Despite being alive in this very moment, human beings have a tendency to want to “know” the future. Folks imagine a “career track” at work. At home they wonder about the “future of the relationship.” The United States government encourages us to believe in “social security” and legally requires citizens to pay exorbitant taxes so they can invest in the invisible future of 2074 A.D.

The aspiring SuperOptimist can take a lesson from Nobel Prize-winning Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Professor Bohr conducted countless scientific experiments where he would try to guess the real outcome of events imagined beforehand. With the best theoretical models available, he still could not predict the future any better than a drunken tourist at a craps table in Las Vegas. Professor Bohr summed up his career of deep scientific thought by saying: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

Bohr proves that no matter how smart you are, you can’t reliably predict 5 days from now, much less 50 years. That’s why the SuperOptimist believes that the “good time” is not in some imagined far distant future, but in every tiny moment of existence at this very moment right now. And now. And now. And…now.

1. Travel to your local library.

2. Closing your eyes, walk down an aisle.

3. Pull a volume chosen at random from the stacks.

4. Without looking at the book, turn to a random page.

5. Now open your eyes and read the right-hand page.

6. Whatever is on the page, allow it to inspire an action corresponding to its contents.

In August 1953, an obscure country boy named Elvis Presley walked into the offices of Sun Records. He aimed to pay for a few minutes of studio time to record a two-sided acetate disc: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”

A Boy From Tupelo. Early Elvis Presley recordings.

He later claimed that he was merely interested in what he “sounded like”, although there was a much cheaper, amateur record-making service at a nearby general store. Biographer Peter Guralnick thinks that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.” When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.”

Elvis Lives! anagram t-shirt

Keep hope alive with this positive anagram about the King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis couldn’t imagine what was coming next for him. How could he foresee a glorious career of legendary fame and musical adventure? The future is hidden until it happens. You never know what you might be capable of, until later. If you knew what was in store for you, life wouldn’t be nearly so interesting. So maybe it’s time for you to head down to Memphis.  You never know what might come of it.

Whether it’s a cure for procrastination, a way to beat the stock market, a method for hacking your brain to achieve total clarity, or the one diet that will help you shed pounds without giving up your favorite coconut cream pie, there’s no lack of people will to offer you “the answer.”

Greetings to our Philadelphia-area readers.

Yet why don’t the experts’ directives live up to their hype? Because the true answer to the pressing issues you’re facing right now is this: there is no answer. Each life is a curious amalgam of genetic markers, family skeletons, previous experiences, and standardized test scores. There is no one-size-fits-all answer in any category. Nor can anyone give you assurance that the path you are on will lead to your hoped-for destination.

Think you’re in control of your destiny? This mathematician proves otherwise.

“Abandon the search for reason” is the ancient Daoist healing practice to unshackle you from the desperate need to get things right. When the questions arise in your mind, like “Why me?” or “Where is God now?” or “Who put soy milk in my no-foam latte?”, you can be freed of the burden of having to find the answer before your time on earth is up.

Translation: “I don’t know” in Cantonese.

It’s much more enjoyable spending your days living in the mystery, where the real excitement can be found. This way, you can plunge ahead, taking actions that might be right or wrong. Or neither. Only time will tell.

Lift the veil, from the 7th century B.C. to the 7th century A.D.

As for the bellicose authors, control-freak life coaches, and cardboard spiritualists with their ALL CAP PROCLAMATIONS OF 30-DAY MIRACLES, you can confidently answer their come-ons with the powerful understanding that they do not have “the answer” — for in fact, there isn’t one!*

*However, if you find yourself in legal trouble, make sure you consult an experienced attorney.

Whether you’re talking about free markets vs. government intervention,  Peloton vs. Soulcycle, or who qualifies as the best rock band of all time, everyone seemingly has an opinion. Some more educated than others.

He did a lot of thinking in his day.

Yet most people have no more idea what they’re talking about than your well-meaning friend who has the answers to all the world’s problems, if only the world would come to his basement and hear him out. (There are a lot of these people in crawlspaces and parents’ attics on social media now. The strength of their opinion would seem to derive from years of hard study, though scratch their surface and it’s more the adoption of peer group discourse than any hard-won research.

What do you like? What does everyone else like?

In this age of big data and internet everything, one may think they can google, quora, reddit or wiki the answer to every question instantly. But more is learned by experience and exploration than reading a post on social media. And even then, we still have no definitive answer on how the universe began, or how many galaxies in space hold life forms equal to or greater than ours, or whether baseball would be better if we shortened the game further.

Refreshing to admit right at the outset.

For some reason, humans have a very hard time admitting that there may not have all the knowledge in the world. It’s hardwired in our DNA to never admit we’re clueless or wrong.

Interesting name for a soda pop company.

And yet, the strength, the wisdom and the relief in saying “I don’t know” may be the smartest thing one can ever communicate — no matter what their age, sex, race, or position in society. Is it any surprise that our most effective leaders are those flexible enough to change their opinions based on the latest intelligence, rather than fearing the appearance of indecisiveness?)

Translation: “I don’t know” in Cantonese.

It takes a big person to say “I don’t know” (and different sized people to wear it on a t-shirt.) Self-awareness and confidence are required as well. But how refreshing it is to hear. And how exciting it is to live in the mystery rather than the answer.*

*As author and rabble-rouser Ken Kesey said, “Once you have the answer, you stop thinking.” And who wants to do that?

In the past six months, we’ve gone from world leaders saying there was no major threat from Wuhan to a rip-roaring pandemic. We’ve seen medical experts say that only the elderly and the immune-compromised were at risk, to learning of perfectly healthy people dying from the disease. We’ve been told that wearing a mask is unimportant, to wearing a mask is very, very, very important.

Now we’re seeing various governors arbitrarily decide to keep their states open in the face of increased outbreaks (but maybe they’ll close their states in a week or two, depending), while Wall Street shouts that the worst is over as 20 million people remain unemployed.

If ever there was a time to question authority, this is it.

Looking back, mass confusion is not a new phenomenon; it breeds a group of so-called “experts” who take to the airwaves to tell you what to do next.  From politicians to religious leaders, opinion columnists, business gurus, life coaches, self-help authors, movie critics: Here’s a set of professional guidance counselors that outwardly preach the ability to “live your best life” by following their expert tips.  Yet when in their homes with the shades drawn, they are just as confused, foul-mouthed, and imperfect as you are. 

Perhaps more so.  Scratching their backsides, yelling at their kids, sneaking glances at pornography, greedy for more wealth and power — just like everybody! Remember, despite their confident, toothy grins, these “experts” are not their book jacket photos.

So what is the “truth”?* Which facts do we embrace? Or is life just a lucky guess after all?

What they (and you) can learn from current events is to laugh at the human condition, chortle at our constant foibles, and re-think what makes you happy in the first place.

One way to start? Ignore everything an “expert” says on a cable news show. As Philip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, put it: “Let it be your maxim through life, to know all you can know yourself, and never to trust implicitly the information of others.”

NOTE: The only advice you should follow is your own personal truth.  With just this secret alone, you are nine times more likely to find it! (Oh, and wear a mask. That should go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway.)

We could all use more luck in our lives, especially given the extreme events of the moment. So how do you persuade fortune to shine it’s toothy grin upon you going forward?

Richard Wiseman, a British psychology professor at the University of Hartfordshire, examined the difference between self-professed lucky and unlucky people. He found that lucky people those open to new experiences. They’re more willing to talk to new people and try new things.  Even should their life take a turn for the worse, they can still find the positive in the situation. (Yes, even in a pandemic.)

Of course, it never hurts to carry a special charm, or talisman, to improve your luck while you’re going about meeting new people and doing new things. This object may not actually hold any special powers or magical conductivity, but the important thing is that you believe it gives you an edge. With that belief comes better juju. You know, juju, like in Silver Linings Playbook.

While Eagles fans favor green sweaters, white jerseys, and Carson Wentz prayer candles, we’re partial to evil eye keychains, a counterintuitive way to keep luck on your side. The evil eye is a curse believed to be cast by a jealous glare or other negative energy, which is usually directed towards a person who is unaware. By carrying an evil eye keychain, you’ll be protected from evil spirits and bad luck. Add an owl to signify wisdom, and you’ll gain an edge there too!

It can’t hurt to keep some Chinese Emperor coins in your car, kitchen, backpack and valise. Round with a square-shaped hole in the center, they are said to be a representation of earth surrounded by heaven. A handful ought to do the trick.
Of course, you could always wear your luck on your sleeve. Or better yet, on you feet. A pair of blackjack cowboy boots lets everyone know that you’ve got prosperity on your side.

Now if all this isn’t enough for you, why not go full Wiccan and cast some good luck spells for prosperity, love, and health. Naturally, we advise reading up on this before you start your “abra cadabras.” *

And to augment the spells, don’t forget to sprinkle a little voodoo oil on yourself. Here’s a formula that bills itself as “a powerful blend that helps remove obstacles and clears a path for you to accomplish your goals.”

And with that, we wish you good luck, especially if your name is Shirley.

*Errant invocations can have unwanted side effects. You don’t want to turn anyone into a frog by mistake. Although if you do, please take it to a local nature preserve so it can live in peace.

“Explain why you decided to walk across the United States barefoot.”

“Explain your inspiration for spending 10 years in a Nepalese cave.”

“Explain what motivated you to jump your motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon.”

“Explain why there’s no amusing illustration on this page.”

The world is filled with bystanders who question the event but who do not take part.  Also known as onlookers, gawkers, or rubberneckers, they can be seen with jaws agape as a sword-swallower takes the stage, a daredevil leaps from a 200 meter springboard, or an organist sets fire to his instrument before commencing the concert.

Everybody on the sidelines wants to hear another story. And they all want an explanation for activities that stretch beyond the norm. That’s why there are gossip columnists, lawyers, and prison wardens.

Ignore them! Forget the explanations and just keep jumping off your own metaphorical high dive. Let your work – or your inactivity – speak for itself!*

*Why didn’t we put a picture on this page? We’re not telling!

Lots of people play it safe as they age, and for good reason. “Safe” seems to be a wiser choice than “sorry.” But could it be that we actually have that backwards?

Adhering to a predetermined routine means you know pretty much what each day is going to bring, even before you live it.  In the meantime, the world around you is constantly changing, so the safe path you follow may be more uncertain than you think.

So how do we prevent ourselves from becoming ossified? To begin, The SuperOptimist recommends scheduling at least two risks a week into your calendar. But you don’t have to go skydiving right away. Try a few with a relatively high probability of success to start. Forgo the usual grape jelly and make yourself a peanut butter and honey sandwich instead. Break the routine and stroll down a different block on your way to the office. Turn off CNN and watch a video that offers insight into the nature of chance and probability.* Set your alarm for 5:00 am one morning and take in the sun rise. (Odds you can pull this off and not snooze alarm yourself back to 6:30? Let’s say 3 to 1).

Getting the hang of it?  Now you’re ready to double down on risk, where your adrenals kick up a notch and your sweat glands activate as you actually experience the shock of the new. Take a month’s pay and visit your local casino for a few spins of the roulette wheel. You could win enough to pay off your mortgage, or you might find yourself without any money for next week’s grocery tab. Audition for an off-off Broadway show, despite your lack of acting experience. Your long shot might pay off in a featured role, or you could be driven from the theater with catcalls and brickbats.  Approach a stranger and say hello.  It could spark a new friendship.  Or maybe not.

No matter what happens, the chance of you coming out on top is 100%! That’s because whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, you get to face your fears, collect more information for the next time, and have a swell story to tell your friends back at the salad bar, water cooler, or locker room (where they’re doing exactly what they did yesterday. But not you!).

Want to know more about the benefits of risktaking? Here’s what a cognitive researcher from Carnegie Mellon has written on the subject, and here’s why risk-takers are a smarter breed of human, according to scientists in Finland.

Vive la difference, et bonne chance pour la nouvelle année!

*Other words to add to your vocabulary include: odds, uncertainty, randomness, fortune, fate, hazard, unpredictability, and surprise.

That’s what happened to a young man named Paul McCartney on this day in 1957.

A friend of his from the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys invited him to come check out a band called the Quarrymen, playing at St. Peter’s Church.  Now he could have said no, but he didn’t.   And if he had only shook hands with Eric Griffiths (guitar), Colin Hanton (drums), Rod Davies (banjo), Pete Shotton (washboard) or Len Garry (tea chest bass), then history wouldn’t have been written.

But he focused on the guy leading the band.  “He was singing ‘Come Go With Me,’ the Del-Vikings’ song, which I thought was fabulous until I realized they weren’t the right words,” recalled Paul.  “He was changing them. ‘Come go with me … down to the penitentiary’ — he was nicking folk-song words and chain-gang words and putting them into the Del-Vikings’ songs, a clever little bit of ingenuity.”

Why not take a cue from Paul and venture outside to meet someone new?  Who knows where it might lead?  Perhaps to the toppermost of the poppermost!