#001 Thoughts on the topic of Happiness
Humans tend to be dissatisfied. We tend to live our lives in a state of unhappiness. Ask someone how they are and you are more likely to hear about what isn't so great, than you are about great things happening in their lives.

My theory is that we tend to live life judging it the same way we are "graded" in school.

"We count the number wrong, and subtract from 100".

Instead of looking at the number right, we look at the number wrong.

"That was great, but...." "OK, minus 2"

We tend to focus on whatever our biggest problem is. If we have 200 cell phone minutes per month, and we think our peers have 300, we are unhappy.

Perhaps a definition of happiness might be...

"Happiness is the difference between what your expect and what you experience."

In this case, I am happy, because what I experienced was better than what I expected.
In this case, I am unhappy, because what I experienced was worse than what I expected.

Several things seem interesting to me at this point.

1) There is no veritcal axis on this scale, no calibration, no sense of grounding
2) Life happiness sometimes comes from ever increasing expectations.
3) We seem to focus on "the worst problem" (even when the worst problem isn't much of a problem)

Let's take these one at a time....
The vertical axis problem.
"Going out to eat" used to mean McDonalds. In fact, there was a time when it seemed like a treat to go to McDonalds. If I got to go to McDonalds, I was "happy" because I expoected not to be able to go to McDonald's a lot, so when I did, it was special and I felt happy.

"Going out to eat" now more likely means somewhere I could get a steak. I like steak, but I like a good steak. A good steak is pink but not cold on the inside, it is tender, not chewy, and it has fat but no gristle. It has char broil marks on it, but it isn't burned. Now, when we "go out to eat", if I order a steak and it is a little too done, or too grisley, or not charred enough, I am not happy.

Just what in the world is going on here? I can be happy with a Big Mac (they are really good by the way, particularly since the bun recipe changed) but not with a Steak? Clearly steak is better than hamburger, it might even be better (or less worse) for me, but I can enjoy the Big Mac and not the steak. It is because when I have a Big Mac, my expectation bar is not as high as it is when I have a steak. The steak "my experience" probably exceeds the Big Mac "my experience", but that is not the comparison. The truth is I am comparing the steak "my expectation" the steak "my experience" and I am not happy as a result.

You live for years without an internet connection. As much as we don't want to admit it, inernet access is not required to sustain life. You get an intenet connection and for a while it seems just great - wow, look what it at the touch of a button. Then, one day, for one hour, the connection goes down. How are you? Horrible, your internet access has been down!

This principle is at-work in other areas as well. I was a teenager before cell phones were everywhere. What we now call cell phones were called "car phones" when I was a teenager and they probably cost about a million dollars a minute to use. When cell phones became popular, I didn't get one because it cost money to make a call with it, as opposed to using my land line which (as long as it was not long distance) didn't cost anything for the same result. True, I could not drive my car and yickety yak with someone else on the landline, but I am unlikely to do so with a cell phone because it costs money to use it. At the same time, many people do have cell phones and use them frequently, and yickety yaking on them in the car is probably a constitutionally protected right, so who am I to argue with them? On the other hand, I think about a cell phone as a luxury (an OK thing to have if you can afford it and if it is in the proper place in the priority list). Others think about a cell phone as a necessity. I recently heard about a "difficuult discussion" about how a teenager should only have a cell plan with 600 cellular minutes per month, and how the teenager thought this was an outrage! How dare parents place such restrictions on a teenager! After alll, their friends have 1,000 minutes per month and being strapped with a plan that only provides 600 minutes per month is clearly unreasonable.

Why can I be happy with a landline, and a teenager is not happy with 600 wireless minutes per month? It is a matter of the difference between what is expected and what is experienced.

In other words, the happiness does not come from the absolute value of an experience, it comes from a comparison to a standard which is arbitrary and on-balance not always reasonable.

Consider bottled water compared to filtered water to tap water to polluted water.

A trap is when we spend our lives thinking (wishing, desiring, lusting) for "the next step".

When I first began choosing my own music, I had an AM radio. Having one I could tune was so much better than I had before that and I was very happy! A few years later, I wished for, focused on, saved for, shopped for and secured a "stereo receiver". I bought some inexpenisive speakers (which I now consider far from acceptable) and had a far better music system -- I was happy. Then I wanted a hi-fi cassette deck, a "modern" turntable (that is a device used in ancient times to store and play back things called records by scraping a small diamond across the surface of a vinyl disk). Then an amplifier that I never thought I could afford became available at a very low cost due to a model-year closeout and later some tower speakers that were way more than I thought I could have were stolen (from the retail store), scratched, recovered and priced about 1/3 of their actual value. I was very happy. "Pro-logic" surround sound came along, and I needed a new receiver and then I started wishing for higher-end tower speakers and then a sub woofer, and then eventually, pro-logic was replaced by dolby 5.1, which required a new receiver, which amazingly enough works just fine with the speakers I have. Each step made me very happy, because I felt like I was making progress.

This is a very narrow fence to walk on.

On one hand, it is reasonable to take steps to make life better. My Father had a better education than his Father had. I have a good education and I hope My Son has more opportunities than I have. I used to ride in a car without seatbelts (we used to ride in the back window - it was really great). My Son rode in a car seat with a five-point seatbelt just like the Indy cars.

On the other hand, We have a microwave oven. The first one ran for 22 years and became such a part of our world that we though of it as a necessity. When it quit, I didn't ask myself "do we need a microwave?" I asked "how do we get a microwave in a reasonable amount of time". My grandmother cooked quite well for decades without a microwave oven. It was a luxury when it was first introduced to our family when I was in High School. "Wow, look at how fast Popcorn can be easily popped", any numner of things happened faster as a result. In 25 years, it moved from being a luxury to being a necessity. Cellphones made the transition in 10 years. It is herasy now, but neither cell phones nor microwave ovens are necessities. Air conditioners in houses, in cars and in schools are a luxury.

My Paternal Grandmother was a colorful woman. She was a bit heavy, and as long as I knew her, she had trouble getting up and down and walking around. After the sale of the family farm, my Grandmother moved "into town". In the smal town where she lived, a program was available which in her words "well, they come by and pick up a lof ot the old folks " and took them to the city swimming pool. There, for a little while, my Grandmother's weight was offset by the water. I was surprised (but impressed) to learn that the best part of the experience from her perspective was that she is always reminded "that other folks have it worse off than I do".

It is easy to be frustrated by what we do not have, by out height, our ability to take great photographs, our abiliy to make music, to write music, to paint or to invent something. I think that if we had a way to look objectively at our situation, we would find ourselves living really good lives.

100 years ago (during the lifetime of some people):
  • Tap water was not always safe to drink. Today we drink bottled water because some tap water "has a taste we don't like"
  • There was not always enough food produced in the United States to feed Americans. Today we sue fast-food restaurants for selling us too many Burgers.
  • A horrible deiease called Polio affected thousands of people in the United States, in the 1950's and 60's this disease was almost wiped out of our population.
  • Consider the progress of a trip from New York to Paris. In 1900 you could travel by Steamship - 7 days. In 1927 Lindberg did it (and made the news) in 2.5 days. Today you can fly in 12 hours and we complain about jet lag. I guess if it is that much of a problem, we could get some steamships and do it in 7 days.