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 www.sixwise.com. 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" (www.timeday.org), 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 edmunds.com 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.