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Inside The SuperOptimist Guide to Unconventional Living, you’ll find an eclectic assortment of experiments and activities to help you challenge the steady drip-drip-drip of pre-programmed thought that humans have developed over the eons. 

With estimates now placing 89% of our brain function as habitual reactions to circumstance — checking our phones, working at repetitive tasks, binge-watching television, wearing shoes — The SuperOptimist Guide is designed to upend social constructs that have become calcified in homo sapiens. 

By adopting a practice of “daily self-provocation,” this book encourages the reader to explore big questions, gaze into other dimensions, and seek out new adventures — with positivity, humor and spirit intact. 

Kirkus calls the book “Playfully counterintuitive…At every turn, Whitten and Morton vigorously urge their readers to shake off old habits and embrace new ways of thinking. An idiosyncratic but ultimately uplifting approach to life and all its complications.”

This new volume should appeal to anyone attracted to creative pursuits, philosophical musings, white magic, Zen Buddhism, transcendentalism, left-field thinking, right-brain experiments, or post-humanism. And amusement. That too.

While positivity is a the central objective of SuperOptimism, it’s often by saying “no” that we can achieve some of life’s most empowering results. Consider all the insidious little things that waste time, do us no good, or ruin our chances for a better outcome. These are habits we are socially conditioned to perform, yet add nothing to our lives. Certainly there are at least 65 things you do every day that you don’t care much about. What if you said “no” to these soul-sucking activities that pull you away from your essential purpose?
If you explore the radical power of saying “no” more often, you may become a NOHEMIAN — a person who has changed their habits to say no more often. It’s based on the old cultural idea of “bohemian.” Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties. It involves musical, artistic, literary, or spiritual pursuits. In this context, bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds. A more economically privileged, wealthy, or even aristocratic bohemian circle is sometimes referred to as haute bohème (literally “high Bohemia”).

Nohemia is directly related to Bohemia, as it too is an unconventional lifestyle in a world of “yes” men and women. Saying no means you are less controlled by the outside influences imposed on you by other people and more responsive to your own internal, authentic nature. You are able to assert yourself by turning your back on nonsensical social mores and the small insults a person must endure in the course of an average day.

The best way to learn how to say “No” is to sit down with a piece of paper, reflect on your day, and write down things that you can say “no” to. Your list may look something like this:

1. No TV after 11 PM
2. No fake bullshit corn chips, only real corn chips.
3. No self-doubt.
4. No answering phone with unrecognizable number.
5. No Facebook.
6. No pointless hairspray.
7. No cheap pizza, ever.
8. No use of weird-smelling soaps.
9. No cleaning the kitchen floor.
10. No Black Friday shopping (in person)
By saying “No,” you are putting yourself in the driver’s seat, displaying conviction where others choose to waffle, bend and break. Watch how many people want to ride shotgun in your car once you do! As for Fear of Missing Out? From our experience, there’s always another bus a’ coming.
*If it’s difficult to say “no” directly, here are some other ways to get the point across.

How many times do human beings set themselves up to fail? One universal example is the classic “Change on a Dime” plan. “I’m going to quit smoking today.” “I’m going to lose 25 pounds in a week.” “I’m going to write a best-selling suspense novel, sell it for $300,000, pay off my credit card debt, move the family to a warmer climate, and really start living! By next month!”

Setting unrealistic goals is a sure way to drive yourself into a deep crevice. Rather than look realistically at the situation, we crank ourselves up for a major achievement, step in a pothole right out of the gate, and go back to the “I’m a loser who’s never going to get out of Fayetteville!” whine. Two packs a day and an extra slice of bundt cake follow shortly thereafter.

The SuperOptimist view? Maybe quitting smoking is a noble goal, but if it will cause you to kill your spouse, you should put it on the back burner. Maybe that quart of vanilla fudge nut swirl is what makes a night of insomnia tolerable. Maybe anonymous phone sex works. See where we’re going here?

Rather than set yourself up for complete and utter failure, how about turning the tables on that reluctant inner mountain climber with the rusted set of crampons? Today, set yourself up for major SuperOptimism — by not setting any goals at all! Suddenly, anything you do will seem like an accomplishment. Getting out of bed! Putting the tea kettle on! Picking up the phone when it buzzes!

Who knows, without the pressure of a self-imposed Pike’s Peak, you just might start writing that novel and forget about the long naps and bundt cake for awhile. You never know until you start lowering the bar!

Chart 2: A good day’s work.

 

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.

 

In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd. — Miguel de Cervantes

That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another. — Adlai E. Stevenson

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.  — Steve Jobs

When someone calls you a fool, do you take offense? Or thank them for their perspicacity?

The wise among us realize that our foolish nature is something to be embraced — and as often as possible. The godmother of show business reinvention, Cher, says, “Unless you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.”

Elon Musk was thought to be a fool to the 10th power when he began an electric car company from scratch, and a reusable rocket ship company after that. Both agree that you must free the wild child inside you rather than timidly hide beneath a veneer of “respectability” if you want to make your mark.

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 conversation (after the shock wears off)? And is one day really enough to play the fool card, or should we advocate for more time to really explore this vitally important side of life?

At the very least, the United States could follow the example set by the city of Odessa in Ukraine.  Here, the first of April is a holiday, complete with a festival that includes a large parade, free concerts, street fairs and performances. Festival participants dress up in a variety of costumes and walk around the city playing pranks with passersby.*

Based on the ideas generated by the fools among us, one could argue that businesses giving their employees the day off to act foolishly could wind up generating the brainstorms that lead to a better planet for all. (Or a 22% boost in productivity, one of the two.) Let’s try it and see what happens.

*In 18th Century Scotland, they did Odessa one better, as the April Fools tradition was a two-day celebration, starting with “hunting the gowk” in which people were sent on phony errands (gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by “Tailie Day,” which involved pranks played on people’s backsides, such as pinning fake tails or “kick me” signs on them. Not that we want to give you any ideas.

 

Jeff Bezos is a failure.

There, we’ve said it. This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, where the amount of money a person has is the measurement by which people are judged. But anyone building a 411-foot yacht that burns 132 gallons of marine diesel an hour  has obviously got issues (though apparently the environment isn’t one).*

Maybe that’s because poor Jeff and his fellow clueless billionaires don’t have the capacity for healthy introspection. Or the ability to transcend the material world to find even greater happiness within. If only Beezos had turned to omphaloskepsis, he might have saved himself $500 million — and be looked on as a real success.

Omphaloskepsis is another word for navel-gazing.  While this pursuit has gotten a bad rap from the money-changers as a useless waste of time, that is only because they’re not aware of its transcendent power, both as an aid to meditation and a way to contemplate the vast cosmos from which all life is connected.

After all, the navel literally represents the location of one’s birth, since it’s made up of scar tissue from the spot where the umbilical cord was attached. By focusing the attention there, you can experience a rebirth of the spirit as often as you like. For centuries, many seekers of higher truth have practiced gazing at the navel to induce a trance-like state.  The Hesychasts, a sect of “quietists” from c.AD 1050, believed that through deep contemplation of the body, the divine light of God could be seen.

Yoga practitioners know the navel as the site of the nabhi chakra, which they consider a powerful center of the body. It’s also a place to exercise “gut feelings,” like if you’re contemplating building a superyacht in Rotterdam and haven’t given thought to whether it will fit under the Koningshaven Bridge, now considered a national monument.

*”Eieren gooien naar superjacht Jeff Bezos ( Throwing eggs at Jeff Bezos’ superyacht)” is a call to the international egg-tossing community to bombard Bezos’ boat on June 1. More than 20,000 people have signed up to participate thus far.

What day of the year combines haggis, whisky and poetry? Why, it’s “Burns Night,” the January 25th celebration of the poet Robert Burns’ birth. Many mark the occasion by attending a Burns’ Supper, a night that includes a tasty meal, performances of Burns’ work and a speech in honor of the great Scottish Bard. To throw your own Burns’ Supper, here are suggestions for the order of events:

Once everyone has arrived, the host should say a few words of welcome. Then everyone sits and Burns’ Selkirk Grace is said:

Some Folk hae meat that canna eat,

And some can eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

So let the Lord be Thanket!

Following grace, the appetizer is served and the haggis is piped in. In case you’re not familiar with the Scottish dish, haggis is a pudding containing sheep’s heart, lungs and liver, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach.

The host performs the famous Burns Night poem Address to a Haggis, everyone toasts the haggis and the main meal is served, followed by dessert.

After dinner, the first Burns recital is performed, then the main tribute speech to Burns is given, referred to as “The Immortal Memory.” Afterwards, a second Burns recital is performed. And let’s not forget the “Toast to the Lassies,” followed by a “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies,” before the final Burns recital is performed.

At the end of the evening, the host thanks everyone for attending, and then “Auld Lang Syne” is sung, hands joined at the line “And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!.”

And should you wish to memorize a few stanzas of Burns for the big night, you could do worse than Holden Caulfield’s favorite, “Comin Thro’ the Rye.”

Comin thro’ the rye, poor body,
     Comin thro’ the rye,
She draigl’t a’ her petticoatie
     Comin thro’ the rye.
[CHORUS.]
          Oh Jenny ‘s a’ weet poor body
               Jenny ‘s seldom dry,
          She draigl’t a’ her petticoatie
               Comin thro’ the rye.
Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need a body cry.
          Oh Jenny ‘s a’ weet, &c.
Gin a body meet a body
     Comin thro’ the glen;
Gin a body kiss a body —
     Need the warld ken!
          Oh Jenny ‘s a’ weet, &c.
[Second Setting]
Gin a body meet a body, comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body cry;
Ilka body has a body, ne’er a ane hae I;
But a’ the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.
Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the well,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body tell;
Ilka body has a body, ne’er a ane hae I,
But a the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.
Gin a body meet a body, comin frae the town,
Gin a body kiss a body, need a body gloom;
Ilka Jenny has her Jockey, ne’er a ane hae I,
But a’ the lads they loe me, and what the waur am I.

One could argue that Martin Luther King was the most important political activist in modern American history.

He was certainly the most hated man in America during the 1960s, for railing against the inequities suffered by African-Americans at the hands of whites, advocating for a guaranteed basic income for all people (60 years before Andrew Yang) and stumping for a redistribution of wealth (beating Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren to the punch).

In other words, the guy was a stone-cold radical who shook up a country coming out of the “Happy Days” of the 1950s.

So you might think that Martin was a dour sort. After all, when he wasn’t exhorting millions to rise up and claim their share of the American Dream, he was busy protesting the Vietnam War and fighting consumer exploitation by industry.

But did you know, five minutes before James Earl Ray gunned him down, Dr. King was busy having a pillow fight? This according to Andrew Young, who was with him that day in Memphis.

As all SuperOptimists know, it’s important to let off steam by hitting one of your trusted personal advisors with a hammer blow of feathers when they least expect it.

King was also known for laughing at his posse for jumping in front of him in crowds, ostensibly to protect him but, in King’s eyes, more likely trying to get their pictures in the paper.

May we continue to humanize the people we venerate as saints, while not judging their mirthful side as being at odds with the seriousness of their purpose.

 

 

Editor’s note: This post was first written when Betty turned 98. But death need not be the end of her influence. Though she has gone into the Great Googly Moogly, her spirit will continue to inspire.

Who among us has a sunnier disposition than the indomitable Betty White? She turned 98 last week, which is no surprise, given that she’s still a force in the entertainment industry. *

So what’s the secret to an existence like Betty’s? Research shows that optimism contributes to 11 to 15 percent longer life span, and to greater odds of living to the age of 85 or beyond. But White has exceeded that by more than a decade. To what does she attribute that extra oomph?

“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside” she said in a recent interview.  That’s right, Betty knows it’s best to look at every situation, even the crappy ones, and at least get a laugh or two out of it. (Like her first marriage to a rural chicken farmer that lasted six months.) As Betty is proving, it’s not just optimism, it’s SuperOptimism that can propel you to the century mark in style.**

And while you’re at it, it never hurts to light a votive candle just in case.

*Guinness has awarded Betty the world record for longest TV career for an entertainer — 75 years (and counting).

**You’ll also find vodka, hot dogs and red licorice on Betty’s training table. 

***Final note: Betty said she had no fear of death. Her mom taught her that,’It’s the one secret that we don’t know. Whenever she would lose somebody very close and very dear, she would always say, ‘Well, now he knows the secret.’ Now Betty knows the secret too!

At any given moment, the entire fabric of reality could be perched on your fitful consciousness and the world is only manifest because of you. Since you can’t be certain which moment it is, you are best served by acting as if every moment is that moment of great importance.

Example:

You’re shopping at Costco and bang your cart into a terrorist saboteur disguised as a chubby suburban housewife. You give him a look as if it was his fault you were crowding the aisle. This frightens him into thinking Federal Agents are keeping tabs on his every move and he abandons his plan to blow the place sky-high. You have just saved the world from a terrorist attack by shopping at Costco. You may never know you thwarted a nefarious plot – but when you believe your existence is vital to the planet, even small actions become extra special acts of valor in the bigger scheme of things.

Also, remember what Tolstoy said: “The most important person is the one you are with in this moment.” Given that recent circumstances have many of us spending more time alone, you need to factor yourself into that equation.