I wouldn’t call myself an optimist per se, but I certainly wouldn’t label myself a pessimist either. Generally, I lean towards what I would call cynical optimism. Cynicism is just a symptom of having open eyes. It’s difficult to look at the world, or just America, and feel something like pure optimism. Now, I’ve been feeling better about our outlook lately, but that’s not what this piece is about. No, I wanted to discuss the little victories that can stave off the cynicism, if only for a moment.
If you were to record yourself on a daily basis, what would you hear back? Would you find a person complaining? Hopeless? Angry? All of those feelings and states are normal, and if you’re anything like me, you experience all of those over the course of a day, or perhaps upon waking. All it takes is a glance at some bad news or a disingenuous display on TV for me to spiral into a day’s worth of venomous ranting and crankiness. But, a person can’t live that way.
Years ago, I recall being in a van with my band outside an especially depressing venue we were playing in New Orleans. We sat in the van discussing something or someone, and I remember weighing in to talk about what I called my “little victories.” It’s likely self-explanatory, but little victories are the smaller things that can brighten up your day, if only for a moment. These moments might seem insignificant, and they are, but they can pull you from the brink.
The first example that always comes to mind for me when considering these little victories is a cup of coffee. It seems so simple, but it can be the difference between a day in darkness and a day with some levity. I look forward to coffee every day, multiple times a day. It brings joy every time I drink it, and I know that without fail, no matter how shitty the day is or how little faith I have in humanity at the moment, that I’ll have my cup of coffee and get a much-needed boost.
These little victories can be anything at all. I find myself especially looking forward to the time after dinner, after the cooking is done, the eating, and the cleaning. I look forward to finally settling down, putting a record on, and getting lost for a bit. It’s only for 45-minutes to an hour or so, but that time is precious, and I think about it throughout the day. Hell, I even try to decide on the record or records I’ll listen to. Sometimes at breakfast, I’m considering whether I should spin the Flaming Lips or Miles Davis.
We all need these little victories. Whether it’s a food, a drink, a show, music, or an activity, these things bring us joy. A cup of coffee or a record might not seem like much, but it can go a long way in pushing back the tide of cynicism. I can get quite low and judgmental if I allow myself to, but when I fight it, when I take my little victories where I can get them, I’m better for it. Even something like listening to a silly podcast while you’re grocery shopping can bring you back from bitterness, or perhaps playing with a pet, or even a game. The point is to find something small to look forward to, or seeing the joy in something seemingly insignificant.
Life is hard, life is weird — but it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. Give yourself those little victories.