So I’m standing in line at the gas station the other day, and the guy in front of me is buying $153 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets. That’s right — one hundred and fifty three dollars worth of lottery tickets. For a little while, he was stuck at $132 but somehow made the decision that that sum just wouldn’t do it, that the seed of his good fortune was buried somewhere in another $21 worth.
Can you imagine the earnestness with which he must have approached his task? He probably stacked the tickets up by type, neatly aligning the corners in each pile, arranging the piles in a pleasing grid, then setting to work with his “lucky” coin. Just think about the pile of rubbery crumbs he must have swept aside as he methodically made his way through that stack of tickets, his excitement ebbing and flowing with every shamrock or dollar figure or playing card revealed. I hope he won something. I hope he found his pony in there somewhere.
But I doubt it.
I think that there are a probably a lot of ways to characterize someone who buys $153 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets at one time. Optimistic is likely to be the most generous of those ways. Maybe he was feeling like today was the day, his day. Maybe he had some cause for feeling that way, some alignment of his personal stars that told him, “Yep, today it will happen and happen BIG.”
After all, that’s optimism … isn’t it? That feeling you sometimes have that good things are just there on the horizon. I’ll admit that I don’t have this feeling very often, but I can certainly understand its appeal. After all, if you spend your days imagining something fantastic is going to happen to you, and then it does, you can’t help but feel you’ve had some agency in it. That your hopefulness somehow made it happen.
But what if that great thing doesn’t happen? What if all you’re left with is a messy stack of now useless tickets with all of the possibility they once held now scraped away? What if you wait and wait and wait, always looking on the bright side, and the source of all that brightness never comes? How do you sustain that optimism then?
Truth be told, there are some people whose optimism has very little to do with outcomes. They tend to see things differently than I do. They have a preternatural instinct toward the positive. They see it’s rainy and think of flowers. They see a door close and think of a window opening. Their ongoing internal dialogue is dominated by the phrase “On the other hand …” I imagine that they tend to like kittens, but I could be wrong in that regard.
Other than the part about the kittens, I’d like to be more like these people. I’d like to feel that life — plain old everyday get-up-and-go-to-work life — holds such great promise that it only makes sense to smile all the way through it because, after all, good things are right around the corner. I’d like to see promise everywhere I look, and positive outcomes everywhere I turn.
Of course, I’d also like to win the lottery, but what are the odds of that?