We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life waiting for us. — Joseph Campbell
Some people have great expectations of good fortune—luck will tip chance in their favor, new developments will save them from current circumstances, destiny will lift their lives to unanticipated heights. The future will be better because optimism is a magic that realigns events along favorable paths. Hope makes things so.
I’m not one of these people, but they tell me I could be. They say pessimism is habitual, not innate. If I can break the pattern of believing misfortune is permanent, pervasive, and personal, joy awaits me. When I say “Easy for you to say—it never seems so simple to me,” they smile and nod. Once again, I’ve stumbled into proving them right.
My usual argument for pessimism—lowered expectations are easier to meet—goes nowhere because, to them, every expectation held firmly enough is met. While I’m busy expecting less, they say, others are busy trying to meet their loftiest aspirations. While I’m busy celebrating my little victories, they say, others move on to the next big dream.
When I protest that bad things do happen even to good people, they say every setback is a prologue to greater glory. Everyone else knows the exception proves the rule, and, besides, misfortune puts future fortune into greater relief. If I could put my doubt to rest and stop thinking so much, these little bumps would go unnoted or add to the pleasure of my success later.
If I say I’m not against hope but want to live in this world, not Candyland, they ask what I have against Candyland. They ask why I’m afraid of happiness and what I might lose by trying it. If I say happiness is overrated, that those who recognize the range, depth, and variation of existence lead richer lives, they tell me how highly they rate happiness, how much better life feels when you are happy. If I assert this isn’t the best of all possible worlds, they say maybe it could be if people focused on the positive.
“Positive” is an oversimplification, I say. Perspective and unforeseen consequences complicate every act, and what seems positive today often isn’t. They say, “There you go again, twisting something good into something bad.”
How can I argue when their only argument is the absence of a counterargument, when there’s only one right way of seeing things? What can you say if every question signals denial?
“Nothing,” they say.