We are raised to believe that there is “good weather” and “bad weather.” So we learn to say 80 degrees and balmy is good, and 33 degrees and rainy is bad.  Above 90 degrees is “miserably hot,” below 20 degrees is “freezing cold,” and what we are experiencing now with the polar vortex is just plain awful.

Yet what if we were to drop the designations of positive and negative, and just accept that the weather is simply weather; constantly changing, oft times challenging, and always interesting!

Sometimes when the weather seems ungodly, it is a fine exercise for to run out the door and experience the truth of it.  Bitter winds, jaw-dropping temperatures, the works. If the spirit moves you, scream and howl and let your body awaken to it.  Feel the truth in your body, not what the 5-day forecast is telling you. You will almost immediately discover that the weather may not be bad at all — but is actually quite stimulating.*

On the flip side, severe weather can remind us that the world is made up of forces bigger than we are, which makes our issues feel minor in comparison. Plus, there’s less social pressure to get together with others, which means you won’t have to make small talk about “how f-ing cold it is” or hear about your neighbor’s latest trip to Florida “where it was sunny and 85 degrees.”  Better to hunker down with a good read and a cup of soothing Djarling. How about Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat?

*It’s also recommended to take your camera with you, for as the professionals say, “Bad weather makes good photographs.”


“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!

While we’re all familiar with government-mandated holidays, thanks to corporate interests, every day of the year now constitutes a celebration of sorts.

Surely you’re aware of National Corn Chip Day, National Personal Trainer Awareness Day, and National Static Electricity Day? All can be found in our current month.*  But we can think of no day we enjoy more than January 15th—National Hat Day!

Perhaps it’s because we tend towards the pragmatic, but wearing a hat on a January morning seems to make a lot of sense (especially in the Northeast). But we also like how this holiday jars us from our usual knit cap approach to reach in the closet for something special.

While there are many choices, from Stetsons to pith helmets to feathered French chapeaus, today we highlight the fez for your consideration. A felt headdress in the shape of a short cylinder, it is named after the city Fez, the kingdom of Morocco until 1927. Because of its impractical nature (as a headdress for soldiers, it made the head a target for enemy fire, and provided little protection from the sun), the fez was relegated over the years to ceremonial wear and was taken up by various fraternal organizations, among them the Shriners, whom we admire for their ability to fit into tiny automobiles.

While we will proudly sport our fez today, rest assured it will be indoors. We have no intention of chasing a blowing hat down 8th Avenue in the frigid winter wind.

So here’s to National Hat Day! We doff our caps to you.

*By some counts, there are over 1,500 national days of commemoration in the calendar. As for SuperOptimist Day? We’re in continual celebratory mode 24/7/365.

New day, old patterns?

If you find yourself making an effort to bust out, yet already backtracking on this promise to yourself, you are not alone.  But rather than being pulled by the forces of same old same old, perhaps it’s time to deprogram yourself once and for all.

“But wait!” you might say. “I’m not part of a cult. Isn’t the term ‘deprogram’ going too far?” We may think we operate on the strength of our own free will, but the truth is, we’re all members of many cults:  The cult of the smartphone, the cult of mindfulness fads, the cult of artesan cheese boards, the cult of “what will my friends think of me if I opt out of all these cults.”

Still questioning your cult status?  Ask yourself, “Is that really me in those retouched Instagram photos, or is it a reflection of belonging to yet another social media cult?”

Here at SuperOptimist Central, we find ourselves similarly brainwashed, most prominently by the cult of Wall Street.  Like Pavlov’s dogs at the sight of a white lab coat, we’ve come to salivate whenever a stock ticker appears in our field of vision, followed by a hit of dopamine when the market is going up.  Of course, we suffer the tug of disappointment when a the numbers are in the red, and a full blown anxiety attack when the losses become precipitous.

We’ve been duped into thinking that our investments are the engine that will provide us the opportunity to one day be “free.”  Yet how much time do we spend being free, as opposed to counting and recounting the amount we need to survive into dementia-land?  You already know the answer.

Still, there’s nothing to be gained by flagellating ourselves; everyone becomes ensnared by the trickery that society imposes. Even the last of the self-sustaining hunter-gatherers, the Bushmen, now face societal pressure to “get with modern life.” Which shows you how insidious the pull of today’s cults can be.

So what can we do about our entrapment? It’s time to deprogram!  While there are experts who can perform interventions to cure you of brainwashing,  here’s a short guide to doing it yourself whenever you’re reaching for the lever in your Skinner box:

  1. Step out of the matrix.  Whether at work, with friends, or in the arms of your family, remember you exist in the middle of a vast scheme that has secretly created all your cravings and desires.  By detaching for a moment, you can see just how nuts the whole kit and kaboodle really is.  This allows you to reassert your power of authority over that next slice of strawberry cheesecake, new car smell, youth-enhancing cream, and mindless responsibility.
  2. Replace materialism with creativity. The best way to get even with cult-like vise grip is to make some art that has nothing to do with success, beautification, or binge-watching.
  3. Seek knowledge from experience, not the internet. All too often when in doubt, we turn to the latest reports, studies, or youtube videos to find out how to handle our problems.  This is another form of cult-like behavior.  Take a walk outside instead.  Instinctively, you know how to handle what you’re facing better than a whole day googling “why do I have body dismorphia when looking at pictures of Olga Sherer.”
  4. Read a good book. Here are some suggestions, but don’t take them. Go to the library and see what your hand touches first.

“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” – Ottessa Moshfegh

“Killings” – Calvin Trillin

“Instant Zen” – Thomas Cleary

“Winnie-The-Pooh” – A.A. Milne

There’s lots more ways to deprogram yourself and reboot your internal mainframe.  But at least these can get you started when you find yourself being tickled by the vagaries of societal conditioning.  Here’s to a great year of disentanglement, and the new adventures it brings!

*It’s interesting that “cult” and “culture” sit close to one another in the dictionary.  When you wander into a Chelsea gallery and see a Jeff Koons play-doh sculpture for $20 million, you realize why.  Best not to confuse the two words or else you’ll join the cult of overpriced art owners!

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.

Happy holidays! Here at SuperOptimist headquarters, we favor meditation as a way of detaching from the madness of the material world and connecting with the universal truths that transcend trade wars, social media, and the quandary over wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” vs. a “Happy Holiday.”

To that end, in the U.S. a person interested in “mindfulness” is often told to begin their practice by meditating 20 minutes a day. They’re also encouraged to download a Headspace app, buy a special cushion and mat, purchase a statue of the Buddha, and sign up for a weekend retreat in the Catskills.

In India, it’s a bit different. There, a teacher would tell a beginner to start by  meditating 6 hours a day — no questions asked.

So how do you go from 0 to 6 hours all at once? Teachers encourage the practice of “Japa;” repeating a mantra or a divine name over and over again so it takes root in the mind.  Whether you choose “om,” “1-2-3-4,” “hare krishna,” or “cocoa butter” filling the mind with a simple word or sound will lead the practitioner away from the grasping, clinging and suffering generated by material world thinking and move you towards a higher realm of existence.

Sure, 6 hours of meditation a day may seem excessive. But if you want to rid yourself of anger, fear, sadness, and petty grievances (and gain the benefits of pure consciousness), why not give it a whirl?

The truth is, whatever practice you undertake can ultimately grow to 24 hours a day. It goes beyond sitting on a custom made zafu waiting for the chimes on your iPhone to go off.  Every waking moment you can actually be awake!

If you find this hard to do, we recommend you join a like-minded sangha, or spiritual group, so you may gain energy from others on the same path. Here’s one in the northeast where you’re always welcome.

In the meantime, may we all give a cheer for Jesus of Nazareth.  Whether or not he was the son of God, he was surely a bodhissattva with his message of love and tolerance.  No doubt he’d appreciate us putting aside our supposed differences to remember we’re all just flesh and blood. (And teeth that we can flash, if we’re so fortunate.)

*Notice the pictures of the monk and Jesus laughing. Our petty concerns would certainly elicit a chortle from both.  True, you often see them depicted as serious and dour.  But the monks we know have a great sense of humor.  We’re taking the leap and assuming Jesus did as well, since he was human like the rest of us.  Considering that every night Jesus would sit around a camp fire with twelve guys after a long day of speechifying and miracle work, it stands to reason there would be plenty of room for a few guffaws.

One of the most unpleasant tasks a present-day human can undertake is making the dreaded “phone call to customer service.”

A typical experience might involve, oh, say Verizon Wireless and a customer representative named “Cyrus.”* After waiting on hold for the requisite 25 minutes — a length the company hopes will provoke you to abandon your quest — the endless loop of grocery store jazz clicks off.

“Hello, thank you for calling Verizon customer service, my name is Cyrus, how can I help you?” comes a less-than-ebullient voice, hoarse with (presumably) cigarettes and coffee.

“I want to cancel my account,” you say with practiced authority.

There’s a long pause. Too long.  “Are you there?” you ask. Cyrus clears his throat, then asks for your first and last name, and the phone number associated with your account. You spell both names out so he’s crystal clear, and slowly recite the digits so he has time to type them correctly. Long pause. He asks you to repeat all your information again.  You do.  He asks you to spell your name again.  You clench your teeth. Now again with the phone number. Really? You wonder if Cyrus is in need of a quality hearing aid.  Or perhaps Verizon teaches him to torture you as much as possible.

Now Cyrus asks how he can help you.  You repeat your request. “I am calling to cancel your account and I want to assure that this takes place today, as I will no longer be paying an exorbitant bill for services that don’t measure up.”

Another long pause. Cyrus tells you he’s very sorry to hear that, and he will do everything in his power to assist you. Then comes a bombshell. “Unfortunately, I must tell you all the systems are down at the moment.”

You take a deep breath. You’ve prepared for this sort of dodge, so you ask Cyrus if there’s a street address he can give so you can write Verizon and cancel your account that way. He says no, the only way to cancel an account is through a customer service representative like himself, except of course that the systems are down so there’s nothing he can do right now.

You remind Cyrus of the Verizon promise, which reads: “With a positive culture and integrity throughout, the Verizon customer service team is one of a kind.” he hears you out without commenting. You then tell Cyrus you’ll be cancelling the recurring charge for Verizon services on your credit card in two days, so you demand he take your information down and then call you back when the system is up and he can cancel your account.

He says he will definitely take your information down, what was your name again? You repeat your name through teeth so clenched you fear you might crack a molar, and he asks how to spell it, for the third goddamn time. You spell it again for him. There is a long pause and he says sure, he will take care of this when the system comes back on line and give you a call back.  When can you expect to hear back from him? you wonder. Cyrus says he’ll “most likely” call you before the day is out.

But you don’t believe him.  Why should you, he’s done nothing but stonewall since the conversation began. You ask for his last name, the name that comes after Cyrus, for with his full name you can make sure he’s held accountable for his actions. He says he can’t tell you that, it’s company policy. You ask if you can have his extension number, so you can stay in touch with him and not one of the other 40,000 customer service representatives there to not help you. He says unfortunately he doesn’t have an extension, none of them do, that should you call back you’ll be helped by whichever one of the 40,000 unhelpful CSR’s answer the phone first, and adds that the individual could be anywhere in the world.

So after all that, after 49 minutes of your day that you’ll never get back, you do the unthinkable. You thank Cyrus.  You thank him because even though you know he won’t be calling back, there’s still a shred of hope that he will.  You hang up, defeated.

So what are the positives in all this?

  • You took action and made the call, knowing deep down that nothing would be accomplished. In SuperOptimist practice, this is known as “detaching from the outcome.” Maintaining equilibrium regardless of success or failure is a big step towards achieving nirvana.
  • You held back from calling Cyrus a “stupid f(&#@ c&*.” This shows that you retain level of empathy for your fellow human, who can’t help it if working in a call center in South Carolina is the best he can do at present.
  • You avoided telling Cyrus of the possibility that an explosive device could be detonated at his particular call center (a head fake, for sure, but perhaps effective to spur action from a minion at the multinational telecommunications conglomerate.
  • You are able to “defervesce” when you hang up the phone, adding a new word to your vocabulary in the process.
  • You decided that the $40 a month you’ve been wasting on the Verizon GoUnlimited plan you no longer use really isn’t that much to spend to avoid another call with the likes of Cyrus.  So you’ve detached from money too, which you’ve been trying to do for awhile now and maybe, just maybe, this is the experience that will free your mind from ever worrying about such petty matters again.  (Or at least until you get next month’s bill.)
  • You give yourself a gold star for all of the above.

* Verizon was chosen from a myriad of corporate behemoths who operate customer call centers. We could just as easily have featured Amazon, Wells Fargo, or 1-800-My-Pillow as teachers of transcendence for this experiment.

This week, we mourn the passing of a great humanitarian and leader, one who brought the country together in perilous times and who gave selflessly to his profession.

Carrying himself with humility and restraint, he led a ragtag team of soldiers to prominence in the face of great odds. (He was also a frequent guest star on “The Carol Burnett Show” and played the lead on “Mayberry RFD.”) So let us pause during a time of discord and division to acknowledge the life and legacy of one Kenneth Ronald “Ken” Berry.

Starring as Captain Wilton Parmeter in the ABC series “F-Troop. Berry was a man America turned to for comfort during the years 1965-67.  Although Larry Storch hogged more of the comic spotlight as Corporal Randolph Agarn, it was Berry’s indomitable work as Parmenter that was the glue that bound the men of Fort Courage together.* Going against the redoubtable Fess Parker in “Daniel Boone” on NBC, they were solid in their Thursday night time slot for the entirety of their 65-episode run.

Taking on the hapless role of kook, klutz and fall guy, Berry made frustration and failure into an art form.  And while the New York Times referred to him as the “bumbling hero” of the show, Berry was much more than that. Without the physical grace acquired from years of professional dancing, he could never have pulled off the tricky business of stabbing himself with his quill pen, becoming entangled with his ceremonial sword, and wincing painfully as his superior pins a medal to his chest – immediately earning his character another medal for being wounded getting a medal.

The fact that Ken was a trained in the mold of Astaire and was hoping to star in the next wave of movie musicals (which never materialized), only makes him an even more heroic figure.  For Berry didn’t quiver and buckle when his plans went awry.  Instead, he turned the lemons of show business into the lemonade that was “F-Troop” (and later, a star turn in “Mama’s Family”), never complaining, never pulling focus from his fellow thespians, always comfortable in his own shoes.

And speaking of shoes, Berry later became a spokesman for Kinney, singing and dancing to the “Great American Shoe Store” jingle in commercials seen coast to coast. While far from his dream of the big screen or the Great White Way, Berry gives his all in these 30 second spots, and the resulting sales marked a high point in the life of the now-defunct footwear chain.

And so, on a day spent saluting the passing of president #41, we propose that another man be given a full state funeral, with color guards, brass bands and horse drawn carriage.  For while the record of George H.W. Bush causes some to question his convictions, our nation can truly coalesce around a man who put a pratfall before his own wellbeing.   Ken Berry made this country grin from coast to coast — an act that can erase divisions, heal wounds, and cause warring factions to put down their weapons in order to giggle, snort and convulse with laughter.

*Even the “F-Troop” theme song was centered on the exploits of this great American.  Let us sing in remembrance:

The end of the Civil War was near 
When quite accidentally, 
A hero who sneezed abruptly seized 
Retreat and reversed it to victory. 

His medal of honor pleased and thrilled 
his proud little family group. 
While pinning it on some blood was spilled 
And so it was planned he’d command …F Troop!

Do you have a spirit animal?  If not, the owl is a very wise choice.*

By claiming the owl as your totem, you’ve picked a symbol with deep sagacity, not to mention “gut instinct.” With the owl by your side, your ability to see what’s hidden to others will flourish.  Let the owl guide you beyond illusion and deceit to the true reality. But don’t flinch: often this reality isn’t what we’ve been led to believe by our teachers, parents and local news outlets.

In addition, if you’re ready to explore the unknown, with its potential for mystery and magic, the owl offers the courage necessary to venture into a parallel universe without fear.

*Here we reveal the SuperOptimist totem named “Oooty,” performing a ritual known as “meditating as if one’s hair is on fire.” Stare at this rendering and you’ll soon absorb the intuitive knowledge that will keep you awake, alert and in touch with what’s really going on!

Whereby we examine why some people don’t vote, and offer remedies for this situation, including one utilized by none other than the first president of the United States.

While the cable news networks argue that the coming midterm elections are “the most crucial in our lifetime,” it’s still likely that a vast swath of registered voters won’t bother to show up. This despite a plethora of well-meaning public service announcements, editorials, cold calls, and celebrity tweets. Even if the turnout is high for a midterm, we can anticipate 40% of the electorate missing in action.

For those of us who will cast a ballot on November 6th, it’s easy to feel morally superior to the no-shows (especially if their votes could help our favorite candidates emerge victorious). But rather than look down our nose at our fellow citizens, perhaps we should examine why so many people fail to exercise their constitutional right — and then do something to improve this situation.

First off, election day isn’t a holiday, but it should be While white collar urban professionals need only walk a few blocks from their doorman buildings to their polling places, many of the working poor must travel a good distance to cast their ballot.  When you consider that many are working more than one job to feed their families, taking a few hours out of a day is not an option.

This is on top of the costs associated with voter ID requirements. A study from Harvard Law School estimates that when everything is tallied up, the cost of voting can run between $75 and $400.  Free country, you say?  Not for the 99%.

How can we rectify the injustices of our current election system?  Perhaps we should take a cue from our founding fathers and mothers. In the early days of our democracy, they respected the effort it took for farmers, laborers and townspeople to trek to the ballot boxes.  Political candidates would offer voters food and drink, evenhandedly giving “treats” to opponents as well as supporters.  A barrel of flour or a live pig could also used as an enticement.

Perhaps you believe such “pay to play” activity is morally wrong. Certainly George Washington did when he refused to supply free booze during his first run for office. But after he lost his bid for a state seat in Virginia, he earmarked a tidy sum for refreshments for his followup campaign.  Needless to say, he was more successful the second time around.

Another option is to take the grog out of the hands of the candidates, and put it into the restaurants of the people. Again, back in the 1700s, quite a few polling places were located inside saloons. And why not? Showing up to a cold, cavernous public school, library or town hall doesn’t exactly send the spirit soaring.  We could just as easily tap our local pizza establishments and barbeque joints to host election day.  Simply produce your ballot stub and the first pulled pork sandwich is on the government!

If offering sustenance to voters still makes you uneasy, how about combining the act of voting with the chance to win a large cash prize? Say, institute a national lottery which offers every voter who casts a ballot the opportunity to win a few million bucks. It’s not as outrageous as you think; this very notion was on one state’s ballot in 2006. The “Arizona Voter Reward Act” proposed that one lucky voter would claim the grand prize every time there was a major election. Proposition 200 would have provided the money by transferring unclaimed lottery winnings into a separate Voter Reward Fund, to be overseen by the Arizona State Lottery Commission.

Alas, the measure was defeated, 67% to 33%, thanks to the naysayers who wished to protect “the integrity of our elections.”  They argue that inducements such as lotteries and giveaways would get more people who are ill-informed to participate in our elections. But ill-informed according to whom? Sean Hannity?  Rachel Maddow? A law professor from ASU? And what of the large sums of cash given directly to candidates by the well-heeled, the corporations and their lobbyists? Are we to assume that’s a fair way of buying an election, but a free meatball hero at the polling station is verboten?

Let’s sidestep the sanctimony, and put the fun back into fundamentals of democracy.  If we start the campaign now, we can look forward to a 90% turnout in 2020!

*At the very least, making it less onerous to vote would be a step in the right direction.  Many countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Chile, make voter registration automatic for every citizen.  Take the time and expense of travel out of voting would also be welcome. Oregon, Colorado and Washington have instituted vote by mail systems and in the last midterms, turnout in these three states was 65.7%, vs. 48% nationally. (They also save their taxpayers millions of dollars by doing it this way. Which could be put towards the lottery idea.  Just saying.)