Thursday, December 28, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/28/06

Today's ramble is actually a link to an essay written several years ago by Michael Ventura. It was published in Psychology Today. Even though the ultimate premise is far-reaching, I think the essay is brilliant. It encapsulates many of the ideas that I am attempting to express in this blog. If nothing else, it builds a strong case for fundamental change in our society. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/27/06

Today's ramble has to do with kids. An article in today's newspaper disturbed me. The thrust of the article was on post-Christmas shopping. It highlighted some teenagers who were completely hell-bent on purchasing as much as possible (on sale) with the money they received for Christmas. This "perspective" reminds me how far our society has come in terms of successfully marketing to children.

My somewhat cynical mind cannot help but predict a blossoming epidemic. The economy is about to enter into a period of recession, mostly fueled by reduced house values. This recession will hit just as today's materialistic teenagers are graduating from college. The mindset that many of these kids have predisposes them to the belief that their self-worth is directly linked to their ability to earn and spend money - to live the lifestyle that they envision for themselves based mostly on media images. A few will have some semblance of the lifestyle they are envisioning. Most will not. This is particularly true as downward pressures on wages become a reality. These young adults will feel like they have failed. They will need our help to see it through. We must help them to recognize that money never has, and never will, buy them happiness. Hopefully many will come to understand that real happiness is within their power regardless of financial means.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/26/06

The truly destitute are not those without money, but those without love in their lives. Happiness is a level playing field - we all have the ability to love and be loved regardless of our financial means.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Holiday Ramble - 12/22/06

I had a conversation this morning with a non-Christian immigrant about Christmas. His perception is that what seems to be missing from the way most Americans practice Christmas is the spirit. He notices the consumption and commercialization first and foremost. Beyond that, he sees what he calls "glitter" or fluff. The holiday season is a good time to reflect on our history as a species, and where we are going. Let the practice of Christmas in America at the beginning of the 21st Century be your guide. Indeed, the sprit of Christmas is vanishing. In its place has arisen spending, obligation, and stress.

What's ironic about the Christmas season is that it is a time when people are allowed to practice those things that truly bring people happiness; love, sharing, togetherness, giving. For many, it has become a time of anger, stress, and depression. Much of it is related to our attempt to emulate a manufactured idealized Christmas experience. When our family room doesn't look like those in our favorite catalogs, we ask ourselves "why?". What is wrong with us that we can't have the kind of Christmas that we are supposed to have, that we are entitled to? Well, what we are entitled to is our Christmas. We choose the way we want to celebrate Christmas, and the emotions that result. It is within our power to give this season real meaning to ourselves and those whom we love.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/21/06

If you are feeling a lot of stress, you are not alone. As a reminder, stress can create significant levels of unhappiness - we want to avoid it as much as possible. A recent study (published yesterday by The Associated Press) shows that close to 75% of people in the U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and the United Kingdom say they experience stress on a daily basis. South Korea, with its turbo-charged, hightech, consumer-driven society ranked first at 81%. Mexico was lowest at 45%.

People in the U.S. cite financial pressures as the top worry (imagine that). Other factors attributed to causing stress are multiple jobs, long commutes (our most unhappy part of each day), and increasingly complex technology. Gershen Kaufman, professor emeritus of Michigan State University states that "the level of stress in fast-paced technological societies has been accelerating. There's an increased emphasis placed on wealth in this country (US). We're gradually exporting this around the world."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/20/06

Here is another entry for "a world gone mad". These statistics are hot off the press from the Census Bureau's "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007".

1) Of the 8,760 total hours in a year, the average American sprends 3,518 hours directly in contact with some form of media. That's five months out of twelve! Americans spend 65 days (1,560 hours) watching TV, 41 days listening to the radio, and 7 days each surfing the net, reading the newspaper, and listening to music. These days are measured as 24 hours each. That means, the average American spends the equivalent of 195 eight-hour periods watching TV each year. That is the equivalent of 75% of the amount of time the average American spends working. It's no wonder that most people just work, sleep, watch TV, and shop.

2) While nearly four in five of the 1970 college freshmen cited "developing a meaningful philosophy of life" as an important objective of attending college, three out of four in 2005 said their primary objective was "being very well off financially". What happens to these 75% of freshmen when this turns out not to be the reality for them? A few will realize this "dream", but most will not. How will they feel about their lives then?

3) Americans own 2.1 billion pairs of shoes. That's seven pairs of shoes for every man, women, and child in this country.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/19/06

Today, I will quote Warren Buffet. If my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Buffet is the second richest man in the U.S. Perhaps besides Bill Gates, he is the ultimate "Jones". Keeping up with him financially? Forget about it! Now that he is well into his 70s, here is what he says about success.

"If people get to my age and they have the people love them that they want to have love them, they're successful. It doesn't make any difference if they've got a thousand dollars in the bank or a billion dollars in the bank... Success is really doing what you love and doing it well. It's as simple as that. I've never met anyone doing that who doesn't feel like a success. And I've met plenty of people who have not achieved that and whose lives are miserable."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/14/06

Today's ramble has to do with time. Time is the one thing that treats everyone EXACTLY the same - it is the ultimate democrat. We all have exactly 24 hours a day to live. Of course, we have varying lifespans. So, the total time we have can vary from person to person. We will save that discussion for another time...

The point today is that we do not spend time. Instead, we are spending our life. How we choose to spend our life is up to us. Time is basically irrelevant. When we say we do not have the time, that is really not true. We all have the same amount of time. When we say that we do not have enough time, what we are really saying is that we are choosing to spend our time in ways that create stress in our lives. Today's fast-paced, consumer-driven society makes us feel as if we do not have the time to do everything that we "need" to do. Think about it. Are these the things that we really need to do. Or, are these the things that society is telling us (the little voices in our heads) that we need to do. They are truly separate from one another. The next time you feel stressed about not getting things done, focus on what you are doing. Is it really that important to you?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/13/06

The question: What do you get when you mix greed and hope? The answer: Las Vegas. Greed and hope are very strong instincts in humans. When combined, they create a very powerful mix. Look at how many of the hopeful travel to Las Vegas every year. What motivates them to go? The primary reason is greed. If not to practice greed themselves, it is to be awed by what the greed of millions has wrought. Just imagine if our hopefulness was used in a more fitting way; not hope of winning it big, but hope for a better world for children. The practice of greed will not get us there. With hope and greed mixed together, it will not get us there even faster.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/11/06

Today's ramble has to do with the concept of choice. There has been considerable research conducted over the past fews years that has shown that, when presented with an over-abundance of choices, people can become confused, stressed, and depressed. Often times, to many choices force people to opt out from making a choice all together. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because sometimes the best medicine is too avoid the circumstances that stress us. It is bad thing because the more these situations occur, the more someone is inclined to not only opt out, but check out. This can result in isolation, and encourage feelings of fear and distrust. Barry Schwartz, Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, recommends doing the following things to better deal with the overwhelming choices we all face in today's world.

1. Choose when to choose.
2. Be a Chooser, not a picker.
3. Satisfice more; maximize less.
4. Consider the opportunity costs of opportunity costs.
5. Make your decisions nonreversible.
6. Adopt an "attitude of gratitude."
7. Regret less.
8. Anticipate adaptation.
9. Control expectations.
10. Curtail social comparisons.
11. Learn to love constraints.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Call to Retreat

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “retreat” as:

(1) The act or process of withdrawing, especially from something hazardous, formidable, or unpleasant.
(2) The process of going backward or receding from a position or condition gained.
(3) A period of seclusion, retirement, or solitude

The race to “win”, to achieve the American Dream, to keep up with the Jones’ are all unrealizable. The persistence with which people in our society hold on to these false ideals is without reason. Juliet Schor writes that the greater the weight people place on the social comparison aspect of their consumption, the greater the social irrationality…the system begins to take on a perverse character.

Today, the call to retreat from over-consumption is a relatively weak voice. Pressures are building, however. And, people are choosing to retreat one at a time. The result is certain to be better for our environment, better for our communities, and better for us individually.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/07/06

Martin Seligman, in his book "Authentic Happiness", refers to the "banker's paradox". In summary, the banker's paradox is that the person who needs a loan the most is less likely to get it. If a person has poor credit and few prospects, he will likely be turned down for a loan. If a person has good credit and a multitude of prospects, he will likely receive a loan.

Love is natural selection's answer to the "banker's paradox". Love adeptly defies this law. Love transcends "what have you done for me lately" and mocks the theory of universal human selfishness. The destitute man who cannot get a loan can find happiness through loving relationships with others. Cynics may not truly believe that love transcends. Research shows otherwise. In a happiness study conducted by Seligman and Diener, every person (except one) in the top 10 percent of happiness was currently involved in a romantic relationship.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/06/06

If over-consumption leads to unhappiness, and our consumption habits are tied to our perception of "the good life", how can we break this pattern? Obviously, awareness is the first step. We need to break down these associations and immunize ourselves against what Juliet Schor calls "symbolic spending triggers". If there is something that we really want but don't actually need, there is a good chance that a recurring symbolic fantasy is attached to it. Laying bare the fantasy illuminates the often tenuous link between the product and the dream, thereby reducing the power that the object has over us. When identity (I need that designer wardrobe for my prestigious job) and consumption are linked, getting too deliberate (i.e. being aware of the cause of the desire) spoils the symbolism. When we take it a step further and really analyze the cost of the item in terms of how much time we need to work to earn it, the item begins to further lose its appeal.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Today's Ramble - 12/05/06

Many writings on voluntary simplicity and anti-consumption cite evidence that, not only does the influence of money in our lives reduce our level of happiness, but it diminishes the importance and value of community. Recent research at the University of Minnesota shows that test subjects exposed to reminders of money were more reticent about asking for help than those not exposed to money. The lead investigator of the study said, "the magnitude of the difference was tremendous". A graduate student suggests that money seems to foster a feeling of self-sufficiency and less reliance on others. I offer the suggestion that greed and its protectionist character is at work.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/30/06

As I was participating in a voluntary simplicity discussion yesterday, it occurred to me that our country (and the world for that matter) wastes an incomprehensible amount of brain power (intellectual/creative resources) on consuming things. Just think about all of those well-educated lawyers agonizing over which luxury car to buy. Think of the architect and his wife shopping for just the perfect refrigerator for their beach house. How about the human resources director surfing the internet and pouring over catalogs looking for the perfect new wardrobe? I don't have the statistics about shopping at my fingertips, but I know that people spend large amounts of time searching for, looking at, analyzing, and dreaming about things that they would like to own. If this time were spent more productively, how much better would our society be?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Today's Wisdom - 11/29/06

If you can truly and deeply reflect on your life as the following quote from Dr. Seuss directs, you will be a happy person.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/28/06

I heard a couple of interesting stories on NPR this morning on my way to work. The first dealt with carbon credits. It turns out that carbon credit purchasing is exploding at the retail level. People buy these credits to pay for programs that reduce carbon emissions in direct proportion to the amount of pollution their household produces annually. The idea is brilliant. Unfortunately, it is not working well in practice. An expert in England likened the purchasing of carbon credits to a confessional in church. Individuals relieve their guilt about polluting the environment by buying their way out of it. It turns out that very few of them actually do anything about really trying to reduce their footprints on the Earth.

The second story was about how bad traffic has become in Russia. There are three times as many cars on the roads there as during communist rule. People are spending large portions of their incomes for cars, and just sitting in traffic for hours a day. Citizens of Moscow reported much higher levels of stress and anger about getting around the city. It turns out that the fall of the iron curtain and the resultant explosion of free enterprise is having a disruptive influence on these newly "free" citizens.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/27/06

Tis' the season. Seasonal gift giving contributes significantly to over-consumption, and the psychological damage that can occur as a result. I am a proponent of giving. However, things have really gotten out of control. Juliet Schor's research points out that often times gift giving between spouses ends up (over the years) becoming a way to justify buying expensive gifts for ourselves. Isn't it common for couples to pre-plan their gift giving? I'll get you the iPod, you can get me the watch. I will buy you the diamond earrings, you can buy me the alloy wheels for my car. This is consumptive self-gratification disguised as gift giving.

The same thing occurs when gifts are exchanged between other family members and friends. It can end up being a game of oneupmanship. Of course, the same is true for weddings, baby showers, birthdays, etc. The heavily advertised gift giving season has become almost the antithesis of what gift giving is all about. It is about thoughtfulness and caring. It is a way to show you care about someone, and are thinking about them. When the giving of a gift becomes culturally mandatory, it loses its value as a token of human connection. This is particularly true when the item being offered comes from a lengthy list. For those that cannot compete in this expensive ritual because of limited financial resources, a feeling of inadequacy results. Often times these folks develop very negative feelings about the holiday season. Combined with over-consumption, holiday gift giving is no longer goodwill to all men.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/26/06

I have had a few days off of work. It has given me a chance to recharge my batteries. It has also given me a chance to feel grateful for all that my life is. Finally, it has given me the chance to read the newspaper cover to cover every day. Here is a summary of a "world gone mad".

1) 400 people waited in line at Walmart at 5:00 am to get the best deal on plastic toys from China.
2) A car buying survey finds that people factor in location and quantity of cup holders in their car-buying decision before considering fuel efficiency.
3) A personal finance columnist, responding to someone with poor credit asking about how to improve it, suggests taking out a high interest loan auto loan to improve her credit score.
4) A new Volvo has a heartbeat detector that informs owners through the key fob that someone is hiding in the backseat (no, I did not make this up).
5) LL Bean will send out 200,000,000 catalogs this year (how many trees is that?).
6) China will add 50 new coal-fired power plants this year (so they can produce all of the crap we buy at Walmart).

And, that's just all that I can remember.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/22/06

Two of the most interesting hot research areas in psychology are choice and energy. Much research has shown that too many choices in life can create considerable stress. Stress leads to poor health, unhappiness, and so on. Last evening, I participated in an audio discussion with participants in the Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology mentioned that he is very excited about some new research being done that links too many choices to a decrease in energy. This research has also shown a decrease in IQ related to an overwhelming number of choices. This evidence directly supports the idea that consumerism is having a negative impact on our well being. The consumerist world has created even more choices for people, which on the surface, seems like a good thing. It is turning out to not be such a good thing. Not only is a consumerist foray a large user of valuable time, but it turns out to be relieving its practitioners of life energy and intellect. Think about this the next time you go searching for the perfect couch for your living room.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/21/06

Until we can teach monkeys to read, we are all humans. We contain a complete mix of all of the emotions, both good and bad. Through the identification with and practice of these emotions, we develop a self. This self is experienced and criticized internally and externally (by others). This self identity develops and changes over time. We build character.

Happiness is a very convenient and effective guide for building character. If we get too far from a general feeling of happiness, we can be safe in assuming that something has gone sideways with our self, our character. A perfect example of this is the unsettled and unfulfilling feeling that many of us have after a prolonged focus on consumption and materialism. The greed and sefishness required for us to be "good" consumers leaves us feeling unwhole. A simple steering away from greed and hedonism will lead to a stronger sense of happiness. When this happens, we can be rest assured that we are building good character for ourselves. And, we are setting a good example for those who we affect in our every day living.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/20/06

For today's Ramble, I am borrowing an idea from Peter Block ( People (and teams of people) often settle on the question of "how?" when working toward a solution. Block argues that "how?" looks for answers outside of us. Focusing on the "how?" is an indirect expression of our doubts. It is a defense against taking action. How many times have you experienced this? It is often times the most experienced people who do this the most (particulaly in a work environment). They know "how?" (or can figure it out fairly easily). Usually what is missing is a lack of commitment to the "what?" or the "why?"

Think about it in the context of your personal life. What are the things in your life that are the most important to you? What defines you? Why to you feel that these things define you? These are questions that have become more and more difficult for many people to answer. I believe that our society's focus on consumption, and the myriad of choices related to the aquisition of goods and services, has taken our attention away from answering the truly important questions in life. We get good at the "how?". So, we apply our "how?" skills to more fundamental questions. We are finding the answers to these questions harder and harder to come by. Peter Block suggests deliberately doing the following:

1) Ask what will it take for me to claim my own freedom and create the experience of my OWN choosing (not the choice between which big screen TV is better).

2) Ask when will I choose to use my talents in service to self and others rather than to hold back and settle.

3) Ask when I finally choose adventure and accept the fact that there is no safe path.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/9/06

Today's Ramble has to do with the concept of desire. Consumer culture has helped most Americans develop a very strong desire muscle. The constant barrage of advertisements is designed to build this muscle to such as extent that it is impossible to avoid the impulse of buying. In fact, most people's desire muscle is much stronger than their will power muscle. Just take a look at the numbers associated with consumer credit and debt.

A recent study on inner desire has shown that 61% of respondents always have something in mind that they look forward to buying. The "wish lists" contained an average of 6.3 items and were heavily dominated by material possessions. In fact, consumable items outnumbered idealized ideas three to one. For every person dreaming about better health, for example, three were dreaming about that new car. The most interesting finding in this study is that wish lists did not vary by sex, education, income, or standard of living. To use Juliet Schor's words, "consumerism is an equal opportunity ideology".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/7/06

First, let me STRONGLY suggest that you read Juliet Schor's "The Overspent American". This book is immensely accessible, thoroughly researched, and mind-bending in its aim. I liken it to "The Matrix" where everyone goes about their business not knowing that they are really on life-support wasting away in a pod in some giant machine.

The primary point of the book is that we, as consumers (and breathers), identify with a lifestyle "reference" group that lives well above our means. She has discovered that this perceived reference group continues to "succeed" to a greater extent than we do. She states that "the sociological trend was the upward shift in consumer aspirations and the vertical stretching out of reference groups." The result is not just a deeply-felt sense of failure, but a real perception that it takes so much more money (and stuff) to make ends meet and be happy. The reference groups commonly identified with by the average middle and upper middle class American has an income that is three, four, or five times his or her own.

The statistics supporting this reference group hypothesis are many. Here are some samples. In 1975, the "good life" meant a vacation home (19% of respondents), a swimming pool (14%), a lot of money (38%), and a happy marriage (84%). In 1991, the "good life" meant a vacation home (35%), a swimming pool (29%), a lot of money (55%), and a happy marriage (77%). I guess we traded in our happy marriage for a swimming pool.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Today's Ramble - 11/1/06

As we start yet another rainy November in the Pacific Northwest, I wanted to cite some lyrics that (for me) perfectly describe our desire to slow down life's hectic pace. These lyrics were written by Neil Peart of Rush.

I turn my back to the wind, to catch my breath, before I start off again
Driven on without a moment to spend, to pass an evening with a drink and a friend
I let my skin get too thin, I'd like to pause, no matter what I pretend
Like some pilgrim who learns to transend, learns to live as if each step was the end

Time stand still
I'm not looking back, but I want to look around me now
See more of the people and the places that surround me now

Freeze this moment a little bit longer
Make each sensation a little bit stronger
Experience slips away....

I turn my face to the sun, close my eyes, let my defenses down
All those wounds that I can't get unwound
I let my past go too fast, no time to pause, if I could slow it all down
Like some captain whose ship runs aground, I can wait until the tide comes around

Make each impression a little bit stronger
Freeze this motion a little bit longer
The innocence slips away....

Summer's going fast, nights growing colder
Children growing up, old friends growing older
Experience slips away....

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Today's commentary has to do with the trend toward using shopping malls for trick or treating. Like so much of what is bad with modern society, this practice on the surface seems so innocuous. It allows kids to stay warm and dry. It allows kids to round up tons of candy in a short amount of time. It is convenient for parents. And, most of all, it is SAFE - no pesky cars or child molesters lurking in the bushes. What comes across to many as a good idea actually is another nail in the coffin for civilized society. In effect, kids in a mall are like fish in a barrel for marketers. It allows them just another opportunity to prey on us - to convince us that what they are selling is something that we need. The traditional practice of trick or treating, which brings people living in the same neighborhood together through fun and tradition, is being replaced by a manufactured world.

By going to the mall to trick of treat, we pile in the SUV and pollute the air. By making it easy for kids to acquire a lot of candy in a small area, we promote lack of exercise and childhood obesity. By taking our kids out of the neighborhoods in which they live, we diminish the spirit of our communities. By supporting the retailers in the mall, we exacerbate the effects of consumerism and materialism on our children. When our children's children celebrate halloween, there will no longer be a choice. To trick or treat it will be necessary to hit the mall. Homeowners will no longer decorate their houses in scary attire to attract the neighborhood's little ghosts and goblins. A very sad day indeed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/30/06

Today's ramble has to do with the idea that we may be living longer in terms of years. But, we are actually living less and less because we are giving up the things that really make for a good life. "If more and more of your time and attention and spirit is exhausted pursuing the things they (marketers) con you into believing you need -- bigger house, nicer car, fancier ring, higher limit credit cards, more pharmaceuticals, sleeker cell phone -- you can subtract that time from your living."

This quote (and concept) comes from columnist Brian W. Vaszily. See I encourage you to read his column. He has a strong background in marketing, and readily admits to having been a partner-in-crime. I give consumers more credit that Brian. However, the statistics on depression he cites are astounding. I am not surprised. Happiness research has shown that attempting to keep up with the Jones' and consistently failing (as one is destined to do), results in as much unhappiness as losing a spouse or job. The marketing machine is constantly bombarding us with a lifestyle that we can never achieve. The funny thing, and the part that I think is missing from Brian's commentary, is why people truly think and feel that being rich and having the lifestyle demonstrated by savvy marketers is the answer to their dreams. Why can't (most) people see that their real happiness is right in front of them and well within their means?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/27/06

I had an interesting conversation last evening with someone I consider to be wise, thoughtful, and caring. We were discussing the struggles of public elementary education and the high cost of private elementary education. Someone suggested that the only way to afford private school is to finance it. This thoughtful, wise, and caring person said, "it would be crazy to take out a loan to pay for an elementary education". I stated in response, "if that's the case, it would be really crazy to take out a car loan." She said, "yeah, you're right." I am in no way smarter or wiser than she. I simply pointed out how this consumer-driven economy favors the purchase of things over the education of our children. It is now okay to take out a sizable loan to buy a car. But, it's not okay to finance a private education. Could it be because we are constantly being bombarded with advertisements for cars and we receive none for private schools? How did we let our values get so out of whack?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/26/06

The concept of "downshifting" has been around for a couple of decades (at least). In light of "Take Back Your Time Day" (, which occurred on 10/24/06, the idea of downshifting is buzzing (slightly) yet again. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to search google. I was astonished to find the first entry was a link to that deals with "downshifting" in a car. That spoke volumes to me. Our society is more focused on material objects and how they work than a practice that could lead to significant improvement in the overall human condition. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done...

..."against the run of the mill / swimming against the stream / life in two dimensions / is a mass-production scheme".

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/25/06

Today, let's revisit the concept of "hedonic adaptation" (aka, the hedonic treadmill). The hedonic treadmill causes you to rapidly and inevitably adapt to good things by taking them for granted. As you accumulate more material possessions and accomplishments, your expectations rise. The deeds and things you worked so hard for no longer make you happy; you need to get something even better to boost your level of happiness into the upper reaches of its set range.

The good news is that, just as having the knowledge that television commercials are attempting to make you a materialistic bot allows you to avoid it, having an awareness of the impact of hedonic adaptation allows you to minimize its effects. Better yet, an awareness of it puts you in a better position to avoid wasting valuable resources (financial or otherwise) chasing after the gold ring that will not effectively increase your sense of well being.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/23/06

Okay, that's enough about cars (for now). Give this one some consideration. NBC News reports that 70% of lottery winners exhaust their winnings within three years. How many of us dream about what we would do if we won the lottery? How many of us say to ourselves that we would not make stupid purchases, that we would save most of the money and use it for a good cause? Of course, we are different from those 70% of winners that blow it all in three years.

I love to use lotteries as examples to make points, because they are so insidious in so many ways. It is not necessarily the lotteries themselves that are so "evil". It is the way we drool at the mouth when we consider how free and happy we will be when we win. The evil part is that lotteries compel us to focus on the things that we think will make us feel happy, not what really will make us feel happy. They play on our sense of greed, and our fear of insecurity. Of course, for us it will be different when we win. We will put the money to good use. We will quit our tedious jobs and invest in our futures. We will support our needy friends and family members. We will be masters of our money. Will we really?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/17/06

Today's ramble has to do with the concept of miswant (see my link to Daniel Gilbert's website for details). The concept of miswanting has to do with our proven inability to predict how we will feel after a given event. Things do not always feel the way we expect them to feel. Even worse, we are unable to predict (with any accuracy) how an event will affect us in the long run. Our general overall happiness is affected by a multitude of events. So, it is nearly impossible for us to predict what events are leading to our happiness at any given time. Granted, this concept is cynical. Regardless, much research confirms it.

My question to you is, "why would you spend $40,000 for a luxury car with the expectation that it will make you happy, knowing that your ability to predict whether or not you will be happy after you buy it is in doubt"? It is likely that the outcome of your purchase will be overcome by the multitude of events that happen to you in subsequent days. How will you ever know if the car is making you happy when your level of happiness is equally affected by other things that happen to you day after day? Is the cost worth it? Think about it.....

Monday, October 16, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/16/06

Fortunately for my own happiness, I do not watch much TV. This weekend, I did spend some time watching a football game. One of the program sponsors was Cadillac. I was blown away by the bravado of the luxury car company's new slogan - "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit". This is clearly a reference from our country's Declaration of Independence. As well, it implies that owning a Cadillac is part of the American dream. Whether it was intentional or not, this advertising slogan is dripping with irony. The "pursuit", in this case, is not specified by an affiliation with happiness. Instead, it is left hanging. The implication is that pursuit of the American dream includes owning a Cadillac. The irony is that it is the pursuit of happiness through material means that is fleeting. The more we possess, the more that we are dissatisfied with what we possess. Owning a Cadillac will make us happy for a short time. But, in fact (Hedonic Adaptation), it will not keep us happy. We will need to buy another Cadillac soon..and another...and another...and another. A brilliant ad campaign. But, one that is completely devoid of respect for the well being of humankind.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/14/06

A year or so ago, I volunteered some time at the Oregon Food Bank. I took a tour of the wonderful facility, and learned from the program coordinator that a large number of the families that receive food from the food bank affiliates CHOOSE to go hungry. Yes, that's correct. They choose to pay their cable bills and car payments before buying food for their families. This point of fact dumbfounded me. How could we let our values get so far away from what used to be the obvious choice? When keeping up with the Jones' out-weighs the need to provide nutritious food to our brood, things are very very wrong. Can we afford to continue to support these kind of poor choices by doing nothing? As more and more families make these choices, our society as a whole suffers.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/13/06

Today's thought centers around our most precious resource - time. As our society becomes more affluent, many of us find that we have more money than time. So, we hire nannies to care for our children. We hire gardeners to tend our gardens. We even hire personal shoppers to pick out and purchase gifts for our friends and family. This implies to me that money has become our master. As the old saying goes, "money makes a better slave than master" (or something like that). What could be more telling than these societal trends that our materialistic, consumer-driven society has become our collective master. It is time we stop this madness one individual at a time.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Today's Ramble - 10/12/06

From the Hope Health newsletter, here are "10 principles for healthy living":

1) Breathe (deeply)
2) Drink (water)
3) Sleep (peacefully)
4) Eat (nutritionally)
5) Enjoy (activity)
6) Give (and receive love)
7) Be (forgiving)
8) Practice (gratitude)
9) Develop (acceptance)
10) Nurture (your spirit)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Today's ramble - 10/02/06

It occurred to me over the weekend as I was attempting to lull my five week old baby to sleep that people are likely unhappy about raising children because of the level of stress it can create. It got me thinking that high stress = unhappiness, and low stress = happiness. Looking (briefly) at the research this appears to be true. Short and sweet. Reduce your level of stress and increase your level of happiness.

Taken one step further, self imposed stress (isn't it always) can destin people to unhappiness. This is particularly true given the principle of hedonic adaptation. The more we have, the more we need to feel happy. It may be stress associated with keeping up with the Jones' that is self-inflicted that brings us to a level of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Of course, this race cannot be won. The likely end result is unhappiness in life. Therapy focused on those caught in this downward spiral could have a tremendously positive impact on the population it is able to reach.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Today's Ramble...

The last, and most difficult, materialism shackle for me to break myself from is the automobile. I am working VERY hard on it. What a challenge! As I was driving into work today, it occurred to me that driving the streets of America is really the way many of us socialize. It's like being at a cocktail party everyday. Only, we don't need to talk to each other. Our cars give others clues about who we are. Whether or not we are clean. How much money we have. Are we outdoorsy? Are we fast movers or do we take our time? Are we up on the latest fashions or don't we care? This whole thing occurred to me as utterly ridiculous. Really, there should be three or four distinct vehicles; one for commuting, one for families, two types for work. The fact that there are as many car models as there are personality types truly shows how intertwined our culture (and our self-image) is with our automobiles. Visualize what a year would be like if everyone's car just went away. How would we interact with one another? How would we get around? How would we demonstrate to others our status and image?

What does this have to do with happiness? Well, my friend, a lot! Happiness research from Harvard University shows that commuting makes us less happy than anything else. Our daily "cocktail party", on which we pay exhorbitant amounts of money (car payment, insurance, fuel, maintenance), is the least happy part of our daily existance. Why do we do it to ourselves? Inquiring minds want to know...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Thanks Bluebird!

I would like to thank Bluebird (Hedonic Adjustment) for his contributions to the blogging world. He inspired me to start this blog. It is unfortunate that he lost his inspiration. Understanding real happiness is critical and vital work. May its force be with you, Bluebird!

Welcome to Real Happiness!

My world turned from dark to light gradually as I informed myself, "money does not buy you happiness". Of course, for a long time, I didn't believe what I was telling myself. Over time, I learned to listen. I am here to share what I have learned, and continue to learn, with you. My "enlightment" has been astounding. Let's learn more. Let's share. Let's be happier. Let's be real.