12/27/2008 09:18 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Resolve to Be Pessimistic: An Eager Lesson for 2009

The year we just lived through saw unparalleled amounts of optimism. Despite the worst economic recession since the early 1990s, record gas prices, high unemployment, incompetent leadership, and so much more direness, America came out of the woodwork to vote in November on a belief that happy days can be here again--ahead, that is. And as always, the dawn of a brand new year brings the hope of a "fresh start" on things, and the new page on the calendar inevitably leads to the dreaded New Year's Resolution.

While optimism is running high, and highness is running optimistically, a little pessimism will go a long way to do each of us some good. The traps of Resolution season are rapidly approaching, and if you aren't careful, all of that optimistic bullshit surrounding the "fresh start" could cost you some money and worse some authenticity. So please be careful, because the rough thing about resolutions is if you don't achieve them you will undoubtedly feel even worse about your situation than you did before!

An excellent example of a time where pessimism is easily used to your benefit is the clichéd "I'll get in shape this year" shout-out. So many Americans resolve to get in shape each year that every health club in your metro area is sure to inundate you with reasons why you should join up right this very second. They'll offer you what seem like amazing discounts and deals that you can't pass up. That's great, because gyms are the places to go if you want to burn the rubber of the spare tire most of us (present company included) are carrying around.

"Yes! Combined with my optimism about losing some 30 pounds, this low monthly rate makes the offer so perfect I can almost cry with gratitude! Why, let me march right over there and sign that contract this second!"

Slow down, cowboy. Before your optimism gets you to sign on the dotted line, you will be well served to step back for a minute and analyze what is going on here. So-called gyms play on your new found and short-lived hyper-optimism about the New Year in order to get you to spend now. Hurray for capitalism! The truth is that gyms make money by signing members to year-long contracts and betting that the newbies will stop showing up around January 15th. It works, too. New York Sports Clubs seem to be springing out of Manhattan's pavements faster than Broadway shows are closing.

To avoid becoming a statistic, turn the pessimism up to 11 and ask yourself (slap yourself first):
  • Where is this gym?
  • How will it fit into your daily schedule?
  • Are you going to go after a long day in the office? Or firstly before that jolt of coffee?
  • Have you checked out other options (like lipo)?
  • (and really) Did you read the fine print in the agreement?

The point is that untempered optimism often leads us to bite off entirely more than we can afford to chew in the name of being... well, what do you think? Optimistic! Don't fall into the trap. Before you tell everyone that you are going to drop the pounds, beat back the better angels spawned by your optimism endorphins and use some objectivity. This saves you money (which you need now more than ever) and you won't feel like an ass if or when you end up not doing it.

Be shrewd. Choose a resolution to which you can stick. Enter Obama's America with some actual optimism and resolve for the first time in a while to be a heck of a lot more pessimistic.

You owe it to yourself to be a realistic son-of-a-bitch.

...I'm Richard Laermer, author of 2011: Trendspotting and reluctant futurist.