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.