful life. It’s been posited that those people who complain about their situations are digging a hole for themselves, a hole that leads to failure, social isolation, and death!

But what if these cheerful idiots are wrong?

As with most blanket pronouncements, their claim of constant conviviality is utter nonsense. Complaining is like perspiring. It’s part of human nature, and a necessary outlet for dealing with the stresses and strains of mortality. Life is hard, whether you’re a trash collector attempting to wake up at 4 am for your Thursday shift, or Nicole Kidman working hard to cling to the top of the Hollywood pecking order.

So if you feel guilty for not feeling constantly “happy” or “well-adjusted,” you have our permission to stop right now and let out a good, long sigh, followed by a string of choice expletives, some of which can be found here.

Give yourself license to let off some steam. Otherwise, when things really do go off the rails in your life, you won’t have the tools to deal with the problem successfully.*

*Of course, constant complaining can drive your friends and family mad, and eventually, cause them to evade your presence. Make sure you mix it up a little, and add self-effacing humor to your litany of problems, to give it that “universal feel.” And if you’re really down in the dumps, may we suggest a vacation here.

 

 

 

 

If you can only muster one mind-body activity today, make it a genuine gut-busting, milk-out-the-nose-spraying, wake-up-the-neighbors braying spell of laughter. It’s not just a temporary reprieve from the madness that we call “reality.” A blasting, snorting, teeth-baring laugh has definitive health benefits.  Among them are the following:

Reduce anxiety. You don’t need a clinical psychologist to tell you that laughter instantly relieves your body’s stress response.  If you’re laughing, you relax. But it is funny that people have felt the need to research this point.

Sort of like a scientific study on the benefits of brushing your teeth. Guess what?  If you don’t brush them, you will get cavities, gingivitis, bacterial infections, and die! And speaking of dentists, here’s little joke:

A pregnant woman learns from her dentist that she needs a root canal. She says to the dentist, “darn … I’d just as soon give birth as have a root canal”. The dentist replies, “well, make up your mind so I know what position to put the chair in”.

Burn calories —a study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, researchers found the physical act of intense laughing gives your body a mini-workout similar to aerobic exercise. This being America, some enterprising souls have combined the two.

Positive jolt to your immune system — According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people who laugh increase the number of activated T cells and natural killer cells.

In the right hands, even hideous, ungodly trauma can be funny. (Or not. This all depends on how elastic your sense of humor is.) Take Robert Schimmel, a professional funnyman whose 11-year-old son died of leukemia. While he was devasted as a dad, as a comedian, his job was to find something to balance the gloom. This is what he came up with:

“My son’s last request when Make-A-Wish came was to see his father get oral sex from Dolly Parton. To this day, his wish remains unfulfilled.”*

So fight back against the complete and utter ridiculousness of our political system, our PC culture, our information-age antics, our attempts at garnering accolades for mindless jobs well done, and our grasping and clawing for more of whatever it is that we want more of.  The best way to react to the trauma, the indignities, and the current crop of presidential contenders is by laughing like a hyena with Pseudobulbar Effect.

*By the way, at the end of his career Bob Schimmel needed a liver transplant, was being sued for divorce from his much younger wife, and had moved back in with his parents when he got too sick to make a living — at which point he was killed in a car accident.  Schimmel mined each of these experiences to make people laugh. Except for the car accident, that is.

In America, we’ve been socialized to believe that a “hearty breakfast” consists of eggs, flapjacks, cereal, juice, and the like.

Yet according to food historians, the concept of breakfast food didn’t exist in the U.S. until the mid-1800s. Before that, breakfast was a meal of leftovers, like cheese and bread. If you had a few bucks in the bank, you added meat and fish to your morning plate.

Then the families of Post and Kellogg toasted some grains, and later an egg lobbyist convinced Congress to put scrambled, fried and hard boiled at the top of their food pyramid. You could keep this American breakfast routine going. But why be trapped in the usual food patterns? Could there be a more exciting way to “break fast” that’s just even better than what’s on the menu at your local coffee shop?

One suggestion is adding some inner heat to your morning meal. It’s a sure-fire way to wake up, since hot spices release endorphins in your system, similar to a runner’s high.

While we’re deviating from local custom, why not tour more of the world when it comes to your a.m. cuisine?

In Pakistan, it’s Siri Paya in the a.m., a soup made from slowly cooking the head and feet of a cow, a lamb, or a goat, then adding tomatoes, onions, and spices.

Mexicans like huitlacoche with their eggs. Technically speaking, this is diseased corn, sporting a fungus that’s considered a delicacy in Mexico. The spores that infect the corn turn it black and give it a mushroom-like flavor.

And in Pennsylvania Dutch country (near where the first SuperOptimists were born), scrapple (leftover scraps from the pig, like the eyeballs, tail and snout) are ground into a patty and fried, much to the horror of those thinking sausage is the worst thing that can be done with a sow’s innards.

Hopefully these suggestions have whetted your appetite to try something new. But even if you decide to stick with a bowl of Cheerios, whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast. Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that men who did had a 27% higher risk of heart attack or death from heart disease.*

So here’s to having your cake and eating it for breakfast too, if you so choose.

*The researchers think that the no-breakfast brigade makes up for skipping the morning meal by stuffing themselves at night. This is neither good for their slumber, nor their metabolic rate.

Another day, another deadline.  Already you’re swamped with wall-to-wall meetings and your nerves are tighter than Joe Biden’s latest facelift. So you can be forgiven for wondering how you’re going to make it through another long stretch before experiencing your next official holiday.

What’s a responsible member of the work force to do? Caring for your sanity and well-being should be a priority, but you can’t just light out for a long weekend whenever the board of directors does. That’s why we developed the “SuperOptimist Immediate Vacation.”

An I.V. provides instant gratification when it’s needed most by allowing your mind to escape its confines for a few welcome minutes. (Vacation has the word “vacate” embedded within, and for good reason.*) This momentary respite from gerbil-wheel cogitation can go a long way towards renewing your energy, your mood and your sense of humor.

So what constitutes the proper embodiment of a SuperOptimist I.V.?

1. Columbia University researchers found that exposure to the negative air ions created when air molecules are exposed to sunlight, radiation, moving air, and water generated feelings of alertness, mental clarity, and elevated mood. So your Immediate Vacation may be as simple as leaving the office and walking around the block. Just don’t tell anybody where you’re going.

2. Viewing a few pictures of your last vacation on your desktop can spark memory association of pleasant times while lowering your blood pressure. Keeping a tube of sunscreen in your drawer and taking a deep sniff can also ignite the senses to a time of peaceful clarity. Sun Bum makes a broad spectrum product that smells about right:

3. One tends to breath shallowly at work, which can clench rather than loosen the stomach, neck muscles, and sphincter. Close your eyes, place both feet on the floor, and breathe deeply through your nose for 5 to 10 minutes. If anyone asks what you’re doing, tell them you’re in the middle of an “I.V.” and to “GFY.”

The Immediate Vacation is at the ready when you need it. Give yourself permission to take one whenever it suits. Your ticket to getting away from it all is always in your possession. And unlike exorbitant hotel and airline charges, it’s 100% free!

*Did you know? The Adirondacks inspired the first use of the word vacation, as in: “One vacates from the city to exchange humid heat for fresh air.In a similar fashion, one may vacate from work to exchange fetid thought for a clean slate.

 

Opening Day is normally associated with the beginning of the major league baseball season, bringing a sense of hope that at the very least, sub-freezing temperatures are behind us and spring has finally arrived.

But we see no reason why the pastime should only be relegated to balls and strikes. Here are some suggestions for celebrating opening day outside of a ballpark, tavern, or Best Buy electronics store.

Open a window. Not only can open windows boost mood by letting in some fresh air, the very act can be good for the environment. Indoor air pollution has been described by the EPA as a primary environmental health problem. In addition, the American College of Allergists states that 50 percent of all illnesses are caused by polluted indoor air. So grab that sash and fling wide the windows. You’ll be glad you did.

Open a jar of sauerkraut.  In addition to going great on a hot dog (the classic opening day meal of baseball enthusiasts), sauerkraut has amazing health benefits that might actually negate the harmful qualities of the frankfurter.

Open your “third eye.” Known as the ‘Ajna chakra’, the third eye is a source of intuitive wisdom and has the potential to lead you to the highest form of intelligence. Try some third eye meditation, with eyes closed, focused on the area between your two actual eyes. Once you start seeing a bluish-white light, you’re halfway there to healing your chakras and getting in touch with a further dimension of existence.

Open your browser and search for “Smead Jolley”.  There’s nothing more enjoyable than discovering arcane knowledge about some of the more colorful players of yesteryear, Smead being one of them. Jolley was an outfielder in the 1930s who once committed three errors on a single play.* But did Smead let his ineptitude in the field get him down? No! After getting dumped from the majors due to his poor fielding skills, he spent the rest of his career hitting the cover off the ball in the Pacific Coast League.  Back then, the PCL paid their established players in a manner commensurate with the majors, so Smead did okay for himself.  Not only that, he was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame in 2003.  Oh, and his nickname was “Smudge.” You can’t ask for more from a ballplayer.

*First he let a ball roll through his legs in the outfield. After allowing it to carom off the wall, the ball rolled back between his legs in the opposite direction. When he finally recovered the ball, he heaved it over the third baseman’s head and into the stands. **

**Although the ump took pity on him and only scored it two errors.

 

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, and with it the blessed gravy boat.

But why should this beacon of gastronomic goodness be relegated to brief appearances at holidays? Why not make the gravy boat a staple of every meal?

Consider the expression “it’s all gravy.” Meaning “an abundance of good things in a given circumstance,” it’s a key pillar in the practice of SuperOptimism. We take it to mean embracing each and every circumstance as a fortunate occurrence — no matter how screwed up, off-putting, or painful — since the mere fact of being alive (as opposed to the reverse) is a miracle in itself!

None of us are promised another day, much less another government holiday, long weekend, or winter break.  So why not celebrate the good fortune of being conscious and functioning today with a deep and abiding gratitude. And gravy!

You have our permission to pull that gravy boat back out of deep storage, place it in the center of your dining table, and fill it to the brim with the following recipe. And if you’re thinking we want you to soak up a high fat, high chemical concoction until your heart stops on a dime, take note: the following contains no gluten, grains, corn starch, flour, or filler of any kind. We invite you to pour generously at every meal. Breakfast included.*

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 quart organic low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 6-8 cloves peeled garlic
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, unsalted butter, or coconut oil

Start by dumping the broth, onions, garlic, and thyme into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on high.  Then lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until the onions and garlic are really soft. At this point, taste for seasonings and added salt, pepper, and coconut aminos.

Then pour everything into a blender, add 2 tablespoons of ghee, and blitz everything until it is uniform.  Voila!

*But lay off the biscuits. Those things are like edible hand grenades for your body. Reach for some pineapple instead.