[I swear I’m going to stop… at some point]

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

A line, and an idea, that took the world by storm from Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist (a book I’ll admit never quite took to).

How wonderful it would be to believe this. All one has to do is want enough.

I think it’s a little more complicated. I believe this statement is true with some caveats:

a. The want has to be important and life-changing. It can’t be for something trivial like getting a window seat in the bus… unless said window seat is going to change your life. I think it might not even work for getting a certain job, unless that job is going to change your life (which jobs, admittedly, often do).

b. You have to believe with all your heart, without a shadow of a doubt, that you’re going to get it. [This is my own personal take]

c. Even if the above conditions are fulfilled, if it’s not the right thing for you, it’s not going to happen.

That’s how prayer works for me. For the big things, I believe with absolute faith that God will give them to me once I’ve asked. I can count only one occasion when it did not work – when I prayed while speeding to a hospital having been informed that a friend was in an accident that she was not dead. I now firmly believe that a person’s death is predetermined, or at least something that cannot be changed by even the most powerful prayers. But that’s another post.

So in some strange way, I guess prayer is my way of unleashing my inner optimist.

In general, though, I prefer to take the pessimistic view. I expect little of life. So I’m not often disappointed and now and then pleasantly surprised.

But back to Paulo Coelho.

A friend, to my horror, used that line to comfort a boyfriend I had just broken up with. He clung to it with desperation – the idea that if he wanted me enough, I would go back. But, the thing is, I knew quite firmly and irrevocably that I would not. In fact, I petitioned the Universe (who I call God) in the opposite direction. So then who wins?

I think all this positivity has to be a bit nuanced:

1. One is often counseled to have a positive outlook on things. That is, no matter what happens, look on the bright side. This I vehemently disagree with. I think all sides should be looked at. And that it is possible that there is no bright side. What, for example, is the bright side of genocide?

2. In everyday life, one can constantly believe that good things will happen. This, again, I believe is setting yourself up for a fall. Good things do not always keep happening. Or rather, they don’t happen just because you believe they will. They just do. Thus, a person like me who mostly believes good things are probably not going to happen still has good things happen despite her negative belief. On the other hand, plenty of people who fervently believe that good things will happen discover that they don’t. I think these are just coping strategies and are not going to change the way the world turns. I always find people who are optimistic scary, because I’m so afraid they’ll be disappointed. But many of these people manage to pick themselves up and dust themselves off despite the disappointment in a way I would never be able to. Thus, I use pessimism as a defense mechanism, and they use optimism. I have learnt to bite my tongue when they are anticipating some good fortune and to not say “I told you so” when it doesn’t happen.

3. For life changing events, positive vibes/prayers could work. Though I think you really need to be able to focus that energy. It works for me, and I’ve led a semi-charmed life. However, I’ve seen tons of people with a very positive outlook for whom it doesn’t work for. So maybe I’m just blessed.