In high school, my history teacher gave us some sage advice. “Whatever you do,” she said, “Don’t become cynical.” According to her, cynicism was reserved for old ladies with neon fanny packs and lives full of heartbreak. It was saved for guys with skull tattoos and overly-complicated facial hair. But cynicism should not corrupt the young, green, whippersnappers at my high school, she said. Kids should not be cynical.
Unfortunately for me, her advice was too late. For whatever reason, I had entered my adolescence with a sharp eye for all that was wrong with the world. There were rappers getting shot, presidents having affairs, and crazy monkey viruses spreading into our drinking water (I had nightmares about the movie Outbreak for weeks). Life, as I saw it, should be approached with a rational dose of pessimism: Lawyers were liars. Businessmen were drug addicts. Babies were just future juvenile delinquents, strippers, and Congressmen. At the core, human beings were just greedy: greedy for sex, greedy for attention, but most of all, greedy for money.
Of course, this wasn’t the healthiest attitude to have. So in junior year of college, I took a class called Positive Psychology, which was widely dubbed the “Happiness” class. The class gained notoreity due to its huge enrollment, prompting media outlets to crow about Harvard students trying to study happiness. And oh, we did. In our first section, our class was told to go around and give each other hugs. Our professor sent out emails about yoga. We were all asked to bring in songs that spoke to our inner happy souls. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but Norah Jones does.
Even though I was skeptical, I liked the idea of positive psychology, where mosquito bites were just insect kisses. Everything bad could be seen as good. Since that class, I tried to apply positive psych into my life. The volcanic eruption in Europe isn’t a terrible economic disruption… it’s just God’s fireworks. KFC’s new Doubledown Sandwich isn’t an example of Type 2 Diabetes wrapped in tinfoil… it’s just a protein party in your small intestine.
But even as I try to stay positive, sometimes I still fall victim to my old, cynical ways. Maybe it’s natural. Maybe it’s just true, that people are inherently, undeniably, greedy bastards…
When I was a baby, my parents put the following items in front of me: a $20 dollar bill, a bowl of cheesy puffs, and a stuffed animal. I crawled straight for the $20 without hesitation. It was a sign.