When is it time for “More”?

I’ve spent the last couple of years downsizing, and trying on the idea that a simpler life can be a happier life for me. I’ve turned to finding small pleasures and treasures to be thankful for, and to not basing my actions on always wanting more. This flies in the face of much of my upbringing and culture, so even with this conscious effort I am still far from ascetic. But in spite of the ways that this change in outlook have challenged me, I have to say it has been a joyful journey.

But is it always bad to want more? How about more love? More kindness? More simple decency? More popcorn?

Image result for more usherI’m in the process of looking at the last song referred to in each of my books. y1 is largely a book about finding joy, and the last song is “More” by Usher Raymond IV, an American singer, songwriter, dancer, and actor. This has got me me thinking about the idea of how “more” relates to happiness, or if it does at all.

Over the past few months I’ve also been writing about a survey of world happiness and my fascination with the fact that six attributes appear to determine how happy a large group of people is, on the average. Groups that are basically healthy, wealthy enough, have social connections, are free to make their own choices, live in a fair society and are surrounded by those who generally behave kindly are — no surprise — happier than those who live in societies that lack one or more of these attributes. Individual mileage does vary; we all know those who can manage misery in the best of circumstances and others who smile through the worst of them.

growing-bolder-10So what about more? In another post I talked about how money only adds joy up to a certain point. After basic needs and some wants are met, more cash has little to no effect on a person’s happiness, no matter how much they think that it will.  One can argue about having too many social connections, or too much individual freedom, I suppose. One can even argue that a society can be too kind. But can you be too healthy? Have a society that is too fair? Is there always a point where enough is enough? The science fiction writer in me is having no trouble at all imaging a world where any one of these “happiness builders” is taken too far.

But sometimes, we do need more. I’m going to argue that we don’t need more fast food chains, but we could do with more locally grown produce. We don’t need more years added to our lives, but we do need our later years to be more healthy and happy. More fairness and kindness would be wonderful; we’re a long way from overdoing either in our society.

y1 is the only novel that I ended with a song. After all the adventures of the book have concluded and before the epilogue starts, the foursome of main characters gather for one last walk on the beach …. over flaming coals. Yes, that is something this group would do to celebrate.

After an uneventful week and a half at sea, they reached Toby’s island a little after dawn and happily stretched their legs with a long walk on the beach. Toby had decided to keep the place, but he thought it wise to scale back the island’s processes so he did not have to visit so often. Zane, Afi, and Joy spent the day helping him dismantle the hydroponic gardening apparatus and securing the house, and its energy and water gathering capabilities, to better exist without a caretaker for longer periods of time.

As the afternoon wound down, they prepared for a feast out on the sand. The coals glistened while the fish were cleaned and cooked. Wine was poured. A salad was made. Amid stories and jokes, they ate the last of the food.

Then Afi turned on his favorite new RedOne Jimmy Joker remix of Usher’s recent dance floor hit “More.” As the pulsating sounds began to capture the group, Afi gave them a questioning look.

“Like the man suggests, is now the time to bring fire to our dance floor?” he asked.

“Definitely.”

“Of course.”

“Why the hell not?”

A stretch of clouds in the west provided a flame like show of color while Afi arranged the embers carefully into a small orange and grey rectangle in the sand. Then one by one, each member of Miss Demeanor’s crew stood up, improvised a jolly bow to the others, and calmly, yet purposefully, walked over the glowing coals.

For each of the songs I refer to, I seek out a live performance to link to in the electronic version of my novels. This amateur video of “More” shot in Rotterdam in 2011 manages decent audio quality along with a nice mix of close ups of, crowd enthusiasm, and panning out to capture the dancing and gymnastics on stage. Great fun. Enjoy it, and think of the times when we all need more.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, and The fairest of them all?)

Happiness fascinates me

My dad used to say “Work fascinates me. I can sit and watch someone do it all day.” Sometimes I think I have the same relationship with happiness.

I’m lucky in that I don’t suffer from depression, but rather just from a driven personality that is always trying to get the next thing completed and always falling short of the grandiose plan. (You should see all the things that I hope to do with this blog.) Any finished thing that is less than perfect leaves me vaguely unsatisfied. Needless to say, I’m almost permanently in this state.

I’ve found a simple antidote that works well for me, when I can remember to take it.  Like my vitamins, most days it gets forgotten.

gratefulIt’s called gratitude. I understand that concentrating on what one has to be thankful for cannot cure every form of unhappiness, much less depression or the pain of those dealing with specific sad issues in their lives, although it probably can help at least a little. But if your problem, like mine, is that you always want more and better, then gratitude may well be the magic pill that you need.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a report generated by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University about which countries have the happiest people. The results do not come from asking people if they are happy. Rather, they come from asking folks to evaluate various parts of their lives. I was fascinated to learn that six attributes account for most of the variation. I summed these up as wealth, health, love, freedom, fairness and kindness.

Today, I’m thinking of the first two. Because I’m from the United States, I live in a culture that constantly encourages me to spend more money. Because I am female, I’m prodded continually to be healthier (well, at least skinnier). I can’t get through the checkout aisle of the grocery store with out seeing headlines for six dream vacations I have to take and three workouts designed to give me my best butt ever.

bolderStop, I tell myself. Money buys happiness when it gets you the food you need, a safe home, and medical care.  It buys freedom from worry about your car being repossessed. It buys you joy through pretty clothes, a night out with friends, or gifts for those you love. But at some point (it was about $70,000 a year a few years ago) studies show that it has bought you enough of those things and more of it doesn’t make you happier no matter how much you think it will.

America was ranked the thirteenth happiest nation on earth, it part because a larger proportion of its citizens are near, at or above this magic threshold. You would think that this would be a very good thing. However, in order to meet all of the sales goals of all the fine companies that keep this nation great, we need to be persuaded every day that we still do not have enough. Work harder. Buy more. It feeds right into the mantra of a perfectionist like me.

I try to remind myself. You have all that you need, and much of what you want. Be grateful for it.  Be happy with it. And no, your next vacation does not have to be your dream one. An affordable yet pleasant time relaxing with someone you love will just have to do.

raising 1As to the link between health and happiness, there is no doubt that chronic pain or a worrisome condition wear the human spirit down. An actual life threatening disease or injury puts one in a whole new arena.  But for those of us who are just whining about how hard it is to keep weight off while chomping down our calcium pills and extra Omega-3 capsules, it is worth remembering that most of us are basically healthy. We are even basically attractive. We do have to face the painful fact that, like everyone else on this planet, we had our best butt back when we were eighteen years old and nothing is going to change that fact. And we need to get over it.

So, health and wealth. Studies show that both bring us joy, but only if we are wise enough to notice that we have them.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

 

If you want to be happy move to a cold country?

beach vacationIt is hard to believe. Whatever happened to the idea that the ultimate in happiness was lounging on a tropical beach, umbrella drink in hand, while island music wafted by on a soft ocean breeze? Wait, that was the ideal vacation. What about the ideal life?

Well, the annual happiness report for 2016 is in and there is little that is sunny and warm about the locations that produce the most content people. The top thirteen, in order, are Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Israel, and the U.S.

winter-vacationsDon’t believe it? Then let’s ask exactly how this happiness thing is being measured.

This is the fourth such report generated by Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The results are not obtained by just asking people if they are happy. Rather, they come from asking people in 156 countries to evaluate various parts of their lives on a scale from 0 to 10. Lots of variables are examined, but six attributes account for most of the variation among countries. I would sum these up as wealth, health, love, freedom, fairness and kindness. And yes, I could see how those all would contribute to happiness.

(Note that the more precise, but less succinct people who generate the report refer to these as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity as measured by donations.)

What countries currently have the least happy populations? Starting with the unhappiest, they are Burundi, Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Yemen, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. Yes, there are a lot of warm, sunny places in here. More to the point, there are places torn apart by war, struggling with disease, and centers of extreme poverty, so clearly this isn’t really about climate.

Other happy countries include Costa Rica (#14) Mexico (#21) and Panama (#25).  Plenty of wonderful beaches in all three places. Meanwhile cold weather hardly guarantees happiness, with Bulgaria coming in at #129, the Ukraine at #123 and #Mongolia at 101.

raising ecstacy 1It is often said that happiness is an inside job, and to some extent that is true. We all know people who can be miserable anywhere, under any circumstances. But on the whole, in aggregate, we humans do respond to our environment. If we are materially comfortable, in good health, surrounded by those we care about and by others we perceive as fair and kind, and if we are free to life our lives as we want, then well, guess what. We are more likely to be happy.

Hot or cold, in sunshine or in snow, those places that are wise enough to make it a priority to foster such an such an environment for all are going to be the best places to live.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, Some Kind of Kindness, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

Choose your placebo wisely

candyI’m giving the Smashwords.com version y1 a light dusting while I wait to get d4 back from my editor, and I came across the article from Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley that inspired a fair amount of my plot. Begley took a hard look at multiple studies and concluded that for those with mild to moderate depression, anitdepressants were just expensive candy. In fairness her full report is considerably more nuanced, and well worth reading. It raised her to hero status in my mind. Those who make a living writing for publications that rely on advertising will seldom be found telling uncomfortable truths about products sold in the same pages.

magic wandAs I reread her work today, a whole different aspect of her article struck me as odd. Placebos. What an odd concept. If you were doing a clinical study on the effectiveness of any medication, why not simply give half the people in the trial the medicine and tell the other half that they are not getting it. We all know why. People who think they are getting medicine sometimes get better based on belief alone. Real measurable illnesses can be cured by the power of belief, albeit not predictably or reliably. Of course that outcome needs to be removed from any study.

Doesn’t this strike anyone else as incredibly strange? The entire medical community and bulk of society accepts that a placebo can cure a physical illness. You’d think somebody out there might be working to develop better and more effective placebos.

wiineAs this line of reasoning wound its way through my brain, I realized that I already use  a lot of placebos to stay healthy. I just don’t call them that. I call them vitamins, which I continue to take in spite of reading that they are a waste of money and the average person gets all the vitamins they need from their diet. I call them immunity boosters, the things I take to fight off a cold even though evidence of their effectiveness is dubious as well.

Now that I think of it, my favorite placebo is a nice glass of red wine. Some might refer to this as self-medicating, but as far as I am concerned the wine is taken each evening to stave off heart problems. There is also the green tea I drink every day to ward off cancer (and because I like it) and the bit of dark chocolate I allow myself and oh yes the Greek yogurt that I love that does something, I forget what.  Maybe calcium for my bones? I think I need to be taking something to improve my memory. Does anything involving caramel and salt improve brain function?

Seriously, none of these things in moderation are hurting me a bit and I’m willing to bet they are helping my general health a little, just maybe not to the degree I think they are. It doesn’t matter. I’m healthy as can be and have been so photofor decades, and my firm belief that my indulgences and choices make me stronger is no doubt playing a part. The placebo effect is everywhere, not just in clinical trials. If used right, it’s a very good thing.

Lately I’ve found myself thirsty at night and I’ve started keeping a glass of water on my nightstand. I’m also not sleeping as well as I used to (getting older does that) and I’ve convinced myself that better hydration is the solution. Wake up at 3 a.m.? Don’t think about the project at work or trying to sell the house or worry about the kids. Take a big drink of water and go back to sleep. Water does put you to sleep, you know. At least I think it does. Apparently, that is what matters.

Gratitude

raising 3I’m getting ready to do several blog tours over the next few months, hoping to gain readers for my two most recent books z2 and c3. Part of the process is a series of interview questions, and part of answering those questions is having to reflect on personal choices like “why do you spend so much of your free time writing?” Good question.

I think often about the power and joy of realizing that writing is what I am meant to do. This is usually followed by a litany of complaints. I don’t have enough time to write. I can’t possibly concentrate with that damn leaf blower going next door. Why is my shoulder so sore. You get the idea.

Today, I’ve decided to focus on the things that make it easier for me to write.
1. I’m grateful I have a job that pays the bills well, and even more grateful that these people let me work just four days a week.
2. I’m thankful that my husband thinks it is incredibly cool that I write, as opposed to tolerating or even resenting it.
3. I’m grateful I’ve got the reasonable good health that I need to do this, and I appreciate the things in my life that keep me healthy. (a shout out here to qigong and my husband’s relentless efforts to feed me a healthy low carb diet)
4. I appreciate that all three of my children, my only sibling, and a fine smattering of other friends and relatives, have encouraged my writing, proofread for me, offered ideas and provided whatever publicity they could for my efforts.

Whew. That is a lot to be thankful for. Time to stop complaining and get back to writing. It is amazing what gratitude can do.

(speaking of gratitude, please drop by the Facebook page Raising Ecstasy and drop off a like for the cool image shown above.)

How things change: the eye of the beholder

Visit psychsearch.net

Visit psychsearch.net

When I graduated from high school, apparently  homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental conditions. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, because to the best of my knowledge there weren’t any homosexuals in my home town and there possibly weren’t even any in the whole state of Kansas.  It was a rare condition, my mother assured me.

Unbeknownst to me, there were also gay activists in 1974, and they pushed the American Psychiatric Association to remove it from the DSM. It was removed, and since then a lot a of new illnesses have been added. As edition five came out this spring, psychiatrists took a lot of grief for classing so many types of behavior as “illnesses.” For example, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder threatens to turn children with too many temper tantrums into those with a mental disorder and binge eating (defined as excessive eating 12 times in 3 months and I wonder if my ice cream habit puts me over the top here) is now an official mental illness.

On the one hand, classification as an illness does allow those who want help to get their insurance to pay for it, if they have insurance 🙂 . On the other hand, having your idiosyncrasies or your own areas for personal growth classed as a mental disorder could be life altering in negative ways as well.

So what of homosexuality as a form of mental illness? Well, a few months ago Saul Levin, an openly gay man, was named the  new American Psychiatric Association chief executive officer and medical director.

Things do change with time. In the case of Dr. Levin, I’m glad that they have and I wish him the best. In the case of the new mental illness referred to as “hoarding disorder” …… well, I prefer to still consider it one my more charming little eccentricities.

For more on how things change with time, visit my z2 blog here for thoughts on human trafficking and Broadway musicals. Also visit my x0 blog here for thoughts on veggie burgers, humor and empathy.