Tag Archives: history

You Can Have Happiness Despite Life’s Problems

Affluence is a blessing but it is also a curse. It brings better health, greater material pleasure, and the opportunity to aid those less fortunate. While perhaps it is true that money will not buy happiness, you can purchase so many distractions you may not realize you are miserable. At least for a while.

You Can Have Happiness Despite Life’s Problems

Our society is not just monetarily well off, it has a wealth of solutions to our everyday challenges. In the last two hundred years, we have seen so many inventions that have made our lives easier it seems there is an answer for every problem.

For most of human history if you had a headache there was no remedy. Then in the early 19th century, the compound that would become aspirin was isolated. Today we have a plethora of painkillers.

It was around that same time that train travel began. Previously, you journeyed no faster than a fleet horse or swift ship, awfully slow by today’s standard of almost universally available jet travel. Rapid communication, also taken for granted today due to ubiquitous cell phones, dates from about the mid 19th century.

Herein lies the curse. As ever more weighty problems are solved, we grow ever more accustomed to this being the way things work. We expect life to be, if not pain-free, forthcoming of a solution. So, when we face an intractable challenge it impacts us more deeply. We refuse to resign ourselves to reality.

Technology can overcome many things – human emotion is not one of them.

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Prolonged unhappiness results. For example, many of the young sailors with whom I was deployed were unhappy that they did not have continuous Internet or telephone access. During the periods of unavailability, about 15% or 20% of the time we were at sea, their morale plummeted. Interestingly, submariners, who have no connectivity while deployed have much better morale.

Reality is that expecting there to be a solution for every problem is far more likely to cause unhappiness. Be grateful for the convenience of modern life but be prepared to meet life’s challenges with the understanding that a lot of the time there will be no easy solution.

Here is the key to mental fitness: accept life as it comes, even as you strive to improve your situation.

Question – What are the challenges you think we will always face?

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Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Do you stoop to pick up pennies? It hardly seems worth the effort. Proof of this attitude lays in the abundance of pennies I have seen in the parking lot of the Bachelor Officers Quarters in which I am staying while working at Naval Base Point Loma.

Why a Penny Is Worth More Than One Cent

Probably the first coin minted in the United States, the penny has been around since the chain cent was issued in 1793, two hundred and twenty years ago. In 1990, 2001, and 2006 legislation was introduced to eliminate the penny. The debate continues. Since 2007 the cost of the raw materials for making the penny has exceeded its value. As of February 2011, they were 2.4¢. In comparison, it costs about 11¢ to make a nickel.

A survey conducted last year indicated that 67% of Americans favored keeping the penny. More than three-quarters of these respondents thought businesses would raise prices if the penny were gone.

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I have more transcendent reasons for keeping the penny:

• In an increasingly digital world, the penny is tactile. And while much of our world is tangible, the penny is an object that everyone in our country can afford to have.

• Pennies are beautiful: delicately engraved, bright and shiny when new, tarnishing as they get old.

• They prompt us to remember the past, those who have done great things for our country.

• Despite our differences and disagreements, the penny brings to mind that we are all Americans. Its depiction of our de facto national motto, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One,” reminds us to be authentic to our distinctiveness and to aspire to be united too.

• Finally, the penny reminds us that what we think about and how we treat the lowliest in our society is up to each of us as individuals. If we drop a penny on the ground it is up to us to retrieve it rather than letting it be run over and scarred. No one will come behind us to fulfill this responsibility. Also, when we find a discarded penny, even though we did not drop it, we can take a moment of our time to reach down, pick it up, put it in our pocket, and later return it to circulation where it rightly belongs.

While I am guilty of having passed by many a penny, I do not do so anymore. I stoop to pick up pennies. Do you?

Question – How would you feel if pennies were no longer minted?

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But Will It Enhance Our Lives?

Let’s play word association. If I say “new” what word do you think of? Did you say improved? Madison Avenue hopes so. But is it right? Are new and improved inseparable?

But Will It Enhance Our Lives?

About a year ago The Wall Street Journal reported “It's Alive! Vinyl Makes a Comeback.” Many musicians and audiophiles acknowledge the superior sound quality of records. Digital recording allows endless copying without incremental deterioration, but it does not capture the excellence of the original. Compact discs and MP3s were a quantitative improvement, less costly to produce and taking up less storage space, but a qualitative retrogression.

Many people feel Blu-rays are a qualitative improvement with more vivid images and better sound. However, they cost more than DVDs.

The paradigm is New Coke. It tasted worse than original Coke yet cost the same.

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Americans have long been captivated by what is new. A rallying cry of the 1960s was not to trust anyone over 30. Now that many of us are beyond this age do we still think it is good to discard those who have had the chance to gain wisdom? Social media gurus exhort us to throw out the old and embrace change, typically with at best a superficial analysis of the benefits and no thought to the unintended consequences.

New is not always improved. As noted above, negative aspects often counterbalance positive ones. Perhaps it is time to end the equivalency of new with improved and acknowledge such changes for what they are: different. Examined from this viewpoint we are more likely to make an objective decision about whether the change will improve our lives.

Question – Can you think of something that improved our lives qualitatively and quantitatively?

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Why Myths Benefit Society

Do you know the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree? My daughter, in the tradition of generations of American school children, learned it for President’s Day. It teaches the virtue of telling the truth, even when doing so may result in being punished. Is the story truth or legend? More importantly, does it matter?

Why Myths Benefit Society

When I got to the submarine squadron, I met the chaplain for Naval Base Point Loma. We had a delightful conversation that addressed many subjects, among them the place of myth in the fabric of a society. We talked about how the Bible often uses parables and allegories to explain moral lessons.

That many of these stories did not happen is irrelevant to the profound teachings they reveal. They endure because they are vivid and memorable. Perhaps it will not seem strange that we were equally fervent in embracing cultural myths. One stipulation: they must convey truth.

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By all accounts, George Washington was extraordinarily honest. That Mason Locke Weems may have fabricated the cherry tree story does not detract from its value as a lesson in civic virtue. Arguably, Weems’s myth has done a great service by making such an admirable characteristic of our first president indelible.

As we strive for truth, it is well to remember that it can be uncovered in many ways.

Question – Which myths do you find to be valuable or destructive?

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How to Beat Inflation – In Language

Remember Mary Poppins? A beloved film classic, the scene of the nannies being blown away by the wind astounded my daughter. They seemed to be actually flying. While explaining how the effect was done, I thought about contemporary movies with similar scenes, the one coming most readily to mind being Spiderman. Don’t the nannies flying in harnesses with wires look much more real than a CGI Spiderman swinging from building to building?

How to Beat Inflation – In Language

While CGI-laden movies make big money at the box office, it is interesting to note that on Box Office Mojo’s 50 all-time top domestic grossing movies, adjusted for ticket price inflation, only ten are ones that use extensive CGI. Mary Poppins is 25th on the list while Spiderman is 36th. So the awe-inspiring movie, at least as demonstrated by my daughter’s reaction, is higher on the list than a movie with a type of effects, CGI, which is routinely labeled awesome. Do you see the contradiction?

It appears people know the difference between the everyday and the extraordinary. But for some reason, they feel compelled to exaggerate.

The overuse of the word awesome is a phenomenon I call language inflation. At some point calling something good was not good enough so it became successively great, rad, and eventually awesome. Now the most mundane thing is awesome. How do we describe that which truly inspires awe? Lest you think I am picking on the word awesome, language inflation afflicts negative descriptions too. Bad was eventually magnified to evil. If the commonplace is evil what was Hitler?

If you want to communicate well, avoid language inflation:

  1. Take a beat before speaking to ensure that you are not overstating the case. For instance, when complaining about your spouse’s behavior is it really true he never puts down the toilet seat? She is always late? Always? Not only is inflated language inaccurate, it can be inflammatory, causing arguments or bad feelings that more precise words would avoid.
  2. Practice refraining from language inflation in your everyday speech. Especially in the heat of an argument, it is easy to forget that words have meaning. Make it a habit to be careful when choosing words.
  3. Expand your vocabulary to improve your communication skills and relationships. The richness of English gives you so many choices. There are numerous, free apps to help you. I use dictionary.com’s.

Imagine a society in which we say what we mean and do not offend people. Do I dare say it? It would be awesome.

Question - Is being well-spoken obsolete? Please leave a comment below.

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