It seems to many of us that the world all but requires us to be pessimists, but I propose we possess the Optimism Option. Scientifically, even as we observe a half-full glass of water, it’s under the effects of osmosis and therefore less than half full. Accordingly, the pessimist is correct: the glass is indeed not only half empty but less than half empty. What can we make of that fact, let alone earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, wars, epidemics, economic meltdown, mass psychological upset, political impotence, and hemorrhoids?

The question answers itself: ignore facts of life. No one ever got very far with facts. A fact is heavy and doesn’t travel well. Upon arriving and opening one’s briefcase to reveal a fact, the observer will likely deny that the fact is a fact. “That appears to be a fact, I admit,” the handlebar-mustachioed observer bellows, “but it’s less than a fact, not even the opposite of a fact, but something else: a delusion!”

You trudge home with your fact. What good has it done you? Like a Mormon youth on his mission, nothing has been accomplished but the traveling. And if you complain about your troubles, you’re likely to hear this admonition: “It could always be worse.”

First, let us confront that statement on its own terms. Yes, it could always be worse:

  • If male, your testicles might fall off.
  • If female, some amok hormone might cause your breasts to expand until they explode, fertilizing the earth but not doing you any good.
  • Had you challenged that mustachioed postmodernist to an arm wrestling match, you might have had your hand ripped free of your wrist, producing a bloody mess and a spectacle that your opponent would deny occurred. Thus, no ambulance would be called, and you’d bleed to death, your fact blotted out by your own blood, leaving nothing of your existence but two bodies: yours and that of your amputated hand.

The list of ways in which it could be worse proves infinite. I call this failed response to pessimism Optimical Illusion. Why would reminders that life could be even worse than it already is improve your spirits? Do not fall prey to this illusion. Let it rest as a phrase people pipe to rid your troubles from their minds while feeling content that they’ve done you some good when they’ve done just the opposite.

Faith isn’t going to offer any help, either. Should some terrible event befall you, your faithful friends will come to your non-aid with statements such as, “God works in mysterious ways,” and, “It’s all part of God’s plan. You’ll see that it all works out in the end.” Part of God’s plan is Armageddon. So far, you’ve good reason to be pessimistic.

As to love, must I enumerate the equal possibilities of its producing joy and/or emotional devastation? Meanwhile, nothing deserves to be so loathed as the love/hate relationship. Even if equilibrium in love is reached, watch out for adultery. You may very well become a cuckold simply by not being, it can only be put, an asshole. You’ve lost your get-go. You’ve become a blur of contentment. Oh, but contentment is not optimism! All that can help you now is to say to your loved one, “I could bag somebody else in five minutes, and I may very well do so.” That should keep the would-be errant lover in check.

Such a response enlightens the Optimism Option (OO). The OO is tactical in its approach. It possesses no philosophy. It trifles not with ethics. It’s entirely self-serving and fares well under any economic system, though the more self-oriented that system, the more effective OO proves itself. Luckily for you, just such an economic system has wrapped its hands around the earth. Barring miracles (forever barred because they don’t exist), your OO will travel, unlike pathetic facts. So pack your bags with plenty of OO and leave the facts in a trash can, where they’ll serve as impotent bombs no matter what their purported import. No one will notice their nonexistence, including the garbage collector.

Now, to specific OO tactics:

  • Someone makes the mistake of saying to you, “It could always be worse.” Your response? “And it could always be better! I’ve 1 in 18 million chances of winning the lottery.”
  • You’re told, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Your reply? “Not as mysterious as mine. I’ve no idea what I’m doing, no plan, no goal, only the rampant self-satisfaction of my own needs, much like God Himself.”
  • You randomly encounter the amputating postmodernist in some future setting. “Well, hello,” you say. “My dear friend, you taught me a valuable lesson when you dismissed my ‘fact.’ It was so valuable a lesson that I now deny your existence. To prove my point, I’m going to rip off your mustache, and you won’t feel any pain because you don’t exist. Ready?”
  • A lover questions OO. “You’re getting a little carried away,” he says. “Piss off!” you answer. “By the way, have you any friends between the years of — what’s that prime sexual age? — 18 to 23, and without your excess cargo?”
  • Your balls fall off. No problem! It’s time to employ OO: “Who needs balls, anyway? As if I want children. Fuck off, balls, and if you see my amputated hand, don’t expect it to wave hello.”
  • Here’s another OO affirmation, borrowed from AA but adapted for our purposes: “EGO: Edging God Out!” Indeed, edge God out and build up that ego. Who needs God’s superego when you’ve got your more-entertaining id?
  • Add a similar affirmation to your repertoire, known as IRE: “Id rules everything.” Whose id? Your id!
  • If you run afoul of the law, state the following to the police officer(s): “I’d hate to break the news to you, but the law doesn’t exist. It’s too complicated for me to get into now, but go home, remove your uniforms and follow your id! Start breaking the law; it’s already broken, anyway!” The officers will shake your remaining hand and gladly dismiss themselves from their unruly tasks.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with tactics, it’s time to consider your grand strategy. OO’s grand strategy can be summarized by the term GAFFE: “Giving a fuck fractures ego.” Would you break your hand on purpose? No! In the same way, why would you break your now-global egotism? No need to be creative; just follow Webster’s definition: never relinquish your “exaggerated sense of self-importance.” When all else fails, issue an SOS: “Sense of self-importance!” Arrogance is your friend. Use that friend, for you’re beyond tit for tat. You’re beyond everything. You’re out of this world, and the further you go, the better!

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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

26 responses to “The Optimism Option: How to Be an Optimist in the Age of Pessimism”

  1. Mary says:

    First of all, “and hemorrhoids” as the final phrase of your opening paragraph is some kind of genius.

    Also, Optimical Illusions … and facts in your briefcase … balls falling off and everything … It’s like Candide meets Zarathustra. Fantastic.

    Can you please just for a moment try to picture Candid and Zarathustra hashing it out over a beer? That makes me happy.

  2. Paul A. Toth says:

    Many thanks. I am not so familiar with the Zarathustra of mythology or the Nietzschean version, but I am a great lover of Candide…in the literary sense! But I conducted a bit of research and, yes, I, too, would be happy to eavesdrop on such a conversation.

    • Mary says:

      I imagine they would be alternately infuriating and hilarious to listen to. Oh, and I do mean Nietzsche’s version of Zarathustra. It’d be the kind of argument you could only listen to with a good sense of humor and a bottle of tequila at the ready.

  3. Exploding breasts fertilizing the earth–wow, you’ve got one wild, wonderful imagination!

    There is a homeless guy who hangs out at the bottom of the Jones Falls Expressway where I live. He has ONE limb. One leg is a stump, his arms are small baseball bats. He holds a cup in the wedge of his armpit. He is old. I always give him money if I can get it to him before the light changes to green. It takes him a while to hobble out to the idling cars. When I see him, my heart breaks a little. The only way it could get worse for him would be if he died. Even if he lost the remaining limb, it doesn’t seem that it would be that much worse than it already is. I point him out to my kids when they’re in the car. He’s our baseline for misery. Anyone who’s doing better than he, isn’t allowed to complain!

  4. Paul A. Toth says:

    Of course, my tongue left a bruise inside my cheek while I wrote this piece, but I have to say in response to that poor person’s story, “Never underestimate life.” Or maybe I mean, “Never overestimate life.” It really can always get worse, which is why I despise the statement. Saying those words is like applying a bandage and then ripping it off. If that’s all you’ve got, call 911!

  5. Irene Zion says:

    Silly Paul,

    I don’t believe a thing you say.
    You think we were born yesterday, eh?

  6. Paul A. Toth says:

    I don’t know how old you are, Irene, but I know damn well you weren’t born yesterday! ; )

  7. Simon Smithson says:

    Can I blend the Optimism Option with the Pessimism Potential?

  8. Paul A. Toth says:

    Sheezus, do I have to do everything? Look out the window. That should do the trick.

  9. Paul A. Toth says:


    Boots? What boots? I tried to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but my boots disintegrated. I went to social services to get enough money for a new pair, but they told me to pull myself up by bootstraps.

  10. Paul A. Toth says:

    I can’t in good faith accept help from Christians.

    • Irene Zion says:

      The Salvation Army helps everyone, regardless of what they believe or who they are.
      Look up how much of the money donated to different charities actually goes to the charity and not to bureaucrats and others. The Salvation Army is right on top with using money donated to help people.
      Seriously, look it up.
      Open your heart just a little.
      Try not to be so angry.
      It only hurts you.
      You don’t want that, eh?
      Listen to the old lady.

    • Becky says:

      Oh I SEE. It’s not your fault for not taking advantage of the help available, it’s THEIR fault for being Christian. Indeed. There’s always some excuse to stay barefoot if you want it badly enough. Follow you dreams, Paul!

  11. Paul A. Toth says:

    There’s two words I can do without. The first is “salvation” and the second is “army.” I run from both. Now stop trying to help me; can’t you see that I’ve become an optimist?

  12. Paul A. Toth says:

    If I follow my dreams, I might sleepwalk out the window.

  13. Paul A. Toth says:

    Yes, now you understand! Before employing the Optimism Option, I would have written, “If I follow my dreams, I’ll sleepwalk out the window.” NOW I state, “If I follow my dreams, I MIGHT sleepwalk out the window.”

    This is known in OO parlance as Semantically-Marginal Improvement (SMI).

  14. My favorite part of OO is being able to rip off the mustaches of everyone around me because such little (or big) lip handlebars don’t exist. And I can have the OO arrogance to do so! Rip! Rip! Rip!

  15. Paul A. Toth says:

    You’ve got it! Don’t forget arm twisting, kicks to the testicles…anything goes because you’ve got a new conscience now, and it’s called your id: no conscience at all! Besides, anyone with a handlebar mustache post-1895 deserves to have it forcibly removed.

  16. affirmations says:


    The Nervous Breakdown…

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