Archive for the 'Happiness' Category

Happy ‘Buy Nothing Day’

Buy Nothing Day Ad

Buy Nothing Day from AdBusters

No doubt completely lost in news of Christmas sales and Black Friday specials is the news that today is in fact “Buy Nothing Day.”   Little wonder if you have never heard of it, no major media outlet ever built a successful ad-revenue-based business model by encouraging people not to buy things.  But nonetheless, the idea that happiness is not derived from consumption and consumerism is an idea whose time hopefully has finally come to the general population. 

Amongst all of the bad economic news we frequently hear, the US has been in an unprecedented period of economic growth for about the last 25 years (since 1982).  Yet bigger houses, more cars, and bunches of more “stuff” have done very little to change or improve our daily lives.   A McMansion is just a house, a big, expensive TV is just a TV, an iPod is just a record/cassette player and a gas-guzzling SUV is just a car.  So perhaps it is finally time to abandon the naïve notions pimped by manufacturers, advertisers, and the associated culture of consumerism.

Sure, it may be as ineffective as the “Great American Smokeout,” but “Buy Nothing Day” is certainly a step in the right direction.  And the first step to a cure is always to first acknowledge that you have a problem to begin with. 

Go ahead and spend a day cleaning your house and not buying more stuff.   Spend some time with friends and loved ones and reflect how maintaining those relationships will return far greater value than buying yet another sweater or purse.  Afraid that if you don’t buy that gift sweater that it may in fact hurt those relationships?  That is a valid concern, but there are plenty of alternate gift ideas that can be very personal and meaningful that don’t involve much spending.  These include such things as a family tree, a framed photo, an address book (with friends/family contact info already filled in), a self-assembled food basket, and many other things limited only by your creativity.

So, Happy Buy Nothing Day – now wasn’t that much more satisfying (not to mention warmer and safer) than camping in front of Best Buy all night – and your basement and/or garage may just be cleaner for it.

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The Whatifs and Other Monsters Under the Bed

The other night while I was lying awake worrying about something that I can no longer even remember, I came to notice my daughter lying on the floor beside the bed (a frightening shadowy apparition in itself until you learn to expect such behavior).  Eventually she presumably found the uncarpeted floor less hospitable than her own bed and returned there.

The next day I asked her why she was there and I got the standard kid answer for such nighttime behaviors: because of “Monsters under the Bed.”

I then wondered what I in the heck I was doing up at that time myself and realized it was pretty much the same thing: going to some cold, hard, dark place and worrying about my own “Monsters under the Bed.”  Those both irrational and rational fears we have when the din of the outside world quiets and we are left alone with our own unique thoughts and concerns.

This is a time and mood captured perfectly by the Shel Silverstein poem Whatif:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song…

…Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Shel and I just need to keep telling ourselves: those nighttime Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed aren’t real, they’re just illusions of our overactive imaginations and worst fears.  Even our most rational fears only very seldom come to pass and as wittily told in Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen):

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

So go back to your own bed.  Turn on a flashlight or shine some hope and optimism into your worried mind and let those Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed fade away and melt back into the shadows.  4PM on some idle Tuesday will no doubt come soon enough, so for now appreciate and be grateful for the day you just had and look forward to and be hopeful for those yet to come.

Good Things Can Happen…

The movie Office Space certainly is a biting and hilarious indictment of the soullessness, absurdity, and mind-numbing nature of modern office life

One of the movie’s best and lifelike characters is Tom Smykowski.  Smykowski is a middle-age, middle manager (“I take the specifications from the customers and bring them down to the software engineers! I’m a people person! What the hell’s wrong with you!“) who is edging closer to retirement, lives in constant fear of losing his job, and as a result is perpetually stressed.

Smykowski, generally a negative person, is ecstatically happy only after having just been in a horrible, crippling car accident – because it means he doesn’t have to go back to his office job.  Bandaged and incapacitated, he tells his coworkers that “if you hang in long enough, good things can happen in this life!”

Good Things Can Happen

Vincent Van Gogh on Prozac

I see that Sinead O’Connor, of all people, is making the daytime talk show rounds endorsing the benefits and wonders of antidepressants.  Late night talk show hosts and comedy writers may need to go on antidepressants as well since they may have lost one of their favorite targets.    I don’t expect we’ll see Sinead desecrating any religious icons on TV anymore or going off on any other ultra-political rants.  And now we’ll also need to add Sinead to the list of people not to seat next to Tom Cruise at dinner parties.

And I really don’t mean to at all make light of what can be a very serious and often tragic condition.  In fact, I have little doubt that, while perhaps sometimes over-prescribed, antidepressants can provide real benefits to those who really need them. 

I just wonder what the overall effect will be on society as a whole.  Historically, those afflicted with bi-polar disorder and depression have been some of our more creative and productive citizens.  So in the age of meds and happy pills, can the world ever hope to produce another tortured, irascible, and iconoclastic artist?

To illustrate, here is how Van Gogh’s famous “missing ear” self-portrait produced a year before his suicide might have looked had he been under med-friendly psychiatric care today:

Van Gogh On Antidepressants

Sharks’ Teeth and the Sands of Time

The highlight of any middle-aged, inland, family-man like myself’s year is the annual trip to the beach.  This year was particularly momentous in that the family was able to visit 3 coastal areas in one pass: the Chesapeake, the Outer Banks, and Topsail Island.

While at Topsail Island, my wife got down low in the sand and started noticing many sharks’ teeth.  For the next 20 minutes the entire family was on the hunt for sharks teeth and found 20-30 in as many minutes by simply getting down low ourselves and looking for them.

Sharks Tooth Hand

This struck me on several levels:

1. How many small, obvious things like this do we miss in our own lives every day?
2. What if we had a similar reminder of our own fleeting mortality – such as human teeth washing ashore by the millions – would we take a larger view of our own affairs? 

I then got up from my crouched position and looked at all of the newly built beach houses around me.  Now, I was on Topsail Island 6 months after Hurrican Fran (11/96) in the spring of 1997 and the place was a disaster area – completely covered in sand and not a beach house to be seen except where particularly industrious owners had uncovered a few partial remnants. 

Perhaps these new beach dwellers could look atre the fossils in my hand and be just a little mindful of the relentless onslaught of the sea and the sands of time – for at least 10 years anyway. 

Beliefs, Flaming Lips, and Happiness

I live in a backwater which is so remote that we do not even have access to National Public Radio (NPR) radio broadcasts.  Fortunately, NPR does a pretty good job of providing internet access to and streaming their programs, especially for a pseudo-government entity.   

NPR is often criticized, perhaps sometimes fairly, for having a liberal bent, but they actually have some excellent, thought-provoking programs.  And as Stephen Colbert often remarks “”thoughts/facts/reality have a well-known liberal bias”. 

One of my favorite segments is “This I Believe” a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition, it is actually an idea revived from a 1950s radio program.  The essays are weekly submittals from intellectuals to celebrities to Average Joes and everyone in-between.  It has even spawned a website where anyone can submit an entry. 

As one might expect, the contributions are often just a reflection or accumulation of the contributors’ collective experiences.  A few ones I have liked:  

But I think this week’s installment was one of my favorites.  It was presented by Wayne Coyne, singer for the band The Flaming Lips (which I have never heard of but I take it is an odd combination of an Indy Rock band, Frank Zappa, and the Blue Man Group). 


Wayne’s
summation of belief is to “try to be happy within the context of the life we are actually living.”   He even anticipated the thought I often have when I read the entries of successful celebrities who have achieved their life goals when he assures the reader that “I felt this way even when I was working at Long John Silver’s. I worked there for 11 years as a fry cook.”

I like that:  “Try to be happy within the context of the life we are actually living.”   

Not a very good advertising campaign perhaps – but excellent advice.  Now I’m off to do just that.

“Happiness is a pint of Guinness”