This is Part 2 of Introduction to Bliss Beyond Bullshit blog series. You can visit the series home page for the full table of contents.

No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

John Keating (Robin Williams)Dead Poets Society

Hi, my name is Alex and I’m an optimist. That doesn’t mean, though, that I live in a mystical reality with unicorns, rainbows and little birds that do your laundry and poop sweet pop corn. I’m an optimist living in the same world as you. I’m part of a dysfunctional society that is speeding carelessly towards imminent self-destruction – or put in technical terms:I’m an optimist living in a fucked up world. Click To Tweet

After this brief introduction, two questions might pop into your mind (feel free to ignore them if they didn’t!):

Question #1. Are you well, Alex? (I mean, up there…)

Am I mentally sound? Well, I think so. I mean, as well as I could reasonably be… (since “well” is a relative term, and a certain mental instability is unequivocally a pre-requisite of the human condition).

But I understand your concern. You might have found the statement I wrote above confusing. After all, how can I define myself as an optimist with such a dark view of the world we live in? Isn’t that a contradiction in itself?

No, it isn’t. Because when I say that the world is fucked up, I’m not implying that “I think” that the world is fucked up; I’m making a statement of fact – it’s not my opinion, it’s a self-evident reality – a CERTAINTY. You know, like: “night follows day”, “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west” and “we’re all part of a dysfunctional society that is speeding carelessly towards imminent self-destruction”…

As a result, me stating that the world is fucked up has nothing to do with my optimism or pessimism in regards to what may happen next. That attitude towards the future is indeed, an opinion.1

The problem is… perhaps you don’t agree that the world is fucked up to start with. In which case, a second question might pop up in your head:

Question #2. If you state that “the world is fucked up” and declare that as a fact… Isn’t that precisely the type of bullshit assertion that you promised not to deliver?

Yes, it is. BUT NO, it is NOT.

If I wrote: “This is the truth, I know it and maybe you don’t, but that’s not my fucking problem because the truth is the truth, so moving on…” That would indeed be bullshit.

But of course I don’t want to do that! That would be like telling everyone who doesn’t think like me: “Go away, you’re not welcome here”. And if I did that, then I would end up writing exclusively for readers that already share my ideas and beliefs… So what would be the point of going through the pain of writing this blog? Preaching to the choir seems to me a complete waste of everyone’s time.2

So, even though this is not YET the time to develop the topic and present you with irrefutable evidence that our world is fucked up, I want to assure you that I will do it (soon). And on the meantime, I’m not going to ask you to have faith on what I say, or request you to pretend that it’s true. On the contrary! I encourage you3  to keep that healthy bullshit radar ON at all times – at all cost.

So… What makes me an optimist? I’m an optimist because I don’t think that we’re doomed.4 And not only do I believe that we can change course, but I think that doing so would be way easier than we even imagine.

“You call that optimism? Isn’t that just another form of delusion?”

What does Optimism mean? (and the Delusion confusion)

It happens often, optimism gets mixed up with naivety, utopia, idealism or delusion… But are all those terms synonyms? What does is mean to be an optimist?5

Short Answer: NO, they are not.

Longer Answer: Even though optimism and delusion are positive outlooks in regards to future challenging6 events/outcomes, their nature is radically different:

Optimism: Optimism is a rational and conscious assessment of the future which requires:

  • An understanding of reality (both in regards to the factors that might influence it, as well as in regards to its challenging nature).
  • A plan to attempt to overcome the challenging odds by acting on the factors that might influence the outcome.
  • An effort to put the plan into practice.
  • Patience to influence the factors and let them have an impact on the outcome (Rome wasn’t built in a day)
  • An awareness in regards to the limits of anyone’s individual influence, due to the existence of uncontrollable factors (both known and unknown) and the intrinsic component of luck in any given outcome. Optimism requires us to accept that our desired outcome might never happen.
Optimism is not about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, it's about WHAT I'm going to do to fill it, and a realistic assessment of how likely I am to achieve it. Click To Tweet

As such, being an optimist means to connect the present with a desired future state through awareness, planning, effort, patience and luck, with a clear intention:


So how is that definition of optimism different from delusion?

Delusion: Delusion (and also naivety and idealism), on the other hand, flushes those odds down the toilet and is based on an irrational certainty on “the way things are” or their guaranteed final outcome. There’s no understanding, no plan, no effort, no chance involved.


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Optimism as a Lifestyle

So if we are talking about our attitude in regards to the future of the (human) world, being an optimist doesn’t mean that you underestimate how fucked up things really are7, nor that you overestimate the chances of things taking a turn for the better. Being an optimist about our future means that:

  • you recognize that there a number of factors that can influence what ends up happening,
  • you CHOOSE to take action on those factors, and
  • you acknowledge that whatever you do might still not be enough and even if it is, you might not be around to see it happen.

As a result, being an optimist in regards to the future of the world is much more than a means towards an end, it’s a decision about how to live your life:


The importance of optimism

So why would you want to choose that optimistic lifestyle then?
I mean, it sounds quite a bad deal, right? Why take action for a benefit that won’t materialize or even if it does, you’ll probably be long dead by then? This is why:

Individual benefits:

When applied to the future of the (human) world, optimism (as defined above) is the ONLY attitude that gives us as individuals:

  • a sense of entity within our future (we have some degree of control over what we become).
  • a self-contained sense of meaning, direction and value/worth (independent of external validators and/or beliefs).
  • a chance to improve the odds of the future we want to see (possibility).
  • an understanding of our capabilities and our limits (constraints) and thus a reduction of dissonance and unmerited self-blame.

Therefore optimism allows us to live more meaningful and fulfilled lives, while minimizing the unnecessary (and unproductive) blame for our struggles to create the world we want to see. Sounds good? Wait, there’s more!

Collective benefits:

The more individuals adopt an optimistic lifestyle, the higher the compound benefits for the collective, in particular:

  • Reduction of social tensions and conflict: A better understanding of who we are and our drivers can bring us closer together, generating a stronger sense of shared journey.
  • Increased odds of actual change: Optimism is the ONLY attitude towards uncertainty that combines both a rational understanding of the situation and its odds, with proactive action8 (that can influence those odds). Consequently, the more individuals affecting the odds of a better future, the higher the odds of that future actually happening!

The Optimist Army

In fact, at a big-enough scale, social trends act as self-fulfilling prophecies; so a better world is actually as possible or impossible as we, the people, believe it to be. No matter how unlikely it seems, we are just one shared belief away from a radically better future. Click To Tweet

So even though one optimist alone can do little to almost nothing to change the world, a big enough optimist collective (an Optimist Army) can be literally UNSTOPPABLE. Why?

Because the human world is based on human interactions. And even though we’ve been told that there are structures and constructs that limit what we can (hope to) do, the truth is that every single one of those structures depends on us, humans, for its legitimacy and value. We make the world be what it is, which means that we created this shit, but we are equally as capable of turning things around at will.

Towards a better future (via optimism)

But knowing that we can indeed change direction is just a tiny first step in the journey towards an optimist lifestyle. On that journey we’ll be faced with much tougher questions, such as:

Should we change direction? And if so, towards where? And Why? And then, how can we get there?

These are questions with no straight-forward bullshit-free answers, and that will require us to challenge our understanding of life, humanity, identity and social interaction. This is where the journey to a better future (via optimism) begins. Shall we?

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