Disease Of The Ordinary

Disease Of The Ordinary

Wow, I love these glasses–red, big, and with wings!

I asked the store owner about them, and he said he gets these mostly for (window) display purposes.

But one lady actually bought a pair similar to this for a big event she was going to.

I think these would certainly make a statement (however crazy) when someone walks into the room wearing these.

Maybe that’s the point for many people–to stand out!

People want to be noticed, special, and be thought of as something or as somebodies.

Being 1 of 7 billion people is not very satisfying–so how do we differentiate ourselves?

  • The fancy house and cars we have
  • The clothing and accessories we wear and carry
  • The trophy wife or husband that hangs on us
  • Our own physical good looks, fitness, and skills
  • The prestigious university we went to and the degrees we possess
  • Climbing the career ladder and our titles and offices
  • Our pedigree from kings, clergy, hollywood, rich, or otherwise famous or successful people
  • The children (and grandchildren) that we rear to be smart, successful, well-integrated, etc.?
  • How religious we are, how much charity we give, the kindness we show others?

This is something that we all struggle with as human beings–what is a life of purpose, meaning and how do we know that we’ve achieved it?

I think the problem for many is that we measure ourselves by what we have and not who we are. Perhaps, this is a clear mistaken case of quantity over quality.

Down in Florida, I see so many “haves” and “have nots”–but it’s not enough for the haves to have, but if they aren’t showing it off, getting stares, having people talk about them, then they seem to feel uncomfortably ordinary.

What is this disease of the ordinary that people must ever run to escape from–and even with the reddest, wildest, wing glasses or whatever–will they ever feel truly happy and satisfied inside?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Happiness Meter

The Happiness Meter

Ever realize that no matter how hard you strive for happiness, it almost always seems just as elusive.

There are many explanations for this:

Of course, it could also be that just because you think something will make you happy, doesn’t mean it will. Often, the fantasy does not live up to the reality, and so rather than achieve happiness, we end up disappointed.

Another explanation, from economics, is the law of diminishing marginal utility that tells us that more of a good thing, does not make us incrementally happier, rather the benefit and satisfaction that we receive from each additional unit of consumption is lower. Let’s face it, the 5th mouthful of chocolate cream pie is not as satisfying at the first, second, or third. And at a certain point, you actually will want to puke!

The Wall Street Journal had a brilliant piece on this that explained this from an evolutionary perspective–fitter organisms are more likely to survive and reproduce, so every time we make a positive decision in our life, rather than find happiness, our “happiness meter” resets to zero, forcing us to make the next positive move in our life to make us better, if not necessarily happier. In other words, keeping us unhappy, forces us into perpetual striving.

So while happiness has been correlated with our genetic makeup, life events, and values (New York Times) or even exercise, altruism, and supportive relationships (CNN), real happiness comes from living a life of meaning, where we find satisfaction in the journey itself, and not rely only on the destination.

For example, Buddhists understand that life is suffering and that we need to escape the hamster wheel of jealousy, aimless external desire, and quenchless ambition and instead seek to do good and find inner contentment.

One colleague (ex-army) of mine used to say, “everyday that I am not in Iraq and Afghanistan is a good day” and perhaps we need to think in those terms too, as we all know things can always be worse, so we would do well to find happiness not just in what we have or achieve, but in thanksgiving for what we are spared as well. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Black and White and Gray All Over

Black and White and Gray All Over

My trip to South Florida this week was full of juxtapositions and lessons for me as a person:

1) Attention and Inattention—There were 2 father-son pairs in this gorgeous infinity pool at the resort. One father and son (age maybe 3) were together—jumping, splashing, swimming, holding each other—it was really beautiful. The other father and son (maybe 4) in contrast had the kid standing alone in the pool trying clumsily to pull a pair of goggles over his face, while his inattentive father stood off to the side glued on his smartphone. The first kid was smiling ear-to-ear under the attentive and adoring eyes of his father, the second kid was clearly rejected and dejected.

2) Beach and Poverty—I visited the beach in Hollywood; we were told it had a great little boardwalk. When we got there at first, it seemed awesome with the sun and palm trees, music, eateries, skaters, and bicyclists, and more. But as we started walking and exploring, it quickly became apparent that this was the poor side of town. There were no high-rises here, no fancy cars, no eloquent shops, and sort of a menacing feeling overall. The contrast of the beautiful beach and boardwalk with the surrounding poverty left me feeling sort of confused about wanting to be there, but also wanting to leave.

3) Ocean and Starbucks—whenever, I come down to South Florida, I invariably end up thinking about finding a place down here. This time, I saw some options that were attractive for very different reasons. One place was an older building, nice and enticing with a direct ocean view. The view from the apartment was so amazing; it literally made my wife cry. But then we saw another condominium—this one brand new, about 15 minute walk from the ocean, but right over all the shopping, Starbucks, and conveniences. The first place had a million dollar view, but the second place was practical and we could see ourselves really living there.

4) Driving and Jolly–We took a trolley ride and the driver was obviously hard-working, but low paid. Yet he turned up the tunes and took us around town not just driving, but literally singing and sort of dancing to them too–waving his arms and smiling the whole time. It was great to see someone so spirited and happy in whatever they were doing in life.

As I get older, and hopefully wiser, I see more clearly that situations in life are not simple or “black and white,” but there are lots of complexities, choices, and grays.

Do you choose self or family, live where you like or where you can earn a good living, go for the view or for the convenience, bemoan what you don’t have or celebrate what you do? Lots of decisions in life—each choice has consequences, so choose carefully.

No one has it all—even if it looks like they do. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Status Quo, No!

The Status Quo, No!

Two more articles, this time in Fast Company (Sept 2013) are pointing to the unhappiness of people and the desire to change things.

The first “You Sign, Companies Listen,” about Change.org, “the world’s petition platform” that now has 40 million users launching as many as 1,000 petitions a day. Now the site is allowing organizations to respond to petitions publicly and also has a “Decision Maker page,” which shows organizations all the petitions against them.

Change.org focuses on “personal issues with achievable solutions,” especially personal stories of injustice. The site is about a carrot and stick approach. Organizations can choose to listen and respond positively to their constituents legitimate issues or “there is a stick” if they don’t engage with the hundreds of thousands and millions of petitioners.

A second article, “Not Kidding Around,” about DoSomething.org, which “spearheads national campaigns” for young people interested in social change. Their values are optimism for a sense of hope, rebellion meaning the rules are broken and needs to be rewritten, and empathy to feel others pain so we can change things for the better.

There is a notion here that the youngsters “have no faith that Washington politicians can solve this problem.” These kids feel that “the world is in the shitter” and they want to help create social change.

It is interesting to me that despite our immense wealth and technological advances or maybe in some cases because of it–creating a materialistic, self-based society–that people are disillusioned and looking to restore meaning, purpose, and social justice.

Things have got to mean more than just getting the latest gadget, blurbing about what you had for lunch on twitter, or accumulating material things (homes, cars, vacations, clothes, shoes, bags, and more).

People can’t live on materialism alone, but are seeking a deeper connection with G-d and the universe–to make peace with our creator and with each other and create a better world where we are elevated for helping others, rather than just taking for ourselves.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Money Pit

The Money Pit

So I’m visiting this absolutely delectable Italian bakery in fancy-schmancy Las Olas.

The Sicilian pizza by the way is amazing.

We are there for a while enjoying the food, conversation, and ambiance.

My wife offers to take a picture of me in this great place.

The lady behind the counter is so nice and let’s me join her behind the counter for a moment.

In comes an obviously wealthy customer and as he sees me going to take a quick photo, he makes a big “Hmmmmm!”

The lady graciously says “Just one moment sir.”

And irritably waiting for just this brief moment, he blurts out, “I’m the customer and my money comes first!”

When he said this, another lady in line made a huge shocked face–as did we all.

It is incredible how some people’s money goes to their head and they don’t realize it all comes from G-d and can just as quickly be taken away.

Wealth, health, our loved ones, and happiness–they are ephemeral and we should be ever grateful for them for as long as we have them.

Being arrogant and thinking we are better than the next guy–that we are somehow more deserving or above it all–is a huge fallacy and G-d sees all.

Maybe this rich guy’s money comes first to him, but I imagined the Master Of The Universe hearing these words and having the last eternal laugh. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Why Can’t We All Be As Happy In Our Jobs As This?

Why Can't We All Be As Happy In Our Jobs As This?

Lapham’s Quarterly (5 June 2013) put up a matrix of the “Worst Jobs In the World,” but the problem is that is completely misses the mark!

The worst jobs matrix has four dimension based on the functions of jobs being treacherous, tedious, difficult, and disgusting.

The matrix has some doozy jobs listed, such as the food taster for the emperor (i.e. testing for poison) and the banquet attendant who cleans up guests vomit and holds the pot for partygoers to urinate in.

However, while this infographic provide some interesting job tidbits, it completely misses the point of what it really means for a job to be bad or worst.

What doesn’t necessarily make a bad job?

- It is not how treacherous a job is, because treachery can be in the name of patriotism (such as someone who works in the Intelligence or National Security community and may commit treacherous deeds, but they are for a noble cause to protect our people and country).

- It is not how tedious a job is, because many jobs are tedious but they are necessary and important, such as working “on the line” in many traditional manufacturing jobs producing goods that people want and need.

- It is not how difficult a job is, because often the more difficult a job is, the more rewarding it is, such as a surgeon, scientist, social worker, teacher, and so on.

- It is not how disgusting a job is, because many jobs involve blood, guts, and gore, but are jobs that save lives such as doctors, fire and rescue personnel, and even our warfighters.

What does necessarily make a bad job?

- If you work for a cruel boss, you have a bad job. A bad boss–one that is bullying, arbitrary, unfair, egotistical, mean, and abusive–can ruin even the best of jobs. When you work for a great boss, you can learn, grow, and are well treated and for a boss like that, you will go the extra mile.

- If you perform meaningless work, you have a bad job. One of the most important factors in worker satisfaction is whether you perform purposeful and meaningful work. If you do, then you have a reason to get up in the morning, and that is a great feeling, indeed.

- If you work and are not fairly compensated, you have a bad job. Most people don’t mind working hard as long as they is a fair performance management system, where they get rewarded and recognized for their contributions. However, if you aren’t fairly compensated and can’t make ends meet to provide for your family, you have a bad job.

- If you have a job that doesn’t provide for work-life balance, you have a bad job. Generation Y really appreciates this, and they have taught us all something about the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This means working to live and not living to work. If you have a job where you miss your kids’ ballgames, have no intimacy with your spouse, and don’t have time and energy to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually, you have a bad job.

Many people work in jobs that are challenging–whether they are treacherous, tedious, difficult, or disgusting–but they are in good jobs. Other jobs are for cruel bosses, doing meaningless work, and are not fairly compensated and don’t have work-life balance, and they are in jobs you would never want to have in a million years. In fact, food taster and banquet attendant may sound pretty darn good in comparison. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Get Your Newspaper With Style

Get Your Newspaper With Style

Some people give out the newspapers in the morning with a loud and resonant, “Get your daily newspaper!”

Others with a call to duty, “Look alive people–it’s a workday!”

A more tame and spiritual approach is the man who wishes everyone with, “Have a blessed day!”

And finally this cheerful young lady who greets everyone coming out of the Metro with a warm smile and a great happy hat!

Thanks to all the hardworking folks providing the news at Metro in the mornings, in all weather, and also at no cost. ;-)

(Source photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Nature of Envy and Ambition

Throne

I watched a really good movie the other day called “The Violin.”

It was about a civil war in a South American country where freedom fighters are vastly outnumbered and outgunned and an old violinist tries to smuggle weapons and ammunition to his people in his violin case. 

At one point in the movie, their village in overrun by the army, and the boy’s mother and sister are killed. 

The little boy asks the grandfather to explain the horrible life events that have befallen them to him and the grandfather tells how G-d created the world with good people as well as people the are envious and ambitious and those people sought to take everything away from the others–no matter how much they accumulated, they wanted more.

I thought about this with respect to a quote I had learned in Yeshiva that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”–that those who have unbridled power and ability, will use it without limitation and in wrong and harmful ways to others, because they can.

Envy and ambition and power–can be used for good–when people see others succeed and are motivated to work hard and do their best too. 

But when people become blindly consumed with it for its own sake–they can’t stand anyone having more than them or even having anything–they think they should just as well have it all–then they will not just work hard to achieve it, but they will act out against others to unjustly take what they want and as much as they want. 

My father always taught me never to be jeoulous of anyone. He told me that if you knew what really went on in their lives–what their basket [of good and bad] was–you wouldn’t trade places with them in a million years. 

And I believe he was right. Often when I know someone only superficially and their life looks so grand and “perfect,” it is tempting to think they have it all or even just better, but then when you get to know their life challenges–sickness, abuse, death, loneliness, and other hardships–you realize how things could always be a lot worse and how truly lucky you are. 

Of course, there will there always be people who are superficial, materialistic, and can’t control their urge for power and things–and they will try to take more than their fair due and by force if necessary. In the end, will it bring them real fulfillment and happiness, the answer is obvious. 

I believe it was my Oma (grandmother), a survivor of The Holocaust, who used to say “count your blessings”–she was right. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Building Happiness, One Contribution At A Time

Dirty_hands

There was an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal(20 December 2012) comparing people who the [Powerball] lottery to those on social entitlements.

The author, Arthur Brooks stipulates that money unearned–”untethered from hard work and merit”–does not make people happy.

Brooks states that “Above basic subsistence, happiness comes not from money per se, but from the value creation it is rewarding.”

And this seems to jive with the concept that the greatest producer of happiness aside from social relationships is doing meaningful and productive work (and generally good deeds), not having lots of money and things!

In terms of winning the lottery (big) and not finding happiness, there was another article to this effect in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (13 December 2012), about someone who won the $314 million Powerball jackpot and had at one time been the largest lottery winner in history–but in the end, he found nothing but misery (lost his granddaughter, wife, money, and ended up a substance abuser) and wished he had never seen that “winning” ticket. Instead, he appreciated his previous life when he was known for his “good works,” and not just his money!

According to Brooks, “While earned success facilitates the pursuit of happiness, unearned transfers generally impede it.” And CNN reports that now more than 100 million Americans are on welfare, and that “does not include those who only receive Social Security or Medicare.”

The result as Brooks states is the fear is that we are becoming an ‘entitlement state,” and that it is bankrupting the country and “impoverishing” the lives of millions by creating a state of dependency, rather than self-sufficiency.

So are social entitlements really the same thing?

No. because without doubt, there are times when people need a safety net and it is imperative that we be there to help people who are in need–this is not the same as someone winning the lottery, but rather this is genuinely doing the right thing to help people!

At the same time, everyone, who can, must do their part to contribute to society–this means hard work and a fair day’s pay.

However, With the National Debt about to go thermonuclear, and the fiscal cliff (in whatever form it finally takes) coming ever closer to pocketbook reality, the country is on verge on confronting itself–warts and all.

We all woke up this morning, and the world was still here–despite the Mayans foretelling of the end of the world today. Perhaps, the end was never meant as a hard and fast moment, but rather the beginning of an end, where we must confront our spendthrift ways and historical social inequities.

While we cannot erase decades of mismanagement, what we can do is continue the march to genuinely embrace diversity, invest in education and research, help those who cannot help themselves, work hard and contribute, and build a country that our grandparents dreamed of–one that is paved in opportunity for everyone!

Let us pray that we are successful–for our survival, prosperity, and genuine happiness. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Brother Magneto)