Sunday, May 27, 2012

The dysmorphia of happiness.

I've been on both blunt ends of my own game of happiness tug-of-war lately, and the whole swirling idea of happiness compelled me to attempt a bit of deconstruction.

Why does my happiness tend to shift, despite the fact that very few actual differences have occurred from Happy Day to Less-Happy Day? Situations and conditions are the same. But one day I'm happy, the next I'm kind of blue. I prefer happy. So how can I stay there? Why does happiness seem so dysmorphic?

Seems like a fairly simple question.

I started at the most obvious place. It's a subject that can cause certain levels of stress in almost everyone. Money. How we see it, value it, are controlled by it, how money plays into the happiness game. Specifically, I referenced an article I'd heard about that attempted to shed light on the perennial dark question that lurks in the murky minds of most folks who struggle every month attempting to balance income with outgo. Does money really buy happiness?

According to a recent TIME magazine article,9171,2019628,00.html, happiness may come at a price. It's an interesting study, this link between income and happiness. Although there are many components to happiness, this research has found that "every 10% rise in annual income moves people up the satisfaction ladder the same amount, whether they're making $25,000 or $100,000."

Another TIME piece from a few years back goes into a bit more detail about the specifics when it comes to happiness,9171,1015902-1,00.html. Apparently our education, age, religion, marital status and so many more elements are woven into the fabric of our cozy statistical happiness blanket. It seems that happiness itself has been nicely quantified, studied, tucked in and put to bed.

But is it really that easy? By understanding and implementing all of these very cogent bits of data about happiness, would my disposition become inherently, fundamentally and consistently sunny?

Happiness may be a bit less easy to quantify, actually. Like an anorexic who looks in a mirror and sees a fat person, the layers of happiness look a bit dysmorphic.

Take, for instance, the TED talk on the paradox of choice by Barry Schwartz It's his contention that people are generally less satisfied - less happy - when they have more choices. According to Schwartz, "The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose."

To sum his talk up in a teeny nutshell, the secret to happiness is low expectations, according to Schwartz.

This theory adds a delicious, fatty layer to the concept of happiness dysmorphia. The element of perception.

How we see things - how we value money, act our age, perceive our station in the world, how we treat people - can be just as important to the process of perceiving happiness as all the data that suggests happiness is an outside job.

Consider this list of "15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy"  Of all the information I've referenced, all the data I've considered, this particular list is the most compelling.

Give up the need to always to be right. Give up complaining. Give up your limiting beliefs. There are a dozen more items that add yet another comfortable layer to the idea that the dysmorphia of happiness is perception. How we see what we have, how we treat who we love, how we see what we do, what comes out of our mouths, how we navigate the world, directly correlates to happiness.

And those delicious elements have nothing to do with wealth, status, age or religion, blah, blah, blah. It's most likely much more simple.

I've asked several people how they perceive happiness, and those conversations were compelling. Themes emerged. And almost every theme ultimately led back to perception - how we see ourselves, our circumstances and the world - as the source of happiness.

It seems to be as simple as that.

So, like my recent tug-of-war happiness battle, the Quest for Happiness seems to be an ongoing game that requires my participation. It seems to hinge on how I see it in the mirror that's my life. Like that very thin person who finally sees their quest for perfection will never be attained and a sandwich sounds like a good idea, the dysmorphia of happiness is a choice. A perception.

That idea makes me happy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Identical cousins, a chair update.

When my kids were young, I would walk them to elementary school. I walked with them to junior high, too. And as is my thing, I sang songs as we'd walk. One favorite number was the theme song to the Patty Duke Show. It goes something like this, but of course it sounds better while walking with children:

But they're cousins,
Identical cousins all the way!
They look alike, they talk alike, at times they even walk alike - you could lose your mind!
When cousins
Are two of a kind!

It came as a sad reminder by one of my way-too-smart kids that there's no such thing as identical cousins. Apparently, as I was reminded by my kid several years ago, that's just not possible.

And I was reminded of that song again the other day when I visited the chair I found at a thrift store in Greeley that's currently being recovered. After doing some research, I found that my chair was the spitting image of The Chair by Hans Wegner. This chair is credited as an iconic example of Danish design history. 

It's such a long story, kind of like how Patty and her cousin got to looking so very identical. I've written a few times about this chair, and I'll leave it up to whoever feels so prone to find the entries about The Chair.

After a few crossed wires which were sparked by a friend who called Ackerman's to contribute to my chair's restoration as a gift for my 50th birthday, I learned that not only had Mike and his team not started caning the chair I thought might be done a few weeks ago, but another identical chair had come into the shop for a bit of a joint repair.

Mike A. (Ackerman) wanted me to come in and take a look at my chair's identical cousin.

The woman who owned this chair had a crap-ton of chairs just like this one at home, and they're all as identical as it gets. Mike wanted me to come in to see how this original caning had been crafted, in order for them to get the go-ahead to replicate the design on the seat of my chair.

But like Patty and her precocious twin cousin, there were differences between my chair and this very obvious original.

At first glance, my chair looks just like this chair, without the caned seat, which is fairly typical. Retaining caning after 50 years is kind of like keeping one's face completely line- and fault-free after a half a century. It's very rare, and if it looks original, there's a high probability that it's not.

Let me briefly remind you that this is my chair.

It's strikingly similar. 

Mike and I have looked at these two chairs, side by side, like a forensics expert would look at a dead body.

My chair has been refinished, and we chose a lighter grain. The other chair may have started its life a bit lighter, like just about anything that was created 50 years ago. The other chair, which is what I'm apparently calling it, has had 50 years of use without being refinished.

I have no idea if anyone thinks this is as fascinating as I do, but it's fun for me, so I'll continue.

I compared a few things while I had a moment with both chairs. Like the joints of the arms. They're very similar. I didn't have a way to measure the width of the arms at the time, but in hindsight, I wish I'd have done that.

It was kind of like missing a blood spatter, if you were Dexter.

The height, width and joinery looked identical in person.

But there was a very obvious difference.

It was all about the zig-zag joint. No, let's not go there.

I'm talking about the chair.

This was called the jigsaw joint, and it was defined by Mr. Wegner as The Way to connect the back to the arm of The Chair. This defines the real deal.

This is the Patty Duke. The original. 

But what of my chair? 

Did you take photos of the joinery of your chair, you ask?

Yes, I did. And I did a bit of research.

Because this is the joinery of my chair.

Notice the straight line. No jigsaw puzzle. 

Therein lies the conundrum.

I know this chair was made in the 1960s, based on information I found on the chair (Compelling, I know. Kind of makes you want to find those earlier entries, but I'm too lazy to add a link, so you'll have to find it for yourself.).

I did a lot of research to try to find prototype design ideas by Mr. Wegner. I looked for age-appropriate reproduction resources. I've found a few leads that I'll pursue, but at this point, I have to assume my chair might be a very early knock-off.

But I haven't lost hope.

There's that lead I'm following. A missing drop of blood.

Until then, in my mind, these chairs are beautiful, illogical, identical cousins. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Revisiting the vortex.

It's time to dig through the garbage.

I'm working on a few different writing projects at present, so I thought in the meantime I'd post a blog version of a summer television rerun, with a bit of an update.

I wrote about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex), two years ago. This vortex is essentially a huge trash dump floating around in the Pacific Ocean. 

Start with a filthy base of degrading plastics and other man-made trash, add a dash of cruise ship debris (each luxury liner generates over eight tons of solid waste every week), mix in a bit of oil we keep spilling here and there, stir it up with a compliant ocean current, and voila. Like attracts like. 

I was hoping to provide an encouraging update, but I read this morning that the vortex is still estimated to have created a mass twice the size of the continental United States.

So taking it from macro to micro, it may be a good time to think about what you throw away. 

This photo looks like surrealism meets impressionism, with a trashy twist.

I didn't see the man in the canoe right away, but he's there.

It's not a pretty picture. And imagine how it must smell from where the man in the boat is sitting.

The picture illustrates that we as a culture generate a whole lot of trash. And once the items we buy are consumed, we don't seem to have any problem dissociating from the remains of what once was important enough to actually buy. 

Then we end up with the Pacific Trash Vortex.

I hadn't heard about this crazy mess until yesterday, when my lovely friend Cara mentioned it. We were talking about the oil spill, and Cara casually mentioned the Trash Vortex.

Look it up! Google it! There's a crap-ton of information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which sounds so benign, as if little Garbage Patch dolls float above the mess with endearing, plush, refreshing cartoon smiles.

It's not so bucolic in the Garbage Patch, though.

We knew it was coming, as early as 1988 when NOAA identified it as a threat. This slow, clockwise current in the North Pacific is an oceanic desert, which dissuades big fish from making that area their home. Instead, this North Pacific tropical gyre attracts trash.

The Eastern Garbage Patch is so not patchy. It's a big mass of plastic and gunk and crappy-crap trash between California and Hawaii, and it's reported to be two times bigger than the size of Texas.

And that's only the Eastern Garbage Patch. There are a few other pieces of this trashy trash patchwork that rival the massive width and depth of the Eastern patch.

So when we're getting all "speed it up, BP!" - which is of course a perfectly legitimate sentiment - maybe we should take a peek in the mirror and look at how we each cumulatively affect this big blue ball we inhabit.

Before I learned about this from Cara, I didn't even know this watery mass existed. 

I had no clue that my trash might be getting sucked into the vortex.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy birthday to me. 50 things I've learned so far.

Today I'm 50.

I thought long and hard about some project I could do today, out in the world - 50 kind things, giving/receiving 50 hugs, 50 moments - 50 of something to commemorate being around this long. But everything I thought of sounded kind of derivative. And, not to put myself on a big Aren't I Wonderful pedestal, but I get a total kick out of giving things away. I like to hug people. I like to talk with strangers. So the stuff I'd do 50 times in one day all turned out to be things I seem to just do as a matter of course. I have a very thin filter when it comes to opening up to certain potential experiences.

When I nixed the Doing Something 50 Times On My Birthday idea, I thought about what I love. What I feel I do best. And honestly, I love to write. I think I'm a good writer.

So I thought I'd write down 50 things I've learned so far. One thing for each year.

So here goes. Happy birthday to me. I'm so glad I'm 50 today.

50 things I've learned so far

1. I can't freaking believe I'm 50.

2. You can have more than one soulmate in a lifetime.

3. I had no idea before I had kids how much I'd love them.

4. People rarely change.

5. There are always new things to learn.

6. Work is highly overrated.

7. I miss my mom.

8. I know more than I think I do.

9. Every season is the best season, unless you're waiting for the next one.

10. I dislike the idea of going to certain places (i.e., the hardware store, the post office, the dentist, the bank), but once I get there it's never as bad as I thought it would be.

11. Trust is earned.

12. Almost anything is more fun when everybody just lightens up.

13. I've made some bad choices, but I have no regrets.

14. Difficult people rarely know they're being difficult.

15. I wish my marriage would have worked. This seems counterintuitive to #13, with a caveat. Great choice at the time, no regrets. Refer to #3. We're partners when it comes to those beautiful people.

16. I resent that I rarely sleep eight hours in a row.

17. Where I am is exactly where I need to be.

18. Once you get one tattoo, you want another one.

19. Trying new things is great. Unless what you try sucks.

20. There's nothing better than being with people who really know you.

21. I'm completely comfortable with what I've defined as my spirituality, which has very little to do with how I was raised.

22. My parents were fallible, imperfect, flawed people. And so am I.

23. I can learn from opinions with which I don't necessarily agree.

24. I appreciate left- and right-brained thinking.

25. On that note, I've learned to appreciate the art of ballet. And I've learned to understand the left-brained world of science. I have my kids to thank.

26. Some of my most interesting memories come from what I probably shouldn't have been doing.

27. It's really hard to let go. Even if you know you need to.

28. Worry is a waste of time.

29. Laughter isn't always the best medicine. Sometimes medicine is the best medicine.

30. Being alone takes adjustment, but it can be very nice.

31. Sometimes the best way to communicate is to stop talking.

32. It's true that youth is wasted on the young, but people my age still act like kids, and that's completely okay.

33. Being cold is being better than being hot, at least when it comes to temperature.

34. It's a good thing to live somewhere that's within walking distance to a Seven-11.

35. Superlatives always suck.

36. It's been curious to me when I've been told I've been someone else's bad influence. (Is this something I've learned, or just an observation? I'm not sure. I think it says a bit about me, a bit about them.)

37. There are very few things that a good evening alone can't be made even better with a few lit candles, good music, a bath and a good book.

39. I feel lost when things break.

39. There are very few places that are better to live than in this moment.

40. I enjoy having more interests than time to pursue them.

41. Giving feels better than taking.

42. Coffee in the morning - good coffee - is a need. Not a want.

43. My kids are the best, most fulfilling, most sustaining, most remarkable pains in the ass I'll ever experience. And I mean that in a good way.

44. I wish I were fluent in another language.

45. Some things seem like a whole lot of effort (refer to #44).

46. It's good to acknowledge how fortunate I am.

47. I sometimes wonder how my life would have gone had I more fervently pursued the path on which I started. Honestly, I like this one. Roads diverge. I happened to travel the one less travelled by. Sometimes it's full of potholes, but that just must mean I live in Denver.

48. It's almost impossible for me to buy anything that's brand-new, with a few exceptions. There's something about value, there's something about history.

49. There's a difference between driving aggressively and driving assertively.

50. I embrace 50. Today is my launching pad. Everything's already good, and it all gets better from here, based on what I've seen in my rear-view mirror.