Years ago a suit salesman gave me a tip that has always stuck with me. He said that people won't notice you're bald if you keep yourself very fit. He was a good example of this. I literally hadn't noticed he was bald until he made the comment. My first impression of him had been dominated by the fact he was so obviously fit. It was a brilliant case of misdirection. And it made me think about all the ways people mitigate their bad luck.

Generally speaking, a high level of fitness can compensate for whatever imperfect genes your parents gave you. Fitness is enough to achieve good looks if you bother to dress well, take care of your skin, and get a good haircut.

And fitness, along with a good diet, can also suppress the most common killer diseases that your genes might predispose you to. You can't prevent bad luck, but you can keep it at bay.

If you have the bad luck to be born to a poor family, education can compensate for that. Some schools are better than others, but almost all of them, at least in developed countries, will get you where you need to go.

If you're unlucky in love or business, your degree of effort can compensate for that. In both cases it's a numbers game. If you keep trying, you're bound to get lucky eventually. You just have to be willing to move on to the next attempt, and learn from your failures.

If you boil it all down, the only types of pure bad luck are the truly random disasters such as being struck by lightning, or being born without the gene for optimism. Optimism is what gives you the willingness to stay fit, eat healthy, and keep trying. You wouldn't do those things unless you expected them to work.

So suppose science finds the gene that controls optimism. And suppose it can be manipulated. That would be enough to solve the healthcare problem and boost the economy. People would get fit, avoiding medical costs, and they'd work extra hard because they believed it would pay off in the long run, thus fixing the economy.

The optimism gene is probably the most important one in the universe. Someday we'll find it. That will be interesting.
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Mar 31, 2009
I think an important addition to this discussion is the idea of experience oriented people vs. goal oriented people. That is, people who live for the immediate experience vs. people who live and work to achieve goals. People who don't exercise may be perfectly confident that exercise will help them, this knowledge may simply not be as good a motivator for them as the current experience of eating junk food and being lazy.
Mar 31, 2009
I think Ratbert has enough optimism genes to keep the world oblivious to bad luck until long after the sun burns out. Scientists just need to figure out how to harvest his genes and give them to others.
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Mar 31, 2009
I think it depends on how you channel your optimism.

In WW2, the allies tried to break through Italy. It didn't work, so they went for France.

Napoleon thought he could march to Moscow. If he had gone to St. Petersburg, he would have made it. And that's where the czar was staying anyhow.

My sister has blown the entire family fortune and her own trust fund on a business which has been a total failure. This has been going on for 25 years. She thinks success is just around the corner, so I can't get her to try a different business.

Yeah, optimism can keep you going when the going gets rough, but if you're going in the wrong direction, optimism can be kind of a hindrance.

Kid, there isn't a pony in there. Put down your shovel and study hard, and maybe someday you can afford to buy a pony.

Mar 31, 2009
I doubt that.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2009
the first half of that post was blablabla-i have a blog so i'll dispense gratuitous, obvious advice because i can-blablabla. but then right at the end WHAM, brilliance!

you got me with that one scott, well done!

scott 1- me 0
Mar 31, 2009
Hope Springs internal.
Mar 31, 2009
Why do you think it is a gene ? Could it not be just a personality trait (but maybe these are influenced by genes...) ? Anyway, we need an optimism drug. Does it already exists ? Probably, I do not know these very well (I will have to study a thing or twelve about that so I can look smart the next time.. quick to Wikipedia !).
Mar 31, 2009
It may not be exactly an optimism gene, so much as suppressing the Depression gene(s).

There are levels of depression, from psychosis to clinical to disphoria. It's pretty clear that brain chemistry is behind them (which is why anitdepressants can be so effective; it's finding the right one that's the crapshoot (in modern medical science). I'd guess that there are even lower levels of depression than disphoria, and that, like "autistic spectrum disorders", more people suffer from them then than we realize.

So if I'm mis-interpreting you correctly, Scott, you are saying that Optimism will help us avoid another Great Depression. QED.

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2009
I have a best friend who is an optimist. He is very easy to sell on the best case scenario. He likes to be around other optimists, or people who talk about the benefits and the big picture. He finds people who point out facts about risk and cost unpleasant to be around, and avoids them. He is highly qualified and earns more per hour than anyone I know - even these days.

He is also bankrupt. He refuses to think about his mistakes, analyze them or even admit they exist - things that go wrong are a weird anomaly, and are unlikely to happen again. His positiveness is popular, and he is great to be around, but I try not to have him on my projects. Unfortunately if you don't plan for things to go wrong, when they do you are high and dry without plan B.
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Mar 31, 2009
This from the same man who asserts that there is no connection between your work effort and your compensation.
Mar 31, 2009
"If you keep trying, you're bound to get lucky eventually."

If you keep trying, it ain't luck.
Mar 31, 2009
Mr. Wampus, don't confuse optimism with denial.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2009
Or it goes like this:

No, I don't need to exercise, modern medicine can still keep me healthy. And I also don't need to work hard, one way or the other I'll still find enough money to afford the stuff I need....

And there goes modern civilization ;)
Mar 31, 2009
But what about poor old Douglas Adams.
An balding, optimistic man who died jogging.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2009
It is very likely that there are many genes that affect optimism. Some of them will be implicated in other characteristics. If you start manipulating them for optimism, you will be messing around with lots of things, some of which you won't know you are messing with. It's hard to be optimistic about the results. And don't you think that environment matters, too?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 31, 2009
That is very optimistic of you Scott
Mar 31, 2009
Didn't you just do a comic about coworkers that are annoying optimistic? If not, you should!

But that being said, it sure beats the annoying pessimists.
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