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Music, Mental Health & Me #9: Maxim
This isn’t the first article I’ve written that’s been inspired in some shape or form by one of David’s. Perhaps I can call it an homage, or maybe I’ve just perfected that age-old music technique that some refer to as ‘plagiarism’…!
Last issue, David wrote about the importance of ‘enjoying the ride’ in life, and not wasting our time looking ahead to a destination that never really arrives, like a mirage - because by the time it does, our sights are already set on the next goal.
I’ve had to apply this a lot, because as I’ve mentioned previously, I find myself naturally inclined towards a mindset of perfectionism. I tend to place too much pressure on the smallest decisions, as well as - inevitably - the big decisions, like what career to pursue, what my ‘5-year-plan’ is, and at what point I should up sticks and move to Texas for the sole purpose of trying to meet George Strait…(just kidding!)
They say your twenties are the season of life where you try out different things and learn along the way. You’re not supposed to get your dream job straight away, you’re not supposed to know all the answers, and - somewhat scarily - you’re not supposed to be in control.
But this is easier said than done. It’s difficult to just let go of the reins and let everything fall into place. There’s always those nagging questions in the back of your mind:
“Well, what if it doesn’t fall into place? What if I trust that it’ll all work itself out, and it doesn’t?”
This is where one of my favourite words - ‘optimism’ - comes in. Now, a lot of people say that whether you have an ‘optimistic’ or ‘pessimistic’ mindset simply depends on the kind of person you are - some people are born optimists, some are born pessimists. But while I appreciate that a lot of our brain-wiring is of course dependent on our genetics, I don’t buy the idea that optimism is only available to a select few, while others are sentenced to a life of pessimism.
I think it’s important not to confuse ‘optimism’ with ‘positivity’ - I’ve talked before about toxic positivity, where we don’t allow ourselves to feel or express our negative emotions, and instead paper over the cracks with a forced smile and call this ‘happiness’. That’s not what I’m talking about when I say ‘optimism’.
This is the definition of ‘optimism’ that I found from extensive research and many long nights spent poring over its various etymologies. In other words, I quickly googled ‘define optimism’, and this is the first thing that came up:
“Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.”
This is not too far off from what most of us understand ‘optimism’ to mean - but, predictably and annoyingly, I’m much more interested in Google’s ‘philosophical definition’. One of history’s most esteemed thinkers, Leibniz, defined ‘optimism’ as:
“The doctrine that this world is the best of all possible worlds.”
This slightly oversimplifies a very complex philosophy, but it gets to the heart of the point I’m trying to put across. According to Leibniz, ‘optimism’ is a choice, not a predisposition - it’s about trusting that, in every single situation, everything will work out for the best every single time.
This is quite a leap of faith, and some of you might be thinking, ‘Well, of course that isn’t true, because if it was, I wouldn’t ever experience grief, sadness, frustration, etc.’ While that’s a completely valid point, there are some that would argue that, despite the agony and the heartbreak, we learn and grow the most when faced with the most difficult situations. There seems to have been a surprisingly large number of songs released during Covid about seeing the silver linings, and how, despite the immediate pain the global pandemic has caused, it has had some really positive long-term outcomes, from making us more appreciative of the little things, to reducing greenhouse emissions, and much more.
Admittedly, there are some things in life that just seem too painful to justify - when the suffering doesn’t seem to produce any good whatsoever. But I guess we just have to hope. Hope that at some point in the future, we’ll be able to look back and see that there was some good that came from it.
It’s a radical mentality, and it’s not an easy one to wholeheartedly and genuinely embrace, because it’s essentially training yourself to believe that the universe is rigged in your favour. Whether you explain this through karma, God, destiny, or another worldview, it is all about trusting that things will always ultimately work out for the best - even if immediately, it seems far from the case.
I’m always annoying my friends with the phrase, “Even when it doesn’t go to plan, it does”. For me, because of my personal worldview and ideology, I believe it’s ‘God’s plan’ (in the wise words of Drake…), but for someone else this could be the karmic cycle of everything balancing itself out, where everything is geared towards helping us grow spiritually, or it could just be ‘the universe’ helping us to fulfil our destiny.
We’ve all been in a situation where everything seemed to be messed-up and wrong and off-track, and it was difficult to see a solution. But then, after a period of time, things just came together and - somehow - worked themselves out. I use these moments to reinforce this trust that, no matter how bad it seems, everything will be okay.
It sounds fantastical, and probably even a little self-centred, to think that all the events in our life are designed to bring us as much happiness as possible. But I can honestly say that - along with a daily practice of gratitude - this mentality has been the most beneficial thing to my mental health out of everything I’ve written about.
On a more practical level, some might dismiss this approach as positive reenforcement. If I believe that things will work out, then even if things go terribly, I will still believe that it was all for the best - even if things could have objectively gone a lot better.
But to that, I would say that it doesn’t really matter whether I’m believing this rightly or wrongly. Either way, in my mind everything is going as well it possibly can go, and for me personally, I’ve found that this is the mentality that brings me the most peace in life. I’d rather be completely wrong about everything but be happy, than discover the secret of the universe and be completely miserable about it (which, speaking from past experience as a philosophy student, is an easy mental space to arrive at…!)
Some subscribe to the increasingly popular doctrine of manifestation, which is the idea that we can pretty much ‘think’ things into being real by genuinely and wholeheartedly believing them. To return to the aforementioned Drake, he said in an interview that, before he was a world-famous rapper, he used to drive his friends past this huge mansion in Toronto, telling them again and again that this is where he’d live in future. Fast forward to the present, and that’s exactly where he now lives, and Drake talks about this in a very matter-of-fact way as an example of him being a powerful manifestor.
If manifestation is your thing, then believing that everything will work out seems to be a surefire way of manifesting everything to actually work out.
When it comes down to it, whether our optimism is true or not isn’t really the point. If this approach to life makes us happy, then surely that’s the real test of its value?
It’s a liberating relinquishing of control, which, ironically, is a way of us feeling like we have some control over what happens to us. I’m sure psychologists would have a field day dissecting and picking apart this way of thinking - “Of course the universe isn’t rigged in our favour, don’t you know how utterly ludicrous that sounds? What happens happens, for better or for worse. Period.”
And they may well be right. All I know is that, for me, it brings me peace and happiness to hold onto that annoying little phrase of mine - “Even when it doesn’t go to plan, it does”. Just for fun, try this out - the next time something frustrating or aggravating happens, however mild, make a mental note of it. Then, keep an eye on how that particular annoyance plays out over the coming days or weeks, and just see if there is anything good that comes from it. For example, there’s the classic scenario, where you get rejected from your dream job, but that paves the way for you to get a job you end up adoring, something that wouldn’t have been possible had you not had that initial rejection.
Take comfort in the idea that right now, in the grand scheme of things, you are exactly where you need to be.
The universe has your back. Or maybe it doesn’t. But either way, why not believe it does regardless?
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”
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