The Virtue Project: January - Optimism

Jan 6, 2011
I chose to start out my Project with optimism because it seemed to me to be the one thing absolutely necessary to making this happen. Optimism means the belief that things can change for the better, the sense that there are good things out there even if you can't see them yet. I suppose the more traditional word to use is hope, but I think there's a distinction there that I want to draw. Hope, to me, does not necessarily imply that you will ever get any closer to those good things, while optimism seems to contain more motion, more actual change. I need actual change, not just the promise of change to come.

I picked the Dagda for this month because he is, quite literally, the Good God - the caretaking father, the provider. And in most of the stories about him, he has a damn good sense of humor about things, which is a necessary component to optimism. I've been looking forward to reading up on more stories about him, and catching up with the great and glorious backlog of the Celtic Myth Podcast.

One of the things I'm focusing on with this project is having concrete, achievable goals to help me actually apply the principles I've chosen to focus on. (This is where the Happiness Project model is really useful, because there are so many good examples to draw from.) So I have three main goals for this month: to keep a daily journal, to stop reading things I've come to refer to as "Schadenfreude porn," and to visualize success.

First off, the daily journal. I started doing this when I was really depressed a couple of years ago, in an attempt to track my mood, and discovered that it was a great motivation. Basically, at the end of the day, I would write down everything I had accomplished. My goal was to have done at least three things. What "doing something" meant might change from day to day - on a good day, I might write a story or a blog post, finish a piece of embroidery, and clean the living room. On a bad day, getting out of bed, making lunch, and resting might count. But I always had at least three things I had done that day that were of value. I'm adding a component to it this time: a reason to get out of bed in the morning. It is a terrible thing to wake up in the morning and realize that the only reason to get out of bed is to go to work, so that you can afford to pay the rent so that you have someplace to keep your bed. Not worth it. So I've been adding a list of things happening tomorrow to the daily journal. I find this really helpful, because these aren't necessarily goals, just things I'm looking forward to doing (or sometimes, things I'm looking forward to getting over with).

Schadenfreude porn. I read a lot of complaint logs -- The Librarians Who Say MoFo, Customers Suck, Not Always Right, The Art of Trolling, to list just my daily rounds. But you know, reading a lot about how people suck and are kind of stupid is not the most encouraging daily entertainment. Time to switch the blogroll bck over to Cute Overload and away from this kind of negativity, which is realy the last thing I need right now. It's also generally a pretty nasty form of gossip -- I tell myself never to say something behind someone's back that I wouldn't say to their face, but it's pretty easy to tell yourself that when you know you would never meet these people face to face.

Visualizing success. I waffled for a while about including this as a goal, because it seems so froofy The Secret kind of thing. But then I realized, there's nothing wrong with visualization per se; the problem with The Secret is that it stops there. Visualization is not enough, but it is necessary; it is impossible to achieve success if you don't know what the victory conditions are. When I first graduated in May, I had all these ideas about where my life was going to go next. And as I continued to not get a job, I slowly stopped making those plans. I want to go back to planning agan, to having real goals for myself and my life. I've been working on the actual stereotypical five-year-plan, as well as a more self assessment-based set of goals for the year and a much stranger, larger, and more exciting list of things I would like to be able to say about my life at the end of it.

My original thought for choosing optimism for January was that it was not only a necessary precondition, but a nice internal sort of thing to be focusing on here in the depths of winter. I expected it to be much harder than it's turned out to be, actually. I'm finding it a little bit like writing turned out to be during NaNoWriMo -- scary to start with, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, until you're drowning in ideas and have to start organizing in self-defense. It's an encouraging way to start out the year, I must say.

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