Tracking the “Time” of Your Life

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Keeping track of time! Marking your days. Marking your weeks and months. Keeping a daily or monthly calendar. Keeping a diary. There are many ways we can keep track of our time. Some think it is a key to managing a successful life. Time flies when you are having too much fun but tracking time helps insure that we use our time wisely or does it? There are few things that are unambiguously good. Most of what we do has pros and cons or unintended consequences.  Is this true with tracking our time?

412BOkJrofL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_The concept of tracking time brings forth images of tracking some wild beast in the woods. Deer, moose, bear, cougars, tigers all leave very distinctive tracks. Time also leaves distinctive tracts. Time leaves physical as well as emotional tracks on all of us. Not to mention the tracks that time leaves on the environment. Emotional tracks are evident in the greater cautiousness and fears that we have as we age. From experience, once burned, we no longer want to get so close to the flame. Indeed, many of us will not even go near the fire again. Divorce, rejection, death, pain all leave emotional scars. For some of us they may never quite heal. Physical tracks show up as lines, creases, joint aches, hair thinning, broken bones and disease. I often joke that physically I am aging more like cheese then a fine wine. I am getting squishier and somewhat moldy around the edges.

downloadPerhaps you see the idea of “tracking time” through a different lens. Maybe you have a need to track your minutes and seconds each day, a twist on tracking your dollars and cents. Perhaps, if you watch your time carefully, you may have more of it. Mark down your time spent each day in an Excel spreadsheet and carefully log your corresponding activities. This last task seems somewhat obsessive to me even though I am often accused of being a Type A personality. I once worked at a job where I was required to check my work in fifteen minute intervals each day and log what I was doing during each interval. After I left this company, I decided I would never again work for anyone where I had to justify myself at this level of detail. It was simply an exercise in obsessive control and domination.

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Type A personalities are supposed to be more compulsive and more aggressive than Type B personalities. Are type A personalities more prone to track their time? Are Type B personalities more prone to go with the flow? Do Type B people live more moment to moment? Are you a Type A or Type B personality? Do you go with the flow or do you track your time? Regarding the physical and emotional tracks that time leaves, how have you fared? What emotional tracks has time left in your life? What physical tracks do you see time making for you? Where are you headed now?

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

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The Seven Social Sins is a list created by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1925.  He published this list in his weekly newspaper “Young India” on October 22, 1925.  Later he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi on their final day together shortly before his assassination.  The Seven Sins are:

  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Commerce without morality.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.

I wrote a blog for each of Gandhi’s “sins” about ten years ago.  The blogs seemed to be quite popular with my readers.  I am going to update and repost each of the Seven Sins for the next few weeks.  Karen and I are making some major changes in our living arrangements and I probably will not find the time to write much new material.  I am reposting these because they still seem to be quite relevant in these challenging and chaotic times.

Wealth Without Work:  The First of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of acquiring a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual.  However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for instant gratification with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W. E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately, our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts.  Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune.  Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens.  It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight.  All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on a celebrity TV show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success.  One day PSI was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing at the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is needed for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin?”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

“Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do.  Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers.  The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits.  With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider.  To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need.  The United States provides a typical example.  The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health.  What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing.” ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success.  The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic.  These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around.  The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere.  You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles.  Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage.  The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others.  The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

Persico Challenge:  Issue Number 3 – What Will Be the Impact from Increased Life Expectancies Around the World?

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This is the third of three “Challenge” questions that my friend Jane Fritz and I agreed to reply to.  We each sent three questions to the other and we had 12 months to reply to all three questions.  I answered Jane’s first question on Feb 19th of this year.  (American Exceptionalism).  I answered her second question on April 3rd (How Can We Save the Environment)  This is Jane’s 3rd and final question followed by my reply.  I think Jane “cheated” a little on this one since you may notice that there are actually several questions connected to the issue that Jane describes.

Jane’s Third and Final Question:

Life expectancy around the world has increased 10-30 years from 1950 alone, depending on the country.  People born in developed and many developing countries in 2020 can expect to live – on average – to be at least 80 years old.  At the same time, the birthrate is decreasing around the world even faster than was projected.  India’s recent news of its birth rate falling below replacement levels is a case in point.  What will such significant changes in population demographics have on people 30 years from now, when the baby boomers still alive will be 85-105 years old?  What will the impact be on children?  On young adults?  On mid-career adults?  On retirees?  When will people be able to retire when 30% or more of the population is over 65?  Any position(s) on any part of this question is acceptable!

There are several curious things about the issues that Jane raises.  Let me state them as a sort of preamble to my answer.

  1. Much of the increased longevity is due to falling infant mortality which raises the overall average longevity. Looking at a research study that examined people over age of sixty-five found that longevity has continued to increase even when isolating the more elderly.

“The researchers looked at birth and death data for people above age 65 from 1960-2010. They found that the average age of death in those who live to be older than 65 increased by three years in every 25-year period, which means that people can expect to live about six years longer than their grandparents, on average.”   — Lifespan is continuing to increase regardless of socioeconomic factors, Stanford researchers find

  1. Much of the reason for falling birth rates is correlated with increased incomes throughout the world. Data shows that:

“Countries that experience a decline in their birth rate sometimes realize a demographic dividend, an economic boost that can last years or even decades.  Improving health care and boosting literacy have been shown to break the cycle of extreme poverty and extreme fertility.”  — The Relationship Between Fertility and National Income

There are many exceptions to the above finding.  In addition, the age distribution of the population also plays a role in the wealth of a country.  By and large, countries with more elderly people tend to have higher average incomes than those with younger people.

  1. Happiness does not seem to be correlated with higher incomes.

“The results were almost universally consistent across the United States and much of the world,” Aaker says.  “Among low-income people, having a sense of meaning in one’s life is more closely associated with overall happiness.”A Global Look at the Connections Between Happiness, Income, and Meaning

  1. Several studies I have recently seen show that income inequality leads to lower levels of reported happiness. The greater the income inequality, the less happy people are.

“While happiness did track the level of economic development across these 16 advanced nations, the results changed when inequality was added to the equation.  Higher levels of inequality led to lower levels of happiness, even in the most economically advanced nations. In fact, the researchers found that the percentage of respondents who said they were very happy was inversely correlated with income inequality (with a negative correlation of −.618).”Income Inequality Leads to Less Happy People

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Demographics is an extremely important element of social change.  I bring up some of the above points because the questions that Jane raises are quite involved.  Economics, wealth, social justice, politics, technology, environmental factors, and a universal desire for happiness all play a role in social change that in many cases are just as important as demographics.

Experts also attribute social change to ideological factors and the “great man/woman” theory.  This latter theory posits that social changes are more impacted by leadership issues than any other factors.  We can certainly find evidence to support any one of these theories.  My raising these issues is from a belief that we cannot understand the world by simply looking at any one set of factors.  The world is much more complex than humans or even computer models are able to portray.

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So, without any more “excuses”, how will the world change as birth rates fall?  I think the major impacts will be due to a rising standard of living.  The evidence seems to show that standards of living the world over are rising.  In addition, media and technology link the world in a mutual bond that is tighter than any that ever existed in history.  This will mean rising expectations for a better life for many formerly poor and impoverished people.  My caveat here is that with the environment changing more rapidly than was predicted by climate models, I am unsure how rising incomes will help anyone escape the ever more extreme weather events that beset us daily.  In the past, the rich were always more shielded from such events than the poor.  The poor lived in the valleys while the rich lived in the mountain tops.

A rising standard of living is not necessarily  a panacea or a pathway to happiness as I have shown above with the research on happiness.  If ideology is such that people expect more than they will get, rising standards of living could lead to more of the type of dysfunctions that we see in the USA.  Despite some of the highest income levels in the world, the USA does very poorly on a number of social indicators.  In terms of health, the USA shows very poorly:

  • The United States ranks No. 33 out of 36 OECD countries in infant mortality
  • Among the 33 OECD countries with self-reported obesity data available, the United States ranks last
  • The U.S. life expectancy at birth of 78.6 years ranks No. 28 out of the 36 OECD countries

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Health is a major factor affecting the quality of life we live, and how happy we are.  Incomes and affluence have not been distributed equally in the USA where income inequality is some of the highest in the world.  It would seem that not only does income inequality lead to less happiness but it also impacts health outcomes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States’ Gini coefficient was 48.9% in 2020. This ranks as the country’s highest Gini in at least the past 50 years.  The U.S. also has the highest Gini coefficient among the G7 nations. The top 1% of earners in the United States earn about 40 times more than the bottom 90% of earners, and roughly 33 million U.S. workers earn less than $10 per hour, placing a family of four below the poverty line.

The Gini coefficient, or Gini index, is a statistical measure of income inequality developed by Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912.  There are several caveats and limitations to the Gini coefficient and if you are interested you can find more detail about the coefficient and its limitations at:  World Population Review.

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If the world can adapt to the coming climate changes and if the world will allow incomes and affluence to be more equitable, I think the declining birthrates may be a blessing.  In the sixties, I was part of a movement called ZPG.  This stood for Zero Population Growth.  We believed that stopping population growth was key to living within the limited resources that we thought the planet provided.  The movement was never very popular.  Those pushing for unlimited growth and unlimited development continually won battles for more development and more growth. Those that profited from this growth sold the American people that growth is essential to development and that we would all be happier with more growth.  This has been a bigger lie bought by more Americans than the election lie that Trump has tried to sell.

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Bottom line, lower birthrates may lead to increased affluence which may lead to better health care which may lead to happier people.  However, the happiness factor as well as health care factor will depend on how the affluence is distributed.  If it is distributed as it is in the USA, it will lead to increased social fractioning and decreased levels of happiness and health care.  All of this will be mitigated by more extreme and more volatile weather events.  If the “stress” level of the world increases, we will see more violence and warfare as nations fight for the level of affluence that they believe they deserve or as they try to maintain a level of affluence at the expense of nations that are trying to get their share of the affluence.

Thanks Jane for a great set of questions.  I only wish I could have done more justice to them.  I fear my answers lack the perspicacity to fully address the complexity of so many of the issues that you have raised.

What If?

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  • What if I die tomorrow?
  • What if I lose all my money?
  • What if I never find true love?
  • What if I lose my health?
  • What if there is no god?
  • What if there is no meaning to life?
  • What if my writing really sucks?
  • What if my partner dies before I do?
  • What if I am a coward?
  • What if the sun does not come up tomorrow?

So many things to worry about and so little time to do it.  Just for fun I typed in Google “What if,”  I used the parentheses to ensure that it would look up the question as a whole rather than just what or if.  It returned 3,190,000,000 hits.  For perspective, I then typed in “I am sorry.”  This returned 40,000,000 hits.  Admittedly, these are very spurious results to draw any conclusions from, but I will anyway.  I conclude that more people are worried than they are sorry.  Either that or they spend more time worrying than they do sorrowing.  What do you think?

Is ”What if” the meanest phrase ever written?  We seem to think in the negative when we use these two words.  Choose any of the questions from the list above and see how you would answer them.  I would guess most of your answers will suggest some unhappiness, gloom, sadness, or even a loss of desire for life.  We can see “end of the world” scenarios in most of these “what ifs.”

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But what if the expectations and goals that are reflected in our responses were stripped out of our thoughts?  Would we be happier or more depressed?  Let me give you an example.  Some people would say that if there is no meaning to life, it is not worth living.  What would be the point of getting up each day, going to work, coming home, eating, making love, and going to bed?  On the other hand, if we rid ourselves of the expectation or need to have meaning in our lives, perhaps this “what if” would not bother us at all.  We would not care one iota if there was or was not any meaning.  The same could be said for all the questions I started this blog off with.  It is our expectations that give us a negative twist for each of these issues.

You might argue that I selected only issues that have a potentially negative response.  For instance, the sun not coming up is unlikely to have a positive outcome under any circumstances.  Then let us look at some positive “what ifs?”  Here are a few:

  • What if I won the lottery?
  • What if I found my true love?
  • What if my life does have meaning and purpose?

6f2b74dab966ae86c4beae966dded6eaBefore you go off on a binge of happiness and celebrations, think for a minute what a positive answer to these questions might mean.  There are still expectations and assumptions associated with any answer to the above questions.  You assume that if you won the lottery, that you would not have to worry about paying bills, buying things you want etc.  You assume that if you found true love, it would last forever and forever.  You assume that finding meaning and purpose would bring you happiness.  To all of these possibilities, I say maybe.  You still have many choices and outcomes to each of these scenarios.  These choices can leave us just as captive to our desires and wants as any of our responses to the “negative” “what ifs.”

Why is this so?  Are there any positive outcomes possible for us?  Why is easy to answer.  It is because nothing is permanent.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Nothing you or I can do will ensure that life will work out just as we wanted it to or just as we planned it to.  Whether we attach ourselves to happiness or misery, we are still attached.  Zen Buddhism gives us the concept of “non-attachment.”  But non-attachment is easier said than done.

“Every day as I wave to my children when I drop them off at school or let one of them have a new experience—like crossing the street without holding my hand—I experience the struggle between love and non-attachment.  It is hard to bear—the extreme love of one’s child and the thought that ultimately the child belongs to the world.  There is this horrible design flaw—children are supposed to grow up and away from you; and one of you will die first.”Sarah Ruhl, “The Oldest Boy: A Play in Three Ceremonies

Madison Avenue is the enemy of “non-attachment.”  The people who market for corporations want you to believe that unless you are attached to something, you will live a miserable life.  They would prefer that you were attached to things or services that money can buy.  The idea is for you to believe that you are no good unless you own things.  The bigger the things that you own or the more expensive the things that you own, the happier you will be.  Success is the pathway to happiness because it will allow you to buy and own more expensive things than your neighbors.

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However, it is not only things that you can buy that are attachments.  There are many intangibles that you can become attached to.  Some of these are for sale and some not.  Many people are attached to status and prestige.  For enough money you can buy prestigious memberships in exclusive country clubs, political positions by spending enormous amounts on advertising or expensive cruises.  Status is an intangible, but it can be bought.  Status in society circles can be achieved by spending and donating money to the right causes.  Have you ever gone to a concert and noticed how the list of donors are ranked on the concert handout. Platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and honorable mention is one scheme that I have seen.  There are other rankings, but they all point to the prestige and status that comes from being able to donate more money than anyone else.

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I have a good friend who always told me that “We need to let go of things.”  Ironically, years later and I would place him pretty low in my list of people who can let go of things.  He knew in his head that attachment and ego were barriers to fulfillment.  But knowing, feeling, and doing are as much alike as a snowstorm, tornado, and earthquake.  Controlling one does not necessarily mean that you can control the others.  There are men and women who are intellectual geniuses but incompetent when it comes to managing their emotions or doing something that they know should be done.

Stepping-into-riverMy conclusion is that “What ifs” are intellectually amusing as a past-time but as for practical value they are close to useless.  Seldom will you ever get to apply a solution to a “What if.”  The possibility of something in real life happening exactly like it did the first time is less than the chance of finding identical snowflakes or fingerprints.  Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 B.C. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”   Those who forget the past may be condemned to repeat it, but the past will never be the same again.  Living requires adaptability and resilience.

Non-attachment is the best way to keep an open mind as to the possibilities that we will face each day as the sun comes up yet once again.

“To use the more traditional term “non-attachment,” I like to think of non-attachment as meaning “not attaching stuff to your sense of self.”  It doesn’t mean not investing yourself in things and doesn’t mean you don’t do everything in your power to bring about the outcome you hope for.  It just means not getting too caught up in your stories.” — “What Zen “Acceptance” and “Non-Attachment” Really Are” by  Domyo, May 4, 2017, Dharma Talks

How to Find Meaning and Purpose in Life

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Two most important elements in any life are meaning and purpose.  Your soul, your spirit and your sense of well-being may depend more on these two elements than anything else you will ever find.  Money, fame, and success will mean nothing if you do not believe that you are living a life consistent with your purpose.  Nothing you buy or acquire will have any importance to you if you do not feel that your life has any meaning.

Many books have been written about the elements of meaning and purpose.  Two of the most famous are “The Purpose Driven Life” and “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

 “Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same thing; You can reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the worlds standard and still miss your purpose in this life.”  — “The Purpose Driven Life” —  Rick Warren

“These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus, it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny” — “Man’s Search for Meaning” —  Viktor Frankl

Perhaps, you still do not know what the difference is between purpose and meaning.  Do not despair.  There are as many ideas about the meaning of these two elements as there are about life after death.  Everyone seems to have their own ideas about these qualities, but everyone agrees on one thing; they are essential for a life that is worthwhile.  I am going to give you my take on them.  What they mean and how to find them for yourself.

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What Is the Difference between Meaning and Purpose?

We live in a world of contrasts and dualities.  Up and down, back and forth, good and bad, happiness and sadness.  Perhaps these are only our own perspective that we cast onto the world but for better or worse we are stuck with them.  The Yin and Yang concept is very useful in thinking about the world.  For every Yin there is a Yang.

“The principal belief of the Yin Yang is reflected in the categorization of musical tones. The two main forms of Taoist music are the Yin Tone and the Yang Tone.  Yin stands for all things that are female and soft and Yang stands for all things male and hard.  Through the proper balance of Yin (female) and Yang (male) a Taoist can find harmony and simplicity in all things.” (Bowker, 2000) — Wikipedia

Esoteric_Taijitu-5c85cc7b46e0fb00014319cdMeaning and purpose are Yin and Yang to each other.  Purpose is outside you and is what you do in the world.  For me purpose involves doing.  Meaning is inside you and what you do for yourself.  Meaning involves being rather than doing.  Let’s use a running race as an example.

I am a runner.  I have been running since I was twenty-five years old. I have run dozens of races.  Some of them were long and some were very short.  Let’s say I run a race and do so half-heartedly.  By fate or circumstance, I come in first place.  My purpose was to run and win the race or at least my age division now that I am 75.  How I ran it is somewhat irrelevant to my purpose.  In this case, I won, and I get the medal or trophy.  I may not have done my best, but the world does not care.  It rewards winners and not losers.  What we do for the world is our purpose.  We may not do our best, but we may still win the award.

My purpose in life is to help bring different perspectives and insights to the world through my writings.  I want to challenge conventional ways of doing things and thinking about things.  That is my purpose in life.  Purpose for me is about doing and not about being.

Back to the race.  I can run the race and give it my best.  I may go all out and still come in tenth or even dead last.  If I  know I did my best, I will feel good about myself, even though my results will not receive any accolades or awards.  To me, this is meaning.

img_7909Meaning in my dictionary is about living up to my potential, my values and my beliefs by doing the best I can each day to be consistent with them.  No one may ever know if I am being kind, compassionate or patient today.  You cannot see the inner virtues that I want to live by.  I am the only person at the end of each day who can judge whether or not my life had any meaning today.  If I can be the best person that I want to be each day, I will die feeling that my life had meaning.  To the rest of the world, I may just be another old teacher, old veteran or old guy who lived an average life and died at an average age.  Meaning to me is about being and not doing.

Martin Luther King in his famous Eulogy Speech summed up the meaning of his life very well when he told the world how we wanted to be remembered:

“Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice.  Say that I was a drum major for peace. I  was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

I won’t have any money to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that is all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a well song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.”

We should all write a eulogy for ourselves before we die.  This is to let the world know what we tried to be and tried to do.  The world will see what we did do.  You won’t have to tell the world what you did.  Purpose is written in accomplishments, but meaning is written in how people feel about you.  Purpose is pride and success while meaning is love and integrity.  In some respects, it is impossible to separate being from doing and meaning from purpose.  They flow together like melody and rhythm in a song. They can be separated but together they make life more beautiful.

See my blog:  “How about writing your eulogy today?”

How do I find my purpose in life?

Your purpose in life will depend on both your skills and your interests.  If you match the two you may find what your purpose in life is.  If you have skills in mathematics or science and you are interested in the medical field, you may devote your life to working as a doctor or medical researcher.  If you love music and have a skill for playing instruments, perhaps you will be a composer or music teacher or musician.  These skills will be the vehicles that you use to share your purpose with the world.

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The above diagram was developed to help people find what their purpose in life is.  It has four elements which overlap.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What can you be paid for?
  • What does the world need?

Ask yourself these four questions.  If you can find a way to make the answers mesh, you will have found your purpose in life.  Over time, your interest and the world’s needs may change.  Finding purpose is not always a once and for all effort.  Some lucky people find a purpose which takes them all through life.  Many of us will have several purposes before we finish our journey through life.

How do I find my meaning in life?

There are hundreds of formulas and suggestions for how to find meaning in life.  The one thing I am certain of is that each of us must define our own meaning.  We define our meaning by deciding what we want to be in life.  Notice, I did not say what we want to do in life.  What makes this a difficult question to answer is that what we want to be is defined by how we go about being.  We must realize that being and doing are inseparable.  There is a Yin and Yang here.

Ask yourself, what do I want to be?

new1_10If I answer, I want to be rich,  my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about becoming rich and what I do with my money.  If I want to be a writer, my meaning will be defined by what I write and how I go about the writing process.  If  I want to be happy, my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about achieving happiness.  No one except me can judge how I define myself.  People may say that I am not very rich or that I am not a very good writer, but it is what I believe about myself which will define my meaning in life.  Vincent Van Gogh is now widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time.  His paintings sell for millions of dollars.  However, in his lifetime, he sold only one painting.  It was to his sister-in-law who felt sorry for him.

91QvVMwW4BL._AC_SY606_“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”Quotes from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ©Excellence Reporter 2020 Vincent Van Gogh,

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I realize as I write this that some people will never care about the meaning or purpose of their lives.  Just as some people are goal oriented and others are not, meaning and purpose may be subjects that not all people desire or can even pursue.  Perhaps they are luxuries of a more educated or affluent existence.  Perhaps people born into abject poverty and hunger have more to worry about then the meaning and purpose of their lives.  Aldonza in the “Man of La Mancha” sang:

ALDONZA

Take the clouds from your eyes

and see me as I really am!

You have shown me the sky,

But what good is the sky

To a creature who’ll never

Do better than crawl?

9781780749327_27I conclude with the consideration that Meaning and Purpose may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  I confess that it was much later in my life and many hurdles had been taken and many obstacles overcome before I started caring about the meaning and purpose of life.  Now I look back and shake my head with some sorrow that I did not grasp their import on life when I was in my teens.  A have learned that a life without meaning and purpose is not a life, it is just living.

Happy? Happy? Happy? or Why Ain’t I Happier?

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We all feel that we are entitled to be happy.  The Bill of Rights lists happiness as one of our inalienable rights.  Actually, it lists the “pursuit of happiness.”  Just like chasing a rabbit or health or winning the lottery, you are assured of no guarantee that you will catch happiness.  But that won’t stop most of us from trying.  The sad part is that most of us will probably fail.

Failure in any endeavor is always assured if you don’t know what you are doing or if you don’t have a strategy.  But voila, that is where John and his Magic Blog come in.  I am here to give you six methods for catching happiness.  Furthermore, I will not charge you one cent for learning how you can be happy for the rest of your life.  So, listen closely, pay attention, and take notes if you have to.  I may only keep this blog up for a week, just in case I get inundated with requests from Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show and/or Jimmy Kimmel.  Fame is not really conducive to happiness regardless of what they try to tell you.

Let’s start with one basic fact.  There are multiple theories about happiness.  What this means to me is that there is more than one road to happiness.  I have identified six different secrets or theories for obtaining happiness.  I will share each one of these secrets with you and give you the pros and cons as I see them.

Ooops, I almost forgot.  Some things will not make you happy even if the experts tell you that they will.  The following is a list of things that “ain’t necessarily so” when it comes to finding happiness. I list these so you can stay on track and not get seduced by what so many of your friends and neighbors think will make them happy.

  • Money
  • Good health
  • Fame
  • Power
  • Lots of friends
  • Family
  • Gourmet food
  • Long life
  • Sports
  • Reading
  • Taking naps
  • Sex
  • Children

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 1.  Absolute Theory of Happiness 

This theory says that happiness is a permanent trait that you too can find or acquire if you only try hard enough.  Happiness is an attribute like integrity or honesty.  Once you find it or get it, all you have to do is hold onto it.  It exists like a pot of gold somewhere buried and if you search long enough and hard enough you can find it.  People in search of happiness try many of the items on my above list in the hope that one of these will give them happiness.

Pros:

  • Treats happiness as a journey or quest.
  • Looks at happiness as a trait that can be acquired.

Cons:

  • Endless searching for something that is usually a dead end.
  • Happiness is not usually outside but more often inside.
  • Happiness is seldom if ever permanent.
  • Having things will not make you happy.

 2.  Contingency Theory of Happiness

imagesThis theory says that happiness is dependent on other things happening in your life.  You must have these other things going on or you will not be happy.  If you have a good family, or good job or you have meaningful work, you will be happy.  Contingency is like a correlation in statistics.  The process of having a good family correlates with happiness but having a good family does not make you happy.  Some things have a higher correlation with happiness than other things.  Some people believe that having less things is more conducive to happiness than owning a bunch of things.

Pros:

  • There is some correlation between happiness and living or doing the right things.
  • Doing the right things may result in some temporary happiness.

Cons:

  • Finding happiness is more complex than simply doing the right things.

3.  Outcome Theory of Happiness

downloadThis could also be called the “Cause and Effect” theory of happiness.  This theory says that certain things or activities will lead to the outcome of happiness.  For instance, becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist may lead an athlete to happiness.

Pros:

  • Great achievements and meaningful accomplishments can lead to happiness.

Cons:

  • No matter how much you have accomplished or how great your accomplishments are, the satisfaction you will receive and the happiness you may derive will only be temporary.

4.  Relative Theory of Happiness

xKgn9039You will always be happy in proportion to how happy others are around us.  If I have a great deal of money but my friends have more, I will be unhappy.  However, if I have a bigger office than anybody else in the company, I will be happier than they are.  The state of being happy will always be relative or in comparison to some other standard that I mark my happiness by.

Pros:

  • Humans have a great propensity to compare themselves to others.  If you are better, you may achieve a sense of happiness from your pride at being better.

Cons:

  • Pride and comparisons will always change. You may be on top for awhile but soon you will be on the bottom.  When you are on the bottom your happiness will disappear.

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5.  Average Theory of Happiness

Happiness is viewed as an average state of being.  You can never be beyond some mean of happiness.  Perhaps your mean will be different than mine, but you will not be able to go much above or below your limits.  Just as everyone has different physical limits, everyone has different limits to their happiness.  Some people are just happier than others and there is nothing that you can do or change to alter your happiness mean.  You are just going to be average happy and that is that.

Pros:

  • It may be more realistic to be satisfied with life as you know it.  Satisfaction and gratitude will convey a sense of happiness even if you are never the happiest person in the world.
  • You may never be exceptionally happy but you may never be exceptionally unhappy.

Cons:

  • Life may never have peak experiences for you in terms of being happy, happy, happy.

6.  Exceptional Theory of Happiness

bigstock-jumping-happy-young-man-12752945This theory views happiness as something that has no limits.  The sky is the limit.  Extraordinary happiness awaits anyone willing to go for it.  Every day will bring more and more happiness if you only believe it is possible.

Pros:

  • A joy that exceeds all others may come from feeling exceptionally happy.  The best day of your life may be one that you will remember forever.

Cons:

  • Best days are inevitably followed by worst days. Nothing stays up forever.  Or whatever goes up will go down and the further up you are the further down you will fall.

Conclusions:

You are probably thinking about now “Well, I don’t get it.”  Where is the secret that will give me perpetual ecstatic happiness?  Frankly, I have not found it.  Most of my journey through life has taught me that everything has its ups and downs.  There are no absolute truths that exist for all time.  There is no one path to happiness or samadhi.  Life is a cycle.  Today I find happiness, tomorrow my mother or best friend dies.  Can I be happy when they die?  I may not go out and commit Hari-kari, but I doubt that I will be feeling joyous for the next few weeks or perhaps even months.

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I think one mistake we make starts at the very beginning.  We assume or treat life as though it were about the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t think it is.  But I do believe we can be happy for cycles or minor periods in our life when things just seem to be going right.  My formula for achieving these brief periods of happiness is as follows:

  • Live each day the best that you can
  • Do the most that you are able to spread joy and peace in the world
  • Treat everyone you meet and know with love and respect
  • Respect yourself and your accomplishments
  • Do not look for never-ending happiness
  • Never pursue things or accomplishments as a means to happiness

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. — Guillaume Apollinaire

PS:

One of the comments by a reader noted the “Bluebird of Happiness.”  This reminded me of the famous song by Jan Peerce.  I had not listened to this song in ages and I just went back and listened to it.  The lyrics are wonderful and if my blog has not inspired you to “happiness” maybe the lyrics from the song will.

The Bluebird of Happinesscomposed in 1934 by Sandor Harmati, with words by Edward Heyman and additional lyrics by Harry Parr-Davies. Click the link to hear Jan Peerce sing this wonderful song. 

The beggar man and the mighty king are only different in name,
For they are treated just the same by fate.
Today a smile and tomorrow a tear, we never know what’s in store.
So learn your lesson before it is too late.

So be like I, hold your head up high ’til you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind, knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you, though you’re deep in blue
You will see a ray of light creep through
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

The poet with his pen, the peasant with his plow,
It makes no different who you are, it’s all the same somehow.
The king upon his throne, the jester at his feet,
the artist, the actress, the man on the street.

It’s a life of smiles and a life of tears It’s a life of hopes and a life of fears.
A blinding torrent of rain and a brilliant burst of sun,
A biting tearing pain and bubbling sparkling fun.
And no matter what you have, don’t envy those you meet.
It’s all the same, it’s in the game, the bitter and the sweet.

And if things don’t look so cheerful, just show a little fight.
Fore every bit of darkness, there’s a little bit of light.
For every bit of hatred, there’s a little bit of love.
Fore every cloudy morning, there’s a midnight moon above.

So don’t you forget, you must search ’til you find the bluebird.
You will find peace and contentment forever, if you will be like I.
Hold your head up high, ’til you see a ray of light appear.
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Good Days and Bad Days

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It is a well-known fact, perhaps the only “fact” that is not disputed anywhere by anyone in the world.  This fact is that we all have “good days and bad days.”  Now some people might argue that there is a normal bell-shaped curve for humans that applies even to this fact.  You probably learned in science that almost all human traits and characteristics follow the “Normal” bell shaped curve.  If this is true, then some of us have more bad days than others and some of us have more good days than others.  That would not seem to be very fair though.  This raises the primordial question “Is life fair?”  We all know the answer to this question because we have heard it from our parents many times and at a very early age.

curveI suppose in one sense, “life is not fair” means that life is indeed following a bell-shaped curve and some of us are on the undesirable end.  In other words, some of us are too short, too fat, too unappealing, or any number of other less-desirable traits that we find on the extremes of the bell-shaped curve.  Last night I was watching a 3-year-old do stunts on a sized down motorcycle.  I could not do these stunts if my life depended on it.  This young boy was a natural on the motorcycle.  He took to it like a fish to water.  We have all seen and perhaps envied some of the more fortunate on our bell-shaped curve who can do things we only dream about doing.  For those of us on the wrong end of the bell-shaped curve, life will never seem fair.

Well, does this “unfairness” also apply to “good days and bad days?”  Are some of us destined to have more bad days than others?  I woke up this morning thinking about this question.  Lately, I seem to be having more than my share of bad days.  Is it my attitude?  Is it just the run of the draw?  Is it something I am doing or not doing?  Can I change my bad days to good days by working harder or smarter?  Should I see a doctor or a shrink?  Is there a pill I can take to overcome the bad days or to change myself in some ways so that I have more good days than bad days?  A pill like this might be very popular.  Of course, some would argue that we have enough artificial chemicals to help alleviate “bad” days, but these chemicals or drugs only lead to worse days in the long run.

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I have spent a lifetime, seventy-five years seeking wisdom.  I have looked for nirvana in high and low places.  I have read the books of the great philosophers.  The writings of the greatest thinkers of all time.  I have looked for satori in meditation, life everlasting in prayer, enlightenment in contemplation but still I seem to remain stuck on this loathsome bell-shaped curve.  Some days are good and some bad.

Aging seems to bring more bad days than good.  Each day the phone rings, I pick it up wondering who or which of my friends have died now.  I admit I have a hard time with death.  I wonder if it is my death I fear or the death of so many people that I have loved or admired.  I read and read about how to conquer death.  How to accept death.  How death is inevitable.  How everyone I see walking around will die eventually.  How death is the “next great adventure.”  Will death find me starting a new life?  Will it find me greeting old friends?  Or will death simply be a deep sleep that nothing can disturb me from?

unnamedI understand why so many people want to believe in heaven and hell.  It would be much easier to go on living peacefully if I could really believe that there was someplace better to go to than this earth I now reside on.  Too many bad days now seem to intrude on my equanimity.  You and I and everyone else that resides on this 3rd rock from the sun are abused and tormented every day with disease, starvation, accidents, environmental devastations, and pandemics.  I could handle all of these things but for one thing.  It is called “mans’ inhumanity to man.”  The stupid cruel things we do to each other over and over again.  The wars, murders, and injustices that we inflict on other human beings.  And it is not just the average person that inflicts these cruelties, it is the “best” people in the land.  In fact, it would seem that the inhumanities done by those with the most money, most intelligence and those we call our leaders are the worst of all the brutalities and savagery that we see in the news each day.

A friend of mine once told me that if you want people to listen to you, you must give them a positive message.  Give them hope.  Give them faith.  Give them love.  The greatest prophets (as opposed to greatest thinkers) all spread a message of love and charity.  The great message of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad was the need to care for others and to do the best you can to make a difference in the world.

When I give up on our ability to make a difference, I fall into gloom, doom, and despair.  But how can we not give up, when we all seem so helpless to really make a difference.  None of our leaders were able to stop the Ukrainian war from starting.  Could I have done any better?  Now we read each day about nonstop atrocities being committed against a people than only wanted to live a good life in peace with their neighbors.  How can I not feel like it is a bad day when the news, radio, texts, chats and television all besiege me with unrelenting gloom and doom?  Is there an antidote to despair?  Is anyone who is optimistic simply a naïve foolish Pollyanna?

polly

There is one solution that I have found.  No matter how little, no matter now small, no matter how much, there are things in my life to be grateful for.  These people and things bring me joy and happiness.  When I focus on these things, my mood lifts.  The hardship and travails of life do not seem so bad.  These things and people will not be with me forever.  As I mentioned earlier, each day seems to bring news of a once former friend who has now embarked on a last great journey.  So we must realize that everything is temporary but that does not matter “Right NOW.”  Since right now, my joys and happiness are right in front of me, waiting to be appreciated and waiting to be loved and cared for.  These joys are the friends and people I know and the people I have yet to meet.

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The aphorism that “the world is my oyster” is a beacon that I can always tack to.  A sailor must have a North Star to guide his or her travels.  Each of us must have a direction to lead us on our journey through life.  Without a direction, we sail in circles and life seems meaningless and cruel.  Find your North Star and you will find your happiness.  Just remember there will always be days when you will lose your way.  We must reset our rudder and readjust our sails and start out again and again and again.  Life will always be a journey and not a destination.

“Light is sweet,

and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.

However many years anyone may live,

let them enjoy them all.

But let them remember the days of darkness,

for there will be many.

Everything to come is meaningless.”

― King Solomon Son of David

The Ten Commandments of Capitalism

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People don’t go to church anymore.  They go shopping.  Capitalism is America’s new religion.  A religion is a set of profound beliefs that one hopes will lead to a better life.  The Christian religion has its Ten Commandments which embody some of these beliefs.  No one actually practices these beliefs anymore but that does not stop devout Christians from insisting that their commandments should be enshrined throughout America.  The only problem with this is that these are not the beliefs that people follow today.

I was laying in bed the other night and thinking about how Capitalism has become the real religion of Americans.  I suddenly realized that there was no explicit set of rules, precepts, or commandments that the faithful should follow.  There are many implicit or implied rules.  The implicit rules of Capitalism are somewhat obvious even if they are not etched on two tablets.

I have decided to take these implicit commandments believed by most Americans and make them more obvious.  I recommend that these be put up in bronze or stone or cement in every capital throughout the USA.  Following are my Ten Commandments for Capitalism.

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  1. You can never have enough

As they say, “He who has the most toys wins.”  You can never have enough.  Life is about getting what you deserve.  When you do get it, then you need to get more.  More money, more cars, more jewelry, more land, more clothes, the more you have, the more people will admire you and declare you a success.  Success in America means having more than anyone else.

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  1. Bigger is always better

From hamburgers to houses to car and even people, things in America are getting bigger.  People now own 5,000 square foot homes with three car garages, six bedrooms and four baths even though they only have 1.7 children and a spouse.  Hamburgers at Burger King weigh about ½ lb. and car engines put out in excess of 500 hp.  Americans are the most obese people in the world.  Capitalism makes everything bigger and fatter.  Hooray for Capitalism.

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  1. Greed is good

Ivan Boesky said it and Americans gave him a standing ovation.  Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street” paraphrased Boesky’s speech and exhorted his stockholders:

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  Greed is right, greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”  

I could not have said it any better.  The greedier we get, the more we get.  The more we get, the more we want.  The more we want the greedier we get.  It is the American way.  From politicians to business people to lobbyists, to car salespeople to real estate developers, the stated norm is to “maximize profits.”  To hell with the tree huggers and climate change advocates.  Success is predicted on greed.  Greed is human nature.  Greed is not good, it is great.

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  1. Shop till you drop

My half-sister every year gets up at 3 AM on the morning of Black Friday with a map, a schedule of stores, coupons, and snacks.  Like a general, she plots out her strategy, enlists her friends and relatives and launches a preemptive invasion.  Her goal is to get it before anyone else.  “It” does not really matter.  The process is what counts.  Shopping is the sacrament of Capitalism.  You must take your pennies and dollars and put them in the store where you can get the most for your money.  Saving is for fools.  Shop, shop, shop.  Superbowl Sunday is a prime time for shopping since many Americans are glued to their TV sets soaking up ads on what to buy the next time they go shopping.  Go to fashion stores, go to thrift stores, go to malls, go to Walmart, go to flea markets, go to garage sales.  But for heavens sake, shop until you drop.

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  1. Stuff will make you happy

There is only one reason for all that shopping.  It fulfills you.  It puts meaning and purpose in your life.  Without meaning and purpose, life is shallow.  We are all born with a hole in us that must be filled up.  You could fill it with religion, education, or philosophy but you can’t touch these things.  You can touch a new air fryer and you can soak in a new hot tub.  You can call all your Facebook friends on your new I-Phone 98. Nothing is quite as satisfying as stuff at filling the hole in our hearts.  Nothing until the next generation of I-Phones or Air Fryers come out.  But of course, then you can go shopping for the newest and latest and greatest.  You will never be so happy as when you have more stuff than you need.

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  1. Prosperity builds character

Those who believe in the Prosperity Gospel say that the richer you are the better, smarter, and more deserving you are.  God rewards good people with money and bad people get lumps of coal in their stockings not just at Christmas but throughout most of the year.  God wants everyone to be rich.

Being rich is a choice.  Poor people don’t really like money, so they choose to be poor.  They do not want to be  bothered with having to carry tons of cash and credit cards.  Rich people don’t mind carrying all this cash because they have chauffeurs, butlers, and nannies to help with the work.  Many people say that “money is the root of all evil.”  This is a lie spread maliciously by the Internet to deter people from going after the gold.  Jesus said that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.”  If Jesus was alive today, I think he might be preaching a different message.  Something like, “Forget what I said two thousand years ago, times have changed.  There are few camels left in life and you can always take a taxi if you have enough money.”

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  1. Don’t worry about tomorrow

There is a great song by Van Morrison which goes as follows:

Don’t worry about tomorrow

That ain’t gonna help you none

Don’t worry about tomorrow

That ain’t gonna help you none

You’ve gotta live and take each day as it comes.

A great deal of wisdom is centered around the idea of living one day at a time and not worrying about the future.  Too many people fail to live in the present because they are too worried about what will happen tomorrow.  Doris Day sang the famous song Que Sera Sera,

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother, what will I be

Will I be pretty

Will I be rich

Here’s what she said to me

… Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que sera, sera

What will be, will be

 Capitalism is a system that follows much the same line of reasoning.  Don’t worry about the climate.  Don’t worry about the weather.  Don’t worry about pollution.  Don’t worry about water.  Don’t worry about the environment.  Live for today.  Get whatever you can today.  You might not be alive tomorrow, so why worry?  Remember Alfred E. Neumann from Mad Magazine.  His motto was “What, me worry?”  We need to worry less.  Don’t worry about whether the world will still be there for your kids or grandchildren.  Let them worry about it.

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  1. Nothing is more important than money

If capitalism had a beating heart, instead of “thump, thump, thump,” it would go “money, money, money.”  Love may make the world go round, but money greases the wheels.  Remember the Beatles song “Money?”

Now give me money, (That’s what I want)

That’s what I want

(That’s what I want)

That’s what I want, (That’s what I want), oh, yeah

(That’s what I want)

Money don’t get everything, it’s true

What it don’t get, I can’t use

Now give me money, (That’s what I want)

That’s what I want.

 I propose that more people think about money than anything else in the world, including sex.  To test my theory, I typed in “Sex” on Google.  Then I typed in “Money.”  Following are my results:

Sex:  10,590,000,000         

Money:  11,920,000,000

Money received 1.33 billion more hits than sex.  This result shows what the real priorities of most people are.  First it is money, then it is sex.

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  1. Never let anyone get in your way

 Let’s be real.  Nice guys and good women finish last.  If you want to get ahead in business, you must be ruthless.  You must be cut throat.  You must play ethical roulette (a business version of Russian roulette).  Machiavelli and Sun Tzu were too soft.  Read the “Mafia’s Guide to Getting Ahead.”  You must have no morals or ethics or qualms about being the bad guy.  Never do anything illegal or at least get caught doing anything illegal.  There is plenty of room for amoral activities that skirt the line between legal and illegal.  If in doubt, call a lawyer.

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 10.  Put some money aside for a rainy day

By rainy day, I mean a time in your life when you no longer have any friends, loved ones or anyone who cares whether you live or die. You will be on your death bed waiting for Lucifer to take you to your just rewards.  Like Herod, the day will come when you must pay the piper.  It won’t matter how much you have in stocks or your bank account.

The devil won’t have a signed contract for your soul but he will not need it.  You will have bought and paid for your place in hell many times over.  Every dollar, every ruble, every peso, every euro, every yen you coveted will have helped you to earn your place in hell.  Your funeral marker on earth may say some nice things about you but down in hell, you will be one of many who sold their soul to the highest bidder.

Jesus wisely said “What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffer the loss of his own soul?”  Profoundly put, but alas seldom followed.

After Thoughts:

When I came home recently from a vacation to Europe, I had 5,865 spam messages in my promotions email folder on Gmail.  That equals 217 junk emails per day.  Never before in history, has so much been marketed and sold to people under the assumption that the marketplace is a dispenser of happiness.  I have written a five-part series on the evils of Corporate Capitalism, and I have written many posts about the dangers facing our civilization today from the excess of greed and profiteering which infest and assail too many cultures and societies all over the world.

My spouse Karen felt that many of the things that I was saying in this blog were too harsh.  If you felt this way when you read my blog, consider that 162 golf course owners in Phoenix did not want to accept a recent recommendation for a 3.1 percent cut in water usage.  (Some Arizona golf courses are pushing back against the state’s plan to reduce water use)  They proposed a counter recommendation for a 1.6 percent cut.  This on the heels of an unprecedented drop in the water feeding much of the Southwest from Lake Mead and a record drought with significant increases in heat.  What have we come to when water for golf courses is more important than water for crops and drinking?

In Wisconsin, where I live during the summer, the residents have been fighting the siting of a CAFO for the feeding of 26,000 hogs.  The operators of the “Concentrated Animal Feed Operation” do not care about the water, trees, odors, property values, soil, bacteria, or any other repercussions for their operation.  They are only concerned about the ability to make a profit.

The local residents have been fighting this potential development for nearly three years now.  It is big money against the little farmer and little land owner who object to the spoilage of their land, water, and lifestyle.  The property owners in Barron, Burnette and Polk County Wisconsin are fighting not only corporate money and greed but also elected politicians.  Politicians at both the local level and state level, many who support the development of “free enterprise” regardless of the externalities caused by the business operation.

Everywhere I turn, I see greed, waste, and short-term thinking based on profitability guiding human decisions.  The sad part is that Corporate Capitalism has become a religion.  And whereas faith in the old religions has waned dramatically in the past fifty years, faith in Capitalism to save us from hell has only grown.  Like some sort of communicable disease, the belief that Capitalism will provide a heaven on earth has become almost indisputable among a large majority of Americans.  I think the time is long past for soft pedaling the dangers of Capitalism.  I only hope that it is not too late.

 

Finding Fame, Fortune and Success:  Paths to Misery or Happiness?

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I have adapted an Osho (A noted Indian Mystic and Guru) story as follows:

Once upon a time there was a young boy named Vince who lived in Minnesota.  Every weekend when his chores around the farm were done, Vince would take his canoe out to one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes with his best friend and they would spend the afternoon fishing.  Somethings they would catch crappies, sometimes bluegills, sometimes even a walleye.  Sometimes they would not catch a single fish.  Striking out did not bother them one bit.  They were content just to be out on the lake together on a beautiful Minnesota summer day.

They would sit in the canoe casting their rods and talking about many things.  They would talk about school, parents, girls, and sports.  Often they would share their dreams and talk about what they wanted to be and do when they grew up.  One day Vince saw a large jet airliner going over head.  As he looked at the plane he said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.  I want to be an airline pilot and fly all over the world. That is my dream.”

Years passed and Vince followed his dream.  He became an airline pilot for what was then Northwest Airlines.  Later, like many other airlines they merged and became United Airlines.  Vince was a lead pilot for a jumbo passenger jet.  He flew numerous routes that took him all over the world.  He flew to China, Japan, England, France, and many other places.  He was one of the best pilots that Northwest had.

Twenty or so very busy years passed.  One day Vince had a flight that took him back to Minnesota.  He started from Paris, flew over the Great Lakes and was coming down from Northern Minnesota to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.  As his plane began the descent into the airport, he looked out the left side of the plane and noticed two young boys in a canoe fishing on a lake.  The scene brought back many happy memories to Vince and his eyes started to mist up.  He asked his co-pilot to take control for a minute while he cleared his eyes.  His co-pilot asked Vince if there was anything wrong.  Vince replied, “No, nothing wrong.  Just saw something that reminded me of my past.  One day I dreamed that I would be a pilot.  Now I dream that I am back on that lake with my best friend again.”

There is an old saying that goes “Be careful of what you ask for, you might get it.”  Of course, no one pays any attention to this bit of wisdom.  Imagine all the people who buy lottery tickets each day.   Now try to imagine any of them saying, “I better be careful, or I might win the lottery.”  We all want fame, fortune, and success.  We set goals that force us to live in the future and we forget how to live in the present.  Osho says that we can never be happy unless we can be happy for no reason at all.

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Some of you have read the story about my six friends and I who put together a “last man standing bottle” ten years ago.  Ken made a case for the bottle.  Jerry bought a name plate for the bottle with each of our names and birthdates engraved on it.  I bought a bottle of 120 proof Old Grandad while on one of my trips to Bardstown, Kentucky.   Ken and Brian have since died.  There are five of us left.  Jerry is the youngest at 74 and Dick is now the oldest at 81.

Jerry was put on hospice care about eight months ago.  I have been to visit him several times and he has joked about going to hospice care too soon.  Doctors had told him that he had only a few months to live.  Jerry has outlived their original estimates.  Friday afternoon, I received a call from Dick who had recently called Jerry.  Jerry is not doing well, and the charge nurse told Dick that Jerry would probably not make it through the weekend.  I have been wanting to stay away from any medical facilities due to the recent Covid surge, but I decided to mask up and go see Jerry.

I arrived at the clinic and was told I could make a compassion visit, but general visitors were not allowed.  I was advised to go to the main desk and see if it was okay with the unit for me to come down.  I received an approval and headed down to Jerry’s room.  The nurse on the unit met me at the door.  She knocked on the door to Jerry’s room but did not receive any response.  She went into the room and Jerry was asleep.  She woke him up and informed him that he had a visitor.

I walked into the room and Jerry was not looking very good.  He could barely open his eyes or even move.  His body was bloated, and his skin had dark splotches all over his chest, stomach, arms, and legs.  I said hi and he replied, “Hi John.”  I told him that the coffee guys (some of whom are on the “Last Man Standing” bottle) all said hi and that they wished him well.  This was somewhat of a fib.  Truth be told, Jerry was not well liked among some of the guys.  He seemed to enjoy making fun of and humiliating other people.  Over the years, this took a toll among the men.  Not many of them cared enough about Jerry to make a visit to see him.

Jerry had few friends.  I tried to be a friend to Jerry, but it never seemed to be requited.  I called him.  Visited him often at his home.  Helped him with a garage sale.  Took him to some medical appointments in the Twin Cities.  Invited him out to dinner several times and each year when I got back from Arizona, Karen and I made a point of having him over for dinner.  Not once did I ever remember Jerry returning any of my calls, stopping by to visit or even saying “Thank You” for anything I ever did for him.  Nevertheless, while I stopped the frequency of my visits with Jerry, I never gave up on him entirely.

This day, it was clear that it would be my last visit to Jerry.  I felt sad for Jerry.  He never had much.  The paradox was that he was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met.  Before his illnesses, Jerry was an avid reader who could discuss many of the great writers with exceptional insights.  Sadly, as his disease progressed, he read less and less and eventually gave up reading entirely.

I asked Jerry a few questions about his sister and other visitors.  Something I said elicited the reply, “Now and forever, mumble, mumble, mumble.”  “Jerry, I could not hear the last part of that.  You said, ‘Now and forever’ and something else.  Could you repeat it?”  Jerry replied, “Now and forever, all I ever wanted was a little attention.”  I was somewhat surprised at his comment.  I left a short time later.  I doubt I spent more than 15 minutes with Jerry the whole time.  I gave him some water and asked if he needed a nurse.  He was barely awake, but he declined any offers for help.  I told him goodbye.  I did not want to imply that it would be goodbye forever so I included the comment that I would be back after I returned from my vacation, and I would stop in to see him again.  I do not think this will ever happen.

I thought about Jerry’s comment on my way home.  Was his comment about “now and forever” some sort of delirium or was he actually reflecting on a core component of his life.  Was Jerry’s obnoxiousness and insults simply a way for him to get attention?  At this late stage in his life, was he lamenting his inability to get the attention that he so desperately desired?

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I began to wonder if a need for attention is the primary reason that most of us want fame, fortune, and success.  Rich people, famous people, celebrities all get more attention than the average person.  Think about all of the school shooters that you have heard of.  It seems that the main purpose for their rampages is attention.  There are many people who fiercely desire their five minutes of fame even if it means they get it by anti-social efforts.

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The irony is that fame, fortune, and success never bring happiness.  The more of these things you get, the more you want.  More is never enough.  More of things never satisfies.  Then the day inevitably comes when you are no longer famous.  Your money no longer buys you attention.  Your success is no longer newsworthy.  Your fame now evaporates like the morning mist.  Can you point to anyone whose fame and fortune brought them happiness?  We are brainwashed into thinking that wealth, fame, and success are stepping stones to happiness.  If only I am noticed and get attention from others, I will be happy.

To be honest, I am much like the person who buys the lottery ticket.  I have never had fame, fortune, or great success.  I have never been a great student, a prize-winning athlete, a rich business owner or won any medals or awards.  Years ago, I read all the books I could get my hands on to teach me how to be rich, famous, and successful.  Despite all my learning and education, I never rose above being an average guy with an average income and an average life.

Perhaps, I should be more grateful.  Perhaps, I have been very lucky. I have had a great life.  I have traveled widely.  I have many friends.  I married a wonderful woman and I have always been able to pay my bills.  What would my life have been like if I had become rich and famous?  My thoughts tell me that I would never have lived as happy a life as I can now point to.

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However, telling myself that is a little like someone telling me that I should be glad that my lottery ticket did not win.  Somewhere inside me is a yearning for the attention and admiration that I feel fame and fortune would bring me.  Something inside me desires to someday be “above” average.  I want to be on center stage and have all the spotlights on me.  I want to read in the morning papers, how great and talented I am.  John “The New Mark Twain.”

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I try to counter the above negative thoughts by reminding myself that I am really blessed.  I can walk down the street, and no one notices me.  I have enough money to be comfortable but not have to deal with hundreds of people who want more money from me because they think that I am rich.  I have a loving wife who I am sure loves me for who I am and not for my money or looks.  I have seen the world without a body guard.  I am healthy and would not trade my health for all the money in the world.

My takeaway from my visit to Jerry is how much I wish that I could have left him with the five minutes of attention that he wanted.  The saddest part about Jerry’s life is that he could never let go of this need.  He acted as though by being cantankerous and il-tempered he would satisfy this need.  I think it cost him a great deal of the happiness that was always there for his taking.  We all respected his intellect and admired his reasoning abilities.  Each of us in our own way tried to overlook his insults and criticism.  It is tragic that he never realized how much his talents really meant to the rest of us.  We all knew that Jerry was one of a kind.

PS:  

Jerry died early this morning on the 13th of September in the year 2021.  If there is an afterlife, I hope Jerry finds the happiness, attention and recognition that he sought.  This is one of mine and Jerry’s favorite pictures.  Jerry had a great sense of humor.  He and Wilma posed for this picture at his garage sale a number of years ago.  It is of course a take off on the classic American Gothic.  Jerry liked it so much, he blew it up and kept a picture by his bedside.  This is how I want to remember Jerry.  A man of intelligence and humor.  

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Farewell to Life or Farewell to Death?

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Many years ago, I traveled down a wooded path that I had never been on before.  This story is about how that journey led me to the life that I am living today.

I was eighteen years old.  I had recently graduated from high school.  No awards, no summa anything and no college that would take me even if I had applied.  I always loved to meander in the woods and thoughts of heaven or hell were not intruding on me this bright sunny warm day in June.  As I trod a path that did not look very worn, I suddenly noticed a fork in the trail.  I could just make out somebody sitting between the two roads.  As I drew closer, it was apparent but none the less quite surprising to see that it was an old woman sitting on a log.

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“Good afternoon,” I said to the old woman.  “Same to you, young man,” she replied.  “I have not been on this road before; can you tell me which fork goes where?”  “Well,” she answered, “The right fork is the Farewell to Life fork and the left fork is the Farewell to Death fork.”  Thinking the woman was a little batty, I gave her my thanks, wished her a good day, and proceeded to take the right fork.

I thought a little about her response as I continued on my journey.  I wondered if it really meant anything.  Would one fork bring death and the other life?  I laughed as I assumed that it probably would not matter since I had chosen the life fork.  I was planning to be among the living when I reached its end and not among the dead.  I looked back and the crazy woman was nowhere in sight.

More than fifty-five years have passed since I met the old lady.  I have walked many roads, paddled many rivers, visited many lands, and wondered about the meaning and purpose of life innumerable times.  During my seventy-five years on this earth, I have said dozens of farewells to life.  All of them to date were farewells to the lives of people who were my friends and relatives and mentors.  My father died at 60.  My mother died at 67.  My sister died at 56 and my cousin and best friend died at 47.  Farewell is one of the saddest words in my vocabulary.  As I have aged, the number of farewells that I have had to say each year seems to be growing exponentially.

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A few weeks ago, I was on a solo hike in the Chequamegon National Forest about thirty miles north of Thorp, Wisconsin where my first wife was from.  I was on the Jerry Lake Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail which goes through the Chequamegon National Forest.  I was intending on hiking down the trail to Jerry Lake and back.

Now I have never been known for my sense of direction.  My first wife and I always fought over which way to head but my masculine pride would never admit that she was usually right.  Marrying a second time, I finally found someone whose sense of direction is even worse than mine.  Both Karen and I are lost without a GPS or compass.  The good thing is that I now readily admit that I could get lost in my small back yard.  My masculine pride no longer prohibits me from shouting out “I’m lost.”

As I proceeded down the trail, it seemed that I was not getting any nearer to my intended destination.  It should have taken me about an hour to get to the lake and I had now been hiking for about two hours.  Two thoughts struck me at the same time.  The first was that I was lost.  The second was that I was approaching a fork in the trail ahead and something or someone was sitting between the two paths.  As I neared the fork, I rubbed my eyes just in case I was seeing things.  There on the trail ahead was an old woman who looked suspiciously like the old woman whom I had met fifty-five years before.  Of course, I thought, it could not be.  She would have to be well over a hundred years old.

senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-countryside-village-people-131962771The strangeness of the situation caused me to be somewhat nervous about proceeding further but I thought, I have nothing to fear from an old lady.  Coming nearer to the woman, I jokingly asked if she was the same old woman whom I had met years ago and if she remembered me.  “Yes”, she said, “but you were much younger then.  How did your journey down the Farewell to Life trail go?”  How could this be I thought?  I don’t believe in magic, miracles, or spirits but suddenly, I began to take her words quite seriously.

“I am not so sure that I took the right trail.  Over the years, I have had to say many farewells to people whom I loved and who passed away long before they should have.  Life does not seem very fair to me.”  “Life is never fair,” she replied.  “Humans weigh things as though some type of cosmic scale existed, and that life could be apportioned perfectly equitably.  You have had a long life.  It has been very successful.  You have had more than your share of fame and fortune.”

“I am very confused.  I chose the Farewell to Life path but what would have happened if I had chosen the Farewell to Death path?  Would I live forever?”  She looked at me very gravely and said “I don’t think you really understand.  The Farewell to Life path is a path where you say farewell to the lives of others.  You yourself then went on to have a long if not happy or prosperous life, did you not?”

“Yes,” I said, “But what would my life have been like if I had chosen the “Farewell to Death path?”  “You would never have had to say farewell to any friends or anyone you cared about.  You would have gone to no funerals, burials, or memorials.  No farewells to the deaths of friends and families.  You would have died many years before those you loved.  Do you think this would have made you happier?  A short life that would have had little tragedy or reason to mourn would have been your legacy.”

“I do not think that would have made me happier.  Why can’t there be a third path in life?  Why are we doomed to either a long life with much unhappiness or a short life where we never experience the joys of getting older and wiser?”

The old woman slowly stood up.  She picked up a hiking stick and proceeded to walk off into the distance.  Before she left, she turned and looked into my eyes.  Very solemnly she explained, “I told you that life is never fair.  Humans always want what cannot be.  Farewell.”

Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves. — Rabindranath Tagore

 

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