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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.

 

Stuck on a problem at work? Feeling trapped in a relationship? Wishing you could beat the wave of hopelessness and fatigue that arrives every afternoon at 3? We advise you to take a lesson from the Sufis and become your own “spin doctor.”

By cranking up the stereo, focusing on the heavens, and turning around and around in a tight circle repeatedly, you can reach “Kemal”, the source of all perfection. How does this happen? For one thing, you get a vigorous workout that raises your endorphins. For another, your mind can’t focus on your egocentric issues when it’s focused trying to keep you upright.

Many dervishes start their practice with a cup of strong Turkish coffee, which we heartily subscribe to. And if you’re looking for an appropriate song to start your fancy footwork, try “Peşrev in maqām acem.” This one’s guaranteed to get you spinning like a top!

Ever hear of George Yantz? Born in Louisville, Kentucky, George was a professional baseball player who appeared in only one major league game.* He is one of thousands of ball players who made it to the majors for a “cup of coffee,” a very brief stint that sometime only lasted a single at bat. Of the 18,000 or so players (and counting) who’ve run up the dugout steps and onto a Major League field, 974 have had one-game careers.

Some might say it’s a tragedy that the fates allowed George only the briefest of glimpses before he was sent packing. And yet, how many of us would give half their 401Ks to be able to say we had been a major leaguer at one point in our lives?

So even if you’re like George and have the shortest of stints at the top, and are then summarily replaced by someone younger, smarter, and more nimble than you, take pride in that one gulp of pure oxygen. You might just appreciate the experience more than Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Pete Rose combined.   Plus people will continue to buy you coffee (or something stronger) just to hear you recount the one time you stood at the plate facing high heat.

*George was able to say he hit an astounding 1.000 for his career, going 1 for 1 with a single on the one day he played. September 30, 1912. You could look it up.

It was a risky move in 1972 when President Richard M. Nixon decided to make cordial overtures to communist China. The USA and China had been at odds since 1949 when Mao Zedong took over leadership of China’s communist party. Despite decades of chilly relations, Nixon decided to warm things up and made a visit to China to meet elder statesman Mao and they had a nice long chat.

Nixon said about his trip:

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word crisis. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”

Wise words for any SuperOptimist to remember, courtesy of Mr. Nixon.

 

In our society, memory lapses are considered embarrassing character flaws and the term “senior moment” has been coined to make a mockery of them.

But hold on here: isn’t it good to forget things? After all, most of the stimulus we take into our brains is not worthy of our attention in the first place. We don’t really need to know which actresses are posing nude on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair. Nor are the latest sports scores or political dust-ups crucial for our survival in the moment.   Even a fact as seemingly crucial as who won the Super Bowl or the latest primary polling numbers is optional information.

Really, losing memory is a blessing, as it clears out the crawlspace and leaves the mind free to remember more interesting occurrences, such as the time you hitched a ride to Philly to see OzzFest. Or how wonderful it was to jump a spider bike over a tree stump for the first time. Or remembering where you put the tickets to the opera you ordered three months ago.

Ah, bliss! Thy name is…uh…hmmmm…well, it’s obviously not that important.

Illustration: Getting older means more time for abstract thinking.

Edgar Allan Poe, master American author and proto-goth innovator of the macabre, knew how to make the best of things.

In 1835, Poe, then 26, obtained a license to marry his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. They were married for eleven years, by all accounts a loving and respectful match, filled with true romance. One evening in January 1842, Virginia showed the first signs of consumption, now known as tuberculosis, when she indelicately vomited blood while playing the piano.

Virginia lived another five years in a state of pallor, weakness and lingering sickness as she approached the grave. But Poe turned this horrific situation to a creative bent,  developing a theory that “the death of a beautiful woman” was the “most poetical topic in the world.” This became his touchstone of gothic writing, like his most famous poem, “The Raven” — exploring themes of death, sickness, and the ghostly lives of captivating young women who happen to be dead.

There are opportunities in the worst situations for a true SuperOptimist, and as old E.A. Poe said:  “To die laughing must be the most glorious of all glorious deaths!”

 The ritual of playing a joke or spreading a hoax on April Fool’s Day is all well and good. But the merriest of pranksters know that returning to the narrow confines of “good behavior” for the other 364 days of the year completely misses the point.

The wise among us realize that our foolish nature is something to be embraced — and as often as possible. Apple pioneer Steve Jobs urged on the graduates of Stanford with the mantra “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” The queen of show business reinvention, Cher, says, “Unless you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.” Both agree that you must free the wild child inside you rather than timidly hide beneath a veneer of “respectability.”

So the question is, how will you embrace foolishness today? What pranks are you planning to shake up the status quo? What could you do tomorrow, next week, or next month that will have the office, locker room, or family den buzzing with laughter and conversation (after the shock wears off)?

Shouting “April Fool’s!” once a year is really not the best way to practice the art of foolishness, unless you do it on April 3rd. Or December 15th. Here’s to acting like Cher, or Steve Jobs, or your Uncle Dave, 24 hours a day…starting…now!

Even today, Cher is unafraid to act foolishly.

 

When you smile, don’t hold back.  Show as many teeth as you can.  See if the observer can count at least half your teeth when you beam at them.  A smile is infectious.  But rather than a nasty virus, you’re spreading mirth and merriment.*  And if you can smile even in the worst of circumstances, then you’ve truly mastered the secret to a happier life.

And don’t worry if you don’t have perfect teeth.* Many celebrities have incorporated their crooked smiles into eight-figure incomes. Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, and Ricky Gervais come to mind. “Are you havin’ a laugh?” They sure are!

Ricky Gervais: 'Before The Office I never tried hard at anything' | Ricky Gervais | The Guardian

*Even if you have poor dental hygiene, people will still return your smile, though they may back up a step or two. We recommend brushing and flossing and visiting the dentist twice a year.

Many birds actually enjoy bowling. You don’t see them at the local lanes much, because the owners of American bowling facilities don’t rent bowling shoes in sizes that small.  The key idea is this: no matter what rules or limitations are imposed on you, there’s an inventive way around that blockage to get some satisfaction, 99.9% of the time. Everybody should be able to engage in the kind of fun they want. But you might have to be willing to compromise, and participate without shoes. A refreshing change that airs out your feet. Win-win.

What if you weren’t confined to normal, safe, everyday ordinary thoughts? Maybe you’d be willing to take some risks and do something dangerous or something extraordinary.

Take Elon Musk: he spent $100 million dollars of his own money on developing rocket technology aimed at colonizing Mars in his lifetime. Better yet, he convinced his friends and the US government to pony up an additional $900 million to help build his new generation of SPACE-X rockets. Is Elon crazy? Yes. Will he get to Mars? Also yes.  There is no stopping Elon. Because to do something amazing, sometimes you have to leave all the usual dull Earthly rules and restrictions behind you and think like a Martian.