The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism

If you ask me, everything is pretty fucking great these days.

Your life and my life are both going to continue to increase in awesomeness over time. We are likely to have exceptional fortune and health throughout our days, we’ll help to change some lives for the better, our kids are going to turn out loving and great, and we will die with a broad smile across our rugged and weather-worn faces somewhere around the age of a hundred and twenty two.

Oh sure, there will be the odd problem and catastrophe along the way, but they will just serve as recharging jolts to keep us from getting complacent. More problems to solve, more learning to do, and deeper happiness to attain. On top of that, the human race is bound for an ever-better fate, ironing out most of its current problems and most of the problems that follow in the future, ending up at a tantalizing Star Trek Utopia.

Those are pretty controversial statements to make these days, yet strangely enough the general theme tends to become true, for the few people who are crazy enough to believe it.

And most of us don’t believe it. In fact, many of us end up going completely the opposite way.

One of the problems with being a clever and analytical person like yourself, is that you’ve become very good at seeing what might go wrong. You can see the risks inherent in any enterprise, and if you’ve got enough Cliff Claven in you, you might even be fond of expounding about those risks to anyone around who will listen.

There are even people who make whole careers of this. Fear-mongering in general tends to make you sound smart, and fearful people get a quirky sort of reassurance by snuggling up to a fearful leader, and confidently predicting the worst possible outcome. Dmitri Orlov gets lots of attention by continuously foretelling the complete collapse of the United States. Peter Schiff focuses on financial collapse, gaining fame for correctly predicting the 2009 financial crisis, then incorrectly predicting doom ever since as the US economy has roared to record productivity in all dimensions – now one of the longest expansions in history.

A favorite technique of Collapse Theorists is to sit at the news screen, interpreting each development as still further evidence of their theory.

“Oh.. now the politicians are arguing. Sure sign of collapse. National debt is growing.. collapse. Oil consumption rising faster than supply.. just as I predicted, ’twas foretold, ’twas foretold.”

The same methods can be applied by a Personal Collapse Theorist.

“Oh man, this job is stressing me out. My department is going down the shitter, and we’ll be the first ones on the chopping block when the next round of layoffs comes. And it will be coming SOON! … And the thing is, in THIS ECONOMY, I need to hold onto my job because there are no other ones out there. Not in my field, anyway. All this is really taking a toll on my health. I’ve got bad knees and back, and they really flare up when I am stressed. So they are getting worse every day, which makes me even more stressed, which makes me even worse at my job, which makes me even more likely to get laid off, which ….”

Whew, it hurt my fingers even to type that paragraph above, even though it was all completely made up. But it hurts because it’s true – some people actually say things like that on a regular basis. And every time I hear it, I feel like grasping the person’s head between my hands and shaking it while I say, “Wake up, Dude! You’re doing more than just discussing your situation right now.. You’re creating your own reality!”

Let’s contrast the life of the Personal Collapse person to the fate of a really lucky person. You probably know at least one person that is just so lucky that they annoy you. The person has a better job than you, always seems to get promotions, has cooler friends, and maybe even a more attractive spouse and a greener lawn.

Some even accuse plain old Mr. Money Mustache of being annoying for the same reasons.

“Oh, enough from you Mustache. You retired early and then things seem to keep going well for you. You’re making it all up, or if you’re not, it’s just luck and it can’t be applied to me”

Fair enough. Let’s stop the fakeypants Fresh-From-the-Tanning-Salon-Self-Help-Guru spiel right now.

We’re all scientists here, so we can acknowledge that luck, or the partially random distribution of life situations, does indeed play a part in how a person’s life turns out. There’s the genetic lottery, where each person gets different abilities directly from their parents, then there is upbringing, family, location, and pure random events supplied by the outside world. It’s bound to create a very diverse set of results, right?

But if you’ve ever been to a bar and watched a less-attractive friend have far greater success in attracting mates, or worked in an office where you notice that many of the people in highly paid senior positions are less competent and intelligent than yourself, you know there is something fishy about the theory that luck and birthright alone deliver our fate.

And that’s where we get to the secret weapon of Optimism that I’ve brought to you today.

I’m hefting a stainless steel case onto the table and undoing the latches for you now. It’s lined with black velvet and as I open it up, both of our faces light up with golden light, just like when they opened Marsellus Wallace’s Briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

Inside is a very smooth, very polished tool that looks like it was crafted by an advanced alien race. It is made of gold and silver materials, with a sculpted handle and cobalt blue trigger. It’s your new Optimism Gun.

But what good is a fictional asset like an Optimism Gun when we’re trying to accomplish things here in the real world?

The answer is a Hell of a lot of good, because in this world full of humans, almost all of our “reality” is created in our own heads.

Is money real? No, it’s just a shared understanding among all of us that we agree to store value in nontangible forms. What about Gold, that’s more real than money, right? Nope – offer a pile of gold coins and a nice chunk of meat to a dog, and see which one he chooses. Fame, fortune, the respect of others, or a job as President of the United States? Just chemical patterns stored in the minds of a bunch of other humans.

Even physical problems, like immediately cutting human carbon emissions by 75% to reduce climate change or eliminating poverty in every country in the world, are things that could be solved within months, just by altering patterns in a bunch of human minds. And as it turns out, the human mind is exactly the target of the Optimism Gun.

But does it really work?

I found my own Gun about 21 years ago and I have certainly found it effective whenever I had the courage to apply it. It has helped me get an offer for every job to which I have ever applied, earn and save more money than the pessimists assumed possible, have a very nice family and social life, and be generally happy every day, as I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough.

I also secretly use the OG in this blog (in fact, I’m typing this article on the Bluetooth keyboard that was supplied with the device). And I’d argue that it is working here too, evidenced by the ridiculous spread of Mustachianism to date.

Because which is more likely: that a software engineer who didn’t even take an English class in university just happens to be the most amazing writer in the world with the most useful financial ideas as well? Or that this blog just makes people feel good about their lives because it is much more optimistic than other writing on the topic, and this motivates them to try some new things?

There are several psychological principles at work that make all this work on a practical level:

1: Humans are automatically drawn to Leaders: Most people just want to hang back with the crowd and shy away from pressure of standing out. As soon as somebody stands on the box and picks up the conch, people start listening. If you dare to express optimism about anything, you’re stepping onto a little soapbox, and it gets attention.

2: People want it to be true: If you’ve become a small-time leader and you deliver the Good Word, people will naturally want to keep listening, because you help them feel good about things too. Soon your leadership position will start to grow a lot bigger.

3: Optimism tricks you into trying more things: If you believe success is almost guaranteed, you’re going to try some pretty fun ventures. In reality, sure, you fail at some things, but what do they always tell us is the best teacher? That’s right, it’s failure. So you end up racking up much more hard-earned experience and knowledge than the non-optimist. Then what do you do with all that extra knowledge? You succeed. Meanwhile, everyone else is still hesitating to try the first thing.

4: You are forced not to focus on things you can’t control: One of the most useful lessons of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is that you never worry about stuff you cannot control. You just work on the things you can. As an example, I never watch the political debates or follow the polls for an upcoming presidential election. That doesn’t help me at all, and it doesn’t help you either. Instead, I just read the descriptions of the policies each candidate plans to put into place, evaluate those against my best guess at their long-term effects on the success of the world in general (not just based on my own situation), then send in my mail-in ballot long before the election day. Then I can be optimistic because I’ve had my full say by voting, and I have hundreds of hours freed up to accomplish other things while the pessimists are still watching TV and worrying about the election.

5: Acknowledge and Bow Down to the Placebo Effect: When it comes to health and well-being, the mind controls the body way more than rational people like to admit*.This isn’t just new-age medicine – the very thought of taking medicine that makes people better, has a statistically significant effect on the outcome of medical tests. It is so real, that scientists have to adjust for it by giving people fake pills,  which make them better, in order to see if the real pills do even more than the fake ones.

I enjoy hacking this fact to control my own health. I have a permanent belief that I am unusually healthy, and that this condition will persist forever. Even when I get sick, I look at it as a very temporary anomaly, always assuming I’ll be back to full health by the next day. It usually proves to be true. Not only am I overdosing on the placebo effect, but these assumptions lead me to do the deliberate things one would do if one were preparing for a healthy 122-year lifespan as well. And on top of all this, the optimism is limiting the release of the human stress hormone Cortisol, which tends to destroy health.

The less you worry about health, the healthier you become.

6: Optimism is rare, and deadly when combined with competence: If you’re a smart guy or gal at your workplace, the other smart people are expecting you to be pessimistic, just like them. You can sit at the lunch table, discussing the chronic failures of management or the critically flawed design of the product you’re all working on.

But once you’ve proven your pessimism/realism chops and are respected by the gang, then you gradually start playing some tricks. You can slip in ideas like “Well, this project might actually turn out OK.. all we have to do is rewrite the Flange module from scratch and then get Schmidt to let us use it in Release 2.0. I’m pretty sure we can do that.” Your coworkers will be fooled into thinking that they really can do those things, which they wouldn’t have otherwise tried.

As noted in point #3, these things occasionally work, and as you hone your skills at tricking people into succeeding, you find yourself increasingly being sought after for CEO positions.

So there you have it, from the perspectives of both the motivational speaker, and the engineer. This stuff really works on other people and on ourselves, and it’s the source of most of the “luck” we experience in our lifetimes.

So the only remaining barrier is: are you daring enough to begin this journey by turning the Optimism Gun on Yourself?

 *Further Reading: The Economist reports on a recent study that found some of the mechanisms by which positive emotions influence health. 

  • clyde October 4, 2012, 2:23 pm

    If you are a 5 year old orphan living on a rubbish dump in Brazil or India how far will optimism get you?
    We are all lottery winners in comparison. Life for most of humanity is a grind.

    • jlcollinsnh October 4, 2012, 5:28 pm

      yep. we are….

      ….and we should start acting like it and using that lever we’ve been blessed with to build our success.

      Then maybe one day that optimistic kid on the garbage dump will find a hand extended to help. Maybe even the hand of someone here.

    • Lisa October 10, 2017, 12:27 pm

      Yep. Very tricky issue, this privilege. I’m really happy to see your comment. Mine is much longer, but says pretty much the same thing. See below. Thank you!

  • Travis October 4, 2012, 2:42 pm

    “On top of that, the human race is bound for an ever-better fate, ironing out most of its current problems and most of the problems that follow in the future, ending up at a tantalizing Star Trek Utopia.”

    MMM, I hate to be a party-pooper here, but there is significant evidence that suggests humans will not be able to meaningfully reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in time to curb the accelerating greenhouse gas effect that is occurring.

    It’s not talked about much, but climate change is the real deal, and scientists feel confident that the consequences will be extremely dire. We will continue to see increasingly extreme weather patterns over the next 50-100 years, which will leads to droughts, starvation, floods, war, water shortages, etc. The future does not look good.

    How do you stay optimistic with this knowledge?

    Personally, I take comfort in the vast and awe-inspiring beauty of the universe. Scientists believe that other intelligent life is probable, and I have hope that if humans do not survive (due to runaway greenhouse effect), then there will be other species out there exploring and understanding the cosmos in our place.

    It’s an abstract way for me to be optimistic about the future, but ultimately it’s difficult for me to stay positive when observing the world’s inaction regarding climate change. I would very much like to see humans succeed into the future!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 4, 2012, 4:39 pm

      I hear ya, Travis.. I do read all that climate change stuff in a fair amount of detail these days. But if you understand this article well enough, you will start to understand why I remain so optimistic (hint: it’s the part about not worrying even a tiny bit about what you can’t control, even as you take steps towards helping to solve the problem yourself).

      • Travis October 4, 2012, 11:20 pm

        The problem is that I do have a small amount of control. We can always do more to influence the world (you’re doing a great job with this blog, btw).

        I can try and pretend that I can’t, but the reality is that I could be doing more to influence how quickly our society recognizes the seriousness of climate change. Either through volunteering, donating money, chaining myself to a russian drill rig in the arctic, etc.

        It feels selfish and irresponsible to NOT worry about the world’s problems. Specifically for climate change, this is something we should all be worrying about and discussing on a constant basis.

        We’re all in this together, and deluding ourselves into optimistically believing that everything is going to be okay (when all evidence indicates otherwise) seems dangerous.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 5, 2012, 3:25 pm

          You’re right Travis, but there’s action and there is worry. I don’t mind taking action.. but I never worry that I’m not personally taking _enough_ action. The worry itself works directly against your goals, so you just don’t allow it to exist. Just keep yourself busy, make sure you’re generally moving forward instead of backwards, and all is well. The world really will be fine, and you can help make it that way!

    • Doug October 5, 2012, 8:46 am

      I agree fully, this climate change issue could create a lot of trouble not just for humankind but also to a lot of other living things in the future. The trouble is, it isn’t getting the attention it deserves. It’s like the ship’s going down but most people don’t notice because they are too busy arranging the deck chairs. If more people were like we mustachians, this problem would be solved or well on its way to being solved. By that I mean we are efficient in the way we use energy and resources (a good start to reducing carbon emissions), and we appear to be more informed and educated than most of the population and understand the nature of the problem and how everyone needs to pitch in NOW to solve it. The consequences of climate change will affect everyone and are thus everyone’s problem.

      The problem is, nothing will be done until it’s too late, so I figure it’s time to take a defensive stance by buying investments that should do well. The first is to avoid insurance companies. The payouts for damages will go up due to more extreme weather events. Companies that will thrive include power companies that produce low carbon energy like Northland Power, Brookfield Renewable Power, Western Wind Energy, or Algonquin Power. Other companies that will benefit are uranium producers like Cameco. When the world finally clues into the need for low carbon energy, there will likely be a nuclear energy boom. General Electric is a good bet, as they have exposure to nuclear, wind energy, and build railway locomotives (trains are an efficient lower carbon way to move goods or passengers). If you can think of other good investments, feel free to mention them. Last but not least, avoid coal companies.

    • lurker October 6, 2012, 2:37 pm

      agreed. BUT we can still be optimistic enough to act to save the planet even as it starts to look more and more like Custer’s last stand…in fact, if we have kids, what choice do we have? their world is going to be massively changed…

      • toranga_leela October 9, 2012, 11:35 am

        Absolutely – And while I agree that climate change is a serious thing, and we really need to act on it, I remember reading when I was a kid that the world would be uninhabitable by the 1990’s due to pollution (this was in the 1960’s I’m an old timer), so I think it’s possible the situation might not be as dire as predicted – having said that though, on the subject of climate change, I do have a son and a nephew, and am in favor of doing whatever we can to slow the course of climate change, and I think positive action rather than hand-wringing is the best way to go.

  • Cecile October 4, 2012, 4:56 pm

    So now we have a “Badassity Portfolio” (see post from a couple weeks ago), and an “Optimism Gun” as asset. I like this journey more and more every day!

    We should make a series of cartoons out of MMM, would be better than the TV show.

  • Mrs EconoWiser October 4, 2012, 10:51 pm

    I should use the optimism gun more often, thanks for your inspiration.

  • Iforonwy October 5, 2012, 2:15 am

    For a long time now I have been thinking that folk could be thinking themselves into recession. I try to live by the “I have enough” theory of life. If that fails then I think of my late father’s nickname for me – “Pollyanna – with attitude!” But there again he also called me “Calam” as in Calamity Jane.

  • G.E. Miller October 5, 2012, 7:31 am

    MMM, you’ve mentioned numerous times that you tend to over-worry about everything (which would imply you being overly pessimistic or fearful).

    This article is motivating, but I’d love to hear more about how you made the transition to optimist, b/c I don’t think it’s as easy as pulling out a gun.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 5, 2012, 3:21 pm

      Hey GE.. I’m not sure if I said I tend to over-worry about everything. I did say my natural instinct has been to be cautious, and it’s true that much of my present fortified life has been caused by a continued mission to drive down the probability of bad stuff happening.

      I think this goes back to “expect the best, prepare for the worst” again. For the most recent 20 years, I’ve always felt strongly that “Things are great and they’re just going to keep getting better”. The caution or worry part is just an undertone of The Nagging Voices of Success that remind me to keep moving forward.

      To make the transition from pessimist to optimist, you just need to hang out with confident people, and read books by them. Just like pessimism, it is contagious.

  • Sara October 5, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Thank you for this awesome and timely article. My husband and I are small business owners (just opened our shop this past March) and the past 2 months have been pretty tough. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have chosen to evolve and are constantly coming up with new ideas to incorporate into our business. It would be so easy just to throw in the towel at this point, but we are going to make this work. This is a great reminder of how powerful positive thinking is!

  • Invest It Wisely October 8, 2012, 8:28 am

    A bit of a singularitarian are you? ;) Some amount of optimism is a great thing to have, especially when it’s something you have control over and believe in. I also think that different people have different set points, and I sometimes catch myself leaning too much toward the pessimist side, and I have to catch myself and try to head back toward the middle. It’s too bad our minds are not as easily programmable as a computer.

  • toranga_leela October 9, 2012, 9:04 am

    I just found this site a little over a week ago – I love it! Great advice and so in line with my thinking. This particular post about Outrageous Optimism is the best.

  • Niki October 14, 2012, 10:12 am

    I totally agree with what some people here have said: “I also think that different people have DIFFERENT set points, and I sometimes catch myself leaning too much toward the pessimist side”.

    Sometimes, based from my own observations & experiences so far, it IS true that a pessimist is actually a person with more ‘realistic’ outlook, and even more objective & rational (so it’s *NOT* only about a person being *intentionally* negative, or pessimistic, etc etc…it’s not that simple!).

    And vice versa: an optimist is actually, in worse cases, those people who just BLINDLY accept everything, without any rationality & logic & common-sense, and just act on sort of a “BLIND faith” , as well as being FAKE sometimes (eg: “fake-optimism” , ie: want to be 100% ‘ohh i’m soo happy and everything is okayyy woo-hooohh life is beautifulll yaayyyy I have NO PROBLEMS at all in my life yayyy’ ……that’s just naive, in my opinion).

    Sometimes, we DO need those ‘pessimists’ (or should I perhaps say: “realistic”) people, because they can and often DO point-out many important points & perspectives that’s often too gullibly & ignorantly overlooked by those ‘simple-minded’ optimists.

    I admit that I actually lean more *nowadays* towards being a ‘pessimist’ (well, that’s what many people told me..) , but I choose to view myself as rather being a RATIONAL REALIST , rather than being a “BLIND optimist” . because I often like to point out to my ‘optimist, and simple-minded’ friends of mine about the important facts, things that they’ve missed due to their ‘over-simplified’ and blind optimisms.

    No offense to all those ‘optimists’ out there,
    I’m just trying to add more perspective here, so people’s understandings here can become much more richer.

  • EDI January 23, 2013, 10:28 am

    “Because which is more likely: a software engineer who didn’t even take an English class in university just happens to be the most amazing writer in the world with the most useful financial ideas as well? Or that the blog just makes people feel good about their lives because it is much more optimistic than other writing on the topic, and this motivates them to try some new things?”

    You now, after rolling my eyes for all of my life at the helpless, insane optimists, those few words left me a bit speechless.

    Sure, it’s not really 100% truth, in that optimism = success. But I feel as if I understood… something. It’s not even about money – I’m sure that I can manage it way better than 95% of humanity – but about life itself.

    I don’t think I’m making much sense at the moment, but… thanks, mate.

  • Greg March 5, 2013, 11:12 pm

    It turns out the benefits of optimism are real! Who knew?

  • Young Kim April 27, 2013, 2:15 pm

    MMM, you just blew my mind with Optimism and reduced me to tears. I always thought being optimistic was equivalent to being naive and foolish. But reading this made me realize being a pessimist doesn’t change a darn thing! I feel so much freer knowing that optimism is a good thing! Thank you!

  • John June 13, 2013, 6:26 pm

    Mr. Money Mustache,

    That was awesome! You are pulling me out of the mud and rays of sun are shining on my face for the first time since I was a kid! I just told my boss’s boss that everything was going to be great – “we’re focusing on the highest priorities and have great controls around…… blah blah blah”

    Now I’m going for a run!



  • Mr. Minsc June 24, 2013, 9:25 pm

    Optimism, this is something I’ve certainly improved in the past decade. Still, I have a long way to go. The biggest thing I’ve learned is sitting around thinking of doing something leads nowhere. While I can still get stuck with inaction, the switch does eventually flip. When it does I snap in to action. Being optimistic is a great help avoiding avoidance. :)

    Edit: Oh yes, Sir Patrick at the top of the article is awesome. If you look up talks and Q&A sessions he gives during conventions you’ll be inspired by his stories of his own personal issues he has overcome in life. It really helps one see that actors are human too. ;)

  • Michelle September 9, 2013, 8:48 am

    Thank you SO MUCH for this blog! Exactly what I needed to read today!

  • DT October 23, 2013, 8:21 pm

    Hey MMM,

    Brand new reader of the site, and I’m consuming your articles at an alarming rate.

    I LIKE your style brother. What a great post!

    This article and the one on Stoicism are two of my favorites so far. Optimism is definitely the way to go. Thank you!


  • Eric January 31, 2014, 5:41 pm

    This is fantastic! Mr. Money Mustache, one of my students pointed me to this site and I’ve read about a third of your blog in the last two weeks. I’ve been inadvertently trained as a Mustacian since the days of my youth by my parents (who I consider Jedi Mustacians). It’s so refreshing to find a community of people who cherish value and things that matter (e.g., friends, family, giving, etc.) rather than luxuries and other superficial things (facebook friends, world of warcraft families, taking).

    I actually do research on optimism and how the construct is linked with physical health. Research actually shows that optimists act in healthier ways. Optimists exercise more, smoke less, and eat healthier diets (e.g., more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, salads, and fruit).

    Optimists also generally know more about health risks and process health risks more deeply. There are many studies examining this but let me give you one example. One study found that optimists knew more about cardiovascular risk factors and had higher self-awareness of their cardiovascular risk status even after adjusting for potential confounding factors, such as level of education. This study also differentiated dispositional optimists (the type of optimism you talk about in this article) from unrealistic optimists. Most people pile these two groups into one category because they may appear similar on the surface, but they actually function quite differently. I could probably go on and on about this topic but you can go here if you want to find out some more: https://umich.academia.edu/EricKim

    A final note, you can actually systematically increase optimism. There a few randomized controlled trials on this.

  • Wan February 3, 2014, 5:30 am

    Wow! I had always been a tad pessimistic but the more I think about it, optimism is more practical in a crazily subjective world.

    Thanks for the post, MMM.

  • Megan February 12, 2014, 7:33 pm

    I got to this post way late in the game since I am pretty new to the blog. I have to chime in and say that I really love this point of view. I am a naturally optimistic person so it is really hard for me to relate to people who view the world as a glass half empty. Why would you want to waste your previous and limited time on that viewpoint?

    Naturally shit does happen sometimes in life and there is a time and place for a whole range of emotions and responses. Generally speaking though, I live a great life and am grateful for it.

    I just finished up a temporary 6-month assignment working in a stressful situation for someone who was overwhelmingly pessimistic and negative. It was extraordinary how much of an effect that had on me emotionally and physically. I HATED the job and hated complaining about it even more. My sleep was disturbed, my eating patterns got out of whack, my general outlook on life declined precipitously, and (maybe TMI here) it impacted our ability to start a family.

    Now that I am free of that I feel like I’ve rediscovered my old self in some ways. Yes, I am still dealing with a stressful and totally unpredictable health situation, but you know, I will get through this too. In the mean time there are some pretty great things out there to enjoy.

    Not least of which will be my pre-bedtime snack and then the comfortable bed that awaits me in the other room. ZZZZZZzzzzzzz :)

  • Landi February 18, 2014, 1:58 pm

    Hi, i discovered MMM today & have found it useful & interesting. I must say, i was given a pretty raw deal in life & made plenty bad choices & carried on down a very spiky path for ages. One day, at 24 years old, i got up & said to myself, if i carry on this way i might not be here tomorrow! So i packed my things, moved across town, found a new job & flat & i have never looked back. When i told people i was gonna travel overseas & live in London, they said to me, hahaha, dream your little dream! Here i am today, worked on cruise line ships, traveled all over & am currently living in London! So hahaha to them! You don’t need others to believe in you, just believe in yourself & have very deaf ears!

  • Justin March 11, 2014, 2:34 pm

    Love your blog/site as a 23 YO Computer Science grad I appreciate someone from the analytical world explaining these things to me. Going to start being optimistic today! (Great Pulp Fiction ref btw!)

  • Rollie November 19, 2014, 3:17 pm

    Calling bullshit on all the Orlov talk. Far from “fearful,” he’s actually quite detached in talking about the possibility of collapse, even makes jokes about it. Probably because, like a Mustachian, he’s pretty well prepared for it in all the meaningful ways, including materially and (far-underrated but probably most-important) psychologically. Things will go on like they always have… until they don’t. If things never change, so much the better, but if they do, I know there will be no complainypantsing going on chez Orlov.

    In fact, take more than a superficial reading and you’ll find that he and MMM have a lot in common: He lives cheaply — aboard a boat. Thanks to this cheap lifestyle he was able to, from what I can tell, retire. Using all the new free time, he taught himself all the necessary skills of maintenance, repair and environmentally-friendly upgrades to said boat, including composting toilet, wind power, solar panels, etc. He has cut his expenses and developed contingencies to the point where he could live on $0 if needed. More Mustachian than the Mustache family by some $20K. Oh and he has a family onboard BTW. (It required buying a bigger boat. Cue Roy Scheider clip from Jaws.)

    All this was motivated by the knowledge that collapse can and does happen (which you might not agree with) and that therefore (this part you will agree with) it is desirable to depend as little as possible on a continued wage income… in short to be independent.

    He then sails said boat up and down the East Coast between Boston and the Caribbean, working remotely (not because he needs the money) on software, linguistics which I get the sense is his true passion, or blogging & writing books about collapse (which, unlike this blog, he reports does not pay the bills; he only does it out of a desire and perceived duty to help others). When not at sea, he moors in Boston, enjoying prime waterfront lodging for a pittance in one of America’s most expensive cities.

    Oh yeah and while on land, he cycles everywhere. That’s about all I know about his lifestyle. Beyond that, his recommendations to people seem to include pulling out of the more stupid & materialist aspects of the economy and taking your enjoyment (or refuge, if there is a collapse) in community, friends, a stable social and/or family network who can help and look out for each other.

    A lot of familiar MMM touchstones there.

    I think central to the misunderstanding about “gloom and doom” is that the idea that the currently dominant lifestyle — with all its waste, all its morons — would be something to mourn if it passed away. In other words if it all suddenly downscaled to only that which was necessary (another familiar MMM idea), would that be “doom,” and would it be cause for “gloom?” You tell me – you did it in your own life! Well I already know the answer because I read most of the articles up to this point. Maybe it would be tough going for all the McDonald’s aficionados. (Right before they all suddenly dropped 50 lbs and got 10X healthier.) If anything there is a tremendous optimism about “what comes next,” and Jim Kunstler (the other major misunderstood sourpuss of the internet) shares that also.

    So, please don’t be smug; have respect, or at least cut some slack, for someone who’s already been through an economic collapse (the USSR), and in general for people who’ve been through traumas not caused by themselves. You can’t just punch them all in the face.

  • Gregory Prior April 9, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Joe @ Retire By 40 said on October 3, 2012, 9:36 am:

    “Optimistic people shrug off diversity and keep getting ahead. ”

    I’m sure no one commented on it because they know you MEANT adversity, not diversity, but I had to laugh :-)

  • Beth W August 28, 2015, 10:38 am

    Here’s one for you: I was born an optimist. I actually pissed off pessimist friends in high school because of my unshakeable confidence in hope. And although my life was stressful in balancing the expectations of my parents with my academic limitations, I believed 100% that I was intelligent, personable, and ABLE and thus hard work and focus would bring me everything. I was sick often, with chronic sinus infections (and no, telling myself I’d be fine the next day never worked- mind over matter does not extend to everything). But then I went to college, contracted a chronic illness, failed Chem 101 (twice), saw my dream career path fade away through circumstances beyond my control, was exposed to startling truths about the world (over half the women I befriended had been raped or molested), survived assault, lost friendships over distance and laziness….all the things people go through when transitioning from teenagers to adults. I ended up in an abusive relationship and homeless and STILL was an optimist. Being an optimist did not improve my situation, it just buoyed me through very tough times (and probably boosted my immune system as much as it can be).

    Now, in my mid-30’s, I don’t think I’m an optimist. Comparatively, my life is much better than when I was living in an abandoned condo, eating Fig Newtons as my one meal for the day, working two jobs, thinking I was the ugliest monster there ever was, etc: I’m married to an amazing man, we just bought our first house, I’m employed (albeit in a very negative, stress-filled environment).
    But my health dominates my abilities, and to be raised defining my self by my abilities means that once those start slipping I slowly turned to a negative focus. I can’t Pollyanna anything anymore. And it doesn’t matter what mantra I practice, how much exercise I get (great against depression, though), what I eat (I’m on a low-histamine diet), or how much I practice gratitude….I still know things are beyond my control and they terrify me.

    HOW do I become an optimist again??

    • Trip November 4, 2016, 4:45 pm

      Hi Beth,

      Wow, that’s an amazing journey you described there. You came back from those lowest points in your life that you described. The optimist is still within you. You’ve created a blog; that’s something many pessimists or cynics wouldn’t ever even start.

      Focus on what you can and do control. Tune out the rest as noise trying to distract you from your path. The optimist within you will bloom again.

      – Trip

    • Lisa October 10, 2017, 11:48 am

      I hear ya. I’ve had my ass kicked so many times by life and it’s hard to come to terms with “optimism”. What I am is resilient. I don’t know any other way. What’s the alternative? Curl up in a ball and die? Be permanently miserable? Resilience, not optimism. That’s the one for me. And it’s not something I “do”, but who I am. I’ll bet it’s who you are too, though you’re lifting a 1000 pound weight because of your illness. Check out my comment below and find me on FB?

  • Trip November 3, 2016, 2:39 pm

    Excellent post! I have always believed in the power of positive thinking.

    Have you read the book The Secret? I have not, but heard that it’s much like what you describe here — bending reality to the way you want it to be through the power of positive thoughts. It’s how I’ve gone about living my life.

    I had the audacity to tell others that I was going to graduate valedictorian when I was only in 5th grade. I don’t even remember doing so — my mother tells me stories about how I said these things. And then I did from a graduating class of over 600! This isn’t the only instance where optimism in my life has really made a difference, but there are too many to recount.

  • Jimmy April 1, 2017, 6:55 am

    I love this post. In parts it is similar to a great book: The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

  • Tom Johnston May 21, 2017, 1:30 pm

    This is really true. Somehow positive thinking changes our minds, bodies, everything. It’s something of a mystery, actually. Good for you to put this perspective out there, MMM.

  • Lisa October 10, 2017, 11:21 am

    I’ve been following MMM off and on since the beginning and the sustainability and self-agency values are right on for me. I run an online study group that looks at the physiology of stress and trauma (Vagus Study Group on FB), with a membership of 2500 mostly health professionals, and yesterday I wrote a post to accompany the MMM “optimism” post to share to the group. It’s a very diverse group that spans the globe.

    My point in posting it, and it’s not our usual content, was to open a discussion of the role of personal finances in societal and personal manifestations of stress and trauma, with their concomitant physiological correlates. In my comments I noted that the article has a bit of a “bro” tone and is targeted to a relatively “healthy” audience. Many of our group members are very, very seriously and chronically ill. I failed to unpack what I meant by the “bro” tone. Big mistake.

    I missed the mark completely, although 95% of the responses have been positive. What I missed, though I added a comment about the dangers of victim blaming, is the privilege inherent in the “optimism” message. And please, slow down at this point in your reaction – IT’S NOT BINARY! I’m not saying a good attitude isn’t important for people in all walks of life. I’m not saying that some people can’t be resilient. I’m just saying that it’s very tough to speak for all on these sorts of issues when you are -structurally and permanently- coming from a position of privilege. We are all fish swimming in water that is so ubiquitous that we can’t really see it at all (referencing a famous David Foster Wallace quote: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/97082-there-are-these-two-young-fish-swimming-along-and-they)

    I made a huge error, in my whiteness and in spite of my hardships (chronic illness, single mom, no family, etc.), to not explicate the message of privilege in the optimism article. And no, I’m not throwing out the good stuff in the message. It’s not all or nothing. We do not have the language or the mental constructs to address this issue with the subtlety and nuance required to not be reactive and to still take responsibility. Everyone has hardships and is in charge of their own mind, but we will go far to remember that many have those same burdens PLUS a systemic boot on the neck for every effort they make, every word they speak, from the very beginning of their lives. I’m very aware of this as a woman, and I’m still pretty oblivious of my own privilege on the level of my daily choices – and I try quite hard to bring that dynamic to awareness.

    This cartoon does a great job of describing this issue. If you have ANY reaction to what I’ve written above, I hope you’ll look at it. It’s not a threat to you, but an invitation. It’s not taking any cred from you for your hard work, but revealing the ball and chain that a lot of others have to lift up to hoist that optimism gun.


    • Doug Hallberg September 12, 2023, 6:33 am


      I can see your point about privilege, and different people come from different situations and backgrounds. But, I think the MMM philosophy can be used within the context of everyone’s individual existence. We’re not all going to achieve the same levels of success / financial independence/ what have you, but will most likely do better than if we hadn’t tried these ideas at all. It’s all relative.

  • LAURA E PETERSON April 16, 2020, 3:56 pm

    I love this because it reminds us to think like we did as children in that anything is possible to me and it’s only when we grow up that people start telling us we can’t. I am an generally an optimist and my husband is not. There have been many conversations where I have an idea and he immediately starts to think of ways it’s not going to work instead of supporting it to success or failure. I believe if I can imagine it then I can find a way. You lose nothing and have everything to gain by trying.

  • Charles George January 2, 2021, 9:07 am

  • Luna November 8, 2022, 4:10 pm

    You make me smile, thank you for sharing your message of common sense and valuing freedom and life over things. As a child I saw my father’s sleepless nights, trying to figure out how to feed our family of 6 kids. But whenever there was a bit of money, it was gone instantly for futilities. I swore myself that money would never be an issue for me. I simply never spent what I didn’t have, I was able to help my parents and siblings out even as a student and trainee. Later, whenever there was a pay raise I asked for more free time instead. It was 20 years ago and not popular, my coworkers looked at me as if I was out of my mind :) But I followed my gut feeling, I own and use money, money doesn’t own me. Now I do what I love “for a living” but not for money. I wish to all your readers to free themselves from all dogma and find out what works for them individually and as families. Money is a sensitive issue for a lot of people and you give some really useful insight. I see now that I lack financial literacy and I want to learn to increase our freedom even more. Thank you! Peace ✌️

  • Kara January 16, 2023, 4:13 pm

    I’m reading this 10 years after you wrote it and would love to know if you still feel this level of optimism and if so, can you please give some tips on how to use your Optimism Gun when things feel so much worse than 10 years ago – the far right extremists being emboldened all over the world, roe v wade overturned, the climate emergency etc etc

    i just find optimism for the future so hard, unless I were to just bury my head in the sand about all these dire things.

    Ps – Yours is the only blog/emails I read – I absolutely love everything you write, including this post which I’ve written in my diary to re-read every month so I can practice my optimism :)

  • Doug Hallberg September 12, 2023, 6:24 am

    “On top of that, the human race is bound for an ever-better fate, ironing out most of its current problems and most of the problems that follow in the future, ending up at a tantalizing Star Trek Utopia”

    Just curious if this is still your opinion in 2023? Not denying or arguing. Do you think we have advanced towards this reality in the years since you wrote this article? How so? Thanks.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 12, 2023, 2:31 pm

      Yeah, I’d definitely say so. Aside from the expected reductions in poverty, the most unexpected positive change has been our leap forward in clean energy.

      When I first wrote this article, we were an oil-powered world with only a spark of solar on the horizon. Engineers knew what was coming, but then most of us thought it would take much longer to get to where we are now.

      So in these past ten years, solar panel prices are down a *further* 75%, batteries are down more than 90%, electric cars have taken over the entire future of the automobile market, and generation from these clean sources is big enough and growing exponentially enough that you can see it will eventually take over. Rich countries are still ahead so it’ll be another ten years before the job is really done:


      Other stuff (for example the percentage of people living in open democracies) has NOT been looking as good, and of course climate change from past emissions is turning out to be on the worse side of estimates, so there’s still plenty to work on. But it’ll take some serious optimism to crack any of this stuff, so let’s keep it up!


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