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Happy New Year

Posted by V the K at 10:57 pm - December 31, 2013.
Filed under: Happiness,Humor,Post 9-11 America

Try to avoid letting media hype trick you into making any bad decisions, like voting for an Obamacrat or doing what this dumbass did. K? Seriously, don’t be this guy.

(more…)

Living in the present in challenging times

Several of my Facebook friends like to post inspirational and thought-provoking quotes on a regular basis.  Two or three of them have recently posted a quote which has been attributed to Lao Tzu which reads:

If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.

As someone who has lately been bouncing back and forth between these states of mind, I can appreciate the essential wisdom of the quote.  Most of my feelings of depression lately have been spurred on by my regrets about things I wish I had done differently in my life, and so in that regard, they are an instance of dwelling in the past.  Most of my anxiety stems from my concerns about where our country is headed under its current leadership (or lack thereof), and my feelings of uncertainty or even paralysis as to what is or should be the best path for me to take from this point forward.  The more I think about it, the more overwhelming the many different options start to become.

Partly because of the circumstances which have fueled both my recent feelings of depression and of anxiety, I also have to wonder whether or not the “living in the present” endorsed by the quote is really so desirable after all.  When things are going well, yes, that sounds ideal, but isn’t there the risk of a sort of complacency which can result in self-indulgence, lack of ambition and disengagement?
I thought of these points and more yesterday when Glenn Reynolds linked to a post by Sarah Hoyt entitled “If You Don’t Work, You Die.”  In the post, Hoyt reflects on the importance of what she refers to as envy and striving for growth and life, which, to my mind suggests a certain resistance to complacency.  She reflects on an experiment in Denver in the 1970s with a guaranteed minimum income and the finding that a certain segment of the population was content to live on it and to stop striving to better their lives, and she speculates that it is partly an inherited trait which had value in the conservation of social energy.  The part of the post that fascinated me the most was when she described herself in the following terms:
Some of us are broken.  We were given both envy and high principles.  We can’t even contemplate bringing others down to level things, but instead we work madly to increase our status.  (No, it’s not how I think about it, but it’s probably what’s going on in the back of the monkey brain.)  Most of humanity however is functional.  Give them enough to eat, and a place to live, and no matter how unvaried the diet and how small/terrible the place, most people will stay put.
It seems to me that she has hit on something crucial there because although I’m often tempted to focus on being content with things the way are, every so often something happens to jar me from that state of mind, either by making me feel depressed or anxious or by throwing me off balance completely with some new dream or hope.
I’d like to write more about the disruptive power and potential value of such dreams, but for the time being, I’d like to pose a question for our readers.   When we live in difficult and challenging times, how can one try to remain “in the present” without falling into complacency or without becoming disengaged from the sorts of issues and problems that threaten to make existence even more trying and difficult?

Can you measure happiness?

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 2:37 am - January 30, 2013.
Filed under: Happiness,Random Thoughts

When a friend linked an article recently on the world’s happiness countries, I wondered about the study’s metrics.  Can people in one country really be happier than those in another, provided each allow its citizens an adequate amount of freedom — and security?

That study linked Ireland and number 10, yet when I traveled in Europe, the Irish were clearly happier than the Swiss (ranked ninth) and those in Finland and the Scandinavian countries, all nations ranked higher than the Emerald Isle.  And the Portuguese (not on the list) seemed almost as happy as the Irish.

This article, interestingly, did link happiness to the free market:

Happiness means having opportunity – to get an education, to be an entrepreneur. What’s more satisfying than having a big idea and turning it into a thriving business, knowing all the way that the harder you work, the more reward you can expect?

It does seem there is a link between hard work and happiness.  I find that the days I work the hardest, particularly on a project I enjoy, are the days I am the happiest.

On Sunday, on blog talk radio, blogress Amy Alkon featured Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, who has just published a book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does.  It does sometimes seem that what we think will make us happy doesn’t, but what shouldn’t does.

There is a definitely a link between work which leads to accomplishment and/or reward and happiness.  And some lazy people I know do seem very unhappy.

Governments should leave us free to pursue happiness,
not make its achievement a public policy goal

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 8:28 am - April 16, 2012.
Filed under: Freedom,Happiness,Pursuit of Happiness

Apparently in conjunction with Robert J. Samuelson’s thoughtful Sunday column, The global happiness derby, the Washington Post is running a poll today asking readers if they believe happiness should be the goal of government:

Even a significant major it of that paper’s readers (who would, I dare say, skew left along with its editorial direction) don’t believe governments should make our happiness their goal.

Now, to be sure, our Declaration of Independence defines the pursuit of happiness as a right; Mr. Jefferson thus did not define the right as happiness, but its pursuit, an important distinction.  It seems almost that it then becomes an aspect of another right, liberty — that governments should leave us free to pursue happiness.

Although, as Samuelson notes, some social scientists believe governments can promote happiness, the means of achieving that state of mind cannot be reduced to a crude formula.

Better he argues to ”leave ‘happiness’ to novelists and philosophers — and rescue it from the economists and psychologists who think it can be distilled into a ‘science’ and translated into pro-happiness policies”:

Creating an impossible goal — universal happiness — also condemns government to failure. Happiness depends on too much that is uncontrollable. For starters, personality. We all know people who seem blessed — stable marriage, healthy children, successful job — who are restless, grumpy and sometimes depressed. Meanwhile, others plagued by misfortune — sickness, shaky finances, family disappointment — persevere and remain upbeat.

Contradictions abound. Freedom, the ability to choose, is also essential to well-being, says the happiness report. But freedom permits people to do self-destructive things that reduce happiness.

And freedom also allows people to mend their ways and improve their state of mind. (more…)

Getting free stuff from the government won’t necessarily help you find happiness

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:09 pm - March 20, 2012.
Filed under: 2012 Presidential Election,Freedom,Happiness

Love the way Mitt keeps his poise as he faces a hostile question:

Another example of how calm the former Massachusetts governor is under fire, a quality which will serve him well should he become the Republican nominee and face an ever more hostility from the media and liberal activists than he currently faces.

Posting the vide, Santorum supporter Ed Morrissey (to whom I tip my hat for the video), observes that

Romney has struggled to connect with conservatives, but in this case he hits the nail on the head.  The woman uses the common, historically- and politically-illiterate argument that “pursuit of happiness” means a right to delivery of happiness.  Nowhere in the foundational documents of this nation does the right to achieved happiness exist — only that government will stay out of the way of citizens who seek it to the greatest degree possible.

In this case, the woman believes that free contraception will make her happy.  That conflicts, however, with people of faith who think that not funding or facilitating contraception will make them happy, for whatever motives they have.  The proper role of government in this case is to stay out of the way of both, (more…)

What Odysseus’s misery on Ogygia teaches us about happiness

Seems it’s Happy Friday at diva Ann Althouse’s blog.  She led off this morning at 8:20 AM related Robert Louis Stevenson’s thoughts about the underrated duty of being happy, then 19 minutes later quoted La Rochefoucauld’s quip about happy people rarely correcting their faults (guess that means Bill Maher is one happy fella. Dan, he said, “rarely,” not “never.” –Ed.).

Just six minutes after that, she asked, if there were a “happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful” and answered with a link of her own.  Later, she referenced a happiness bank before quoting my friend David Boaz to answer the question whether Rick Santorum hates freedom and happiness.  Her next piece led with the quotation, ”I think he showed me a cover of a magazine that said ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun.’”  She then proceeded to contrast, “Romney’s Religion of Happiness” to “Gingrich’s Religion of Grievance.

And soon would lament ”The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.”  As compensation perhaps, she cited a Gallup poll finding “that by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older…”  “Happiness,” she offered in a subsequent post, “is more like knowledge than like belief.”  And listed, “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t).

She would soon furnish a clever quip, ”I have told myself a hundred times that I would be happy if I were as stupid as my neighbor, and yet I would want no part of that kind of happiness.”  Finally, she found “the secret of happiness and virtue — liking what you’ve got to do.”

It was most serendipitous that I would linger on Ann’s blog today.  Perhaps the happiness drew me in.   You see, I’ve been re-reading the Odyssey and today revisited Odysseus’s misery on the island of Ogygia, by conventional wisdom a straight man’s paradise, beautiful beaches, distant from the outside world, his wife far away, an eternally youthful and nubile nymph eager to bed him.  And yet when first we see the hero, he suffers terribly amidst all these sensual pleasures, “his sweet life flowing away/with the tears he wept for his foiled journey home”. (more…)

On wealth & happiness

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:54 pm - December 27, 2011.
Filed under: Happiness,Random Thoughts

After visiting a college classmate recovering from surgery in her northern California home, I had a nice (long) breakfast with a high school classmate who lived in the neighboring town.  As we caught up on our lives since those difficult days of adolescence, we shared stories about lessons learned and classmates encountered in the years since graduation.

When the conversation turned particular classmate, I had in my head a particularly vivid picture of her mother, a cold woman married to a very successful local business executive.  She wore an unusual amount of makeup and didn’t strike me as a very happy person.

Perhaps, seeing that woman’s (apparent) misery was the first time it occurred to me that financial well-being does not equate to emotional fulfillment, that is, you don’t need to be rich to be happy.   This is not to say that poverty equals happiness.  We do need enough to provide for the basic necessities of life — and a little bit extra to pursue our passions.

Even the wealthy face their emotional problems.  Recall that one of the richest heiresses in recent years, Christina Onassis, was unhappy throughout much of her adulthood, having attempted suicide.  Back in 1897, the American poet Edward Arlington Robinson wrote of Richard Cory, who, although he “richer than a king/. . . .Went home” one day and “put a bullet in his head.”

Perhaps our cultural fascination with superwealthy celebrities like the Kardashians is related to a certain delight in their various misfortunes, reassurance that while they may have more money than Croesus, they still suffer the slings and arrows that most of us do, perhaps even more so.

Understanding the meaning of “pursuit”

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:57 pm - November 3, 2011.
Filed under: American Exceptionalism,Happiness

The cover of the October 31 issue of the National Review featured a picture of a handful of #OWS protesters with a woman hoisting this sign at the center.

It seems that this young lady is not familiar with the the precise manner in which Mr. Jefferson updated the standard classical liberal list of rights. Up until, political philosophers often talked about the rights of life, liberty and property. In the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jefferson removed the third, replacing it with the expression, “pursuit of happiness.”

I emphasized the two words the woman left out as they help us understand the Founders’ view of the role of government.

NB:  More on this anon.  Purpose of this post is to stimulate discussion on the reasons the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration with Mr. Jefferson’s expression intact, that is, why they understood “the pursuit of happiness” to be a right, but not happiness itself.

Some things are just, well, relative

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 4:44 am - October 26, 2011.
Filed under: Blogging,Happiness,Random Thoughts

Monday night, while enjoying my late night snack, I popped in a DVD that has sat on my shelf since I had won it (as part of package of DVDs) in a silent auction five years ago, a biography of the architect of the Great Society, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

I had to smile when the Democrat’s friend, former Texas Governor (and former Democrat) John Connally said that the 36th president “had no interest except politics.  He was totally committed to it.  He never read anything . . . . ”  Sometimes it seems our readers see us as that Texas Democrat, entirely focused on politics because our primary internet exposure is through our posts on that topic.

And yet there remains a part of us, the better part perhaps, which can’t be discovered though google.  And that’s where my mind has been of late.

As time permits, I do hope to return to regular blogging perhaps as soon as this afternoon. I can devote a few hours a day to blogging about politics and the rest to mythology and its related manifestations in popular media/culture.

Let me briefly share with you some thoughts on, well, relativity, some observations and serendipities from Monday night through Tuesday morning.  Have you ever noticed how sometimes the greatest joys you feel come not when you achieve a particular honor, but when you find the status quo restored?

Let me illustrate.  Monday night, I was driving home from the Valley via Laurel Canyon when all of a sudden the interior lights in my car went on.  Keeping my eyes on the windy road, I reached up to flip them off, but accidentally hit the switch not for the light, but for the sunroof; it began to open (with the lights still on).  And I began to panic.

You see, when last I had opened the roof, it jammed and wouldn’t close; I had to take it into the dealership.  They were able to close it, but informed me that it would cost over $1,00o to get it working properly again.

I decided to save the money; I could live without a sunroof. (more…)

On Elizabeth Taylor & Our Fascination with the Rich & Famous

Over at Big Hollywood, Janice R. Brenman has posted a thoughtful reflection on the struggles and resilience of Elizabeth Taylor:

No stranger to the perils of drug abuse herself, Taylor knew firsthand Jackson could indeed turn his life around.  After her own rehab stint made headlines in the early 1980s, Taylor was in a unique position to speak out to celebrities who abuse drugs to cope with fame and its pitfalls.  While Jackson eventually passed away, allegedly from a powerful prescription drug, there is something to be learned from the lives of both the King of Pop and Hollywood’s golden girl.

. . . .

Elizabeth Taylor’s passing provides us the opportunity to reflect on the perils of fame.  While the plights of celebrities have become a preoccupation and hobby for many people, it is apparent that the lenses under which these stars live result in more tragic endings than fairytale ones.

Read the whole thing.

I have often wondered if it is the superabundance of those “tragic endings” which accounts, in large part, for our fascination with the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  We may not have the wealth or recognition that these individuals, for lack of better word, enjoy.  And their stories remind us that while we may aspire for such things, they aren’t necessary to secure our happiness and fulfillment.  Indeed, in some cases –and for some individuals — they may even be detrimental to those ends.

On lesbian bed death and ex-gays

Several years ago when volunteering at Outfest, I ended up the sole male in a conclave of lesbians.  When the conversation turned to sex, I learned a new term, “lesbian bed death.”  A young woman in the group who quite enjoyed, shall we say, intimate encounters with members of her own sex, denounced those older ladies who don’t have such encounters as regularly as did she.

When she became older, she vowed, she would continue to be as active as she then was.  She seemed almost angry at her older counterparts for not partaking as much as she did.  I interjected that maybe, as she aged, she would come to value other things more.  But, she was adamant. She would remain sexually active throughout her life.  As should all women.

Now, I had never previously heard the term — and would later learn the notion has often been discussed, its conclusion has also been disputed:

But where did this idea of “lesbian bed death” come from? Thank sociologist Pepper Schwartz, who, in her 1983 book American Couples, asserted that lesbians have less sex and intimacy than other couples. Although her methodology and results were later challenged, the idea of lesbian bed death has taken on a life of its own, with damaging results.

Despite the shibboleth that women’s sexuality is something wild that has to be controlled, and the stereotype of lesbians as the asexual mirror-image of horndog gay men, the truth lies somewhere in between: Lesbians who have been sleeping together for decades manage to keep their love lives spicy. Besides, the lesbians who are in long-term relationships would argue that all couples get tired of marathon sex.

As I pondered this notion that summer when it seemed I was exclusively managing theaters screening women’s films with overwhelmingly female patrons, I noted that most of the older lesbian couples seemed perfectly happy.  If a healthy sex life is conducive to human happiness, then clearly these women had such a life.

Perhaps, some of those (apparently) happy couples did indeed suffer from bed death.  Could it be that at a certain stage in the relationship, physical intimacy is no longer necessary to maintain emotional intimacy, that is, they didn’t need sex to remain connected?

Or, simply put, I was asking if a committed couple could indeed find happiness without having an active sex life? (more…)

On Sex, Faith & Happiness

While completing work on my dissertation last fall, I found my mind sometimes wandering as I pondered two great issues, those of sex and of happiness.  As to the former, I continued my ongoing (and long-running) internal dialogue on where was the appropriate place for a single man to draw the line on sexual activity.  As to the latter, I noticed that on days when I was most productive, I usually felt happier than on those when I slacked off.

And as I drove around neighborhoods adjacent to my own where creative artistic types, many sporting tattoos on their incompletely covered bodies, live in close proximity to Hasidic Jews, most wearing near identical clothing almost entirely covering entire bodies (save their faces), I wondered if those who adopt more constraints on their clothing (as well as their personal appearance) could be as happy as those who have eschewed such religious constraints and dress however they please.

While I have been reminding myself to blog on these topics (and the intersection thereof) since I successfully defended my dissertation, this week it seems the universe has been reminding me as much.  While browsing at Barnes & Noble, I caught site of this display table, featuring books on happiness:

Then, this week, Memeorandum linked Ross Douthat’s column on monogamy where he wrote about research suggesting a “significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness“.  Later, Glenn Reynolds linked Douthat’s followup post where the Times columnist noted that in the wake of the sexual revolution:

Female happiness has dropped since the 1970s, despite enormous female economic gains. Marital happiness has dipped as well, even though fewer people get married and it’s easier to leave an unhappy union. (more…)