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March 28, 2008

May The Bluebird Of Happiness Fly Up Your Nose

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.
- Louis Sullivan

When I was in my early twenties I read a lot. I used to polish off between three and four books a week; novels mostly, as I was usually juggling toddlers, volunteer work, and whatever home improvement scheme I'd dreamed up lately (usually involving long hours of tedious sanding, painting, sewing, scraping, digging, sawing or other manual labor since we had very little money). One set of novels that made a particular dent on my young mind was Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

The architect's maxim that the form of a building should express its intended use cleanly and honestly seemed so right. But what interested me even more was a notion that occurred to me in thinking about the human implications of this idea. For often, perhaps because I'm female, I see human corollaries to ideas in economics, math, or even architecture. Not that, as a consequence, I am necessarily quick enough to correct my own behavior, mind you :p

I just lecture other people about how to correct theirs. This is one of the dubious joys of being a solipsistic parasite who traffics more in pronouncement than persuasion.

Once, after having a 'discussion' with my husband, it occurred to me that in marriage outward behavior (i.e., our "form") was in many ways more important than (and may even at times play a role in determining) what both partners think to themselves privately. In other words, some times if we are not happy, it's because we've fallen into the habit of not acting happy. Correct the behavior and you correct the state of mind. Relationships are a bit of a feedback loop. In marriage, people tend to get sloppy and stop doing the nice things they did when they were courting. They take each other for granted. And all of a sudden, there is no positive feedback and they wonder where the 'magic' went? What they forgot was that the magic wasn't an externally created force: they had a role in creating it. If the flame dies out, you can re-ignite it. I think that's the biggest reason modern marriages don't succeed; couples are so busy with careers, the Internet, their iPods, and watching cable TV that they're forgotten to take an active role in their own lives. No wonder they're unhappy:

In 2004 Americans who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” were nearly twice as likely to tell pollsters they were “very happy” as those who considered themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” (44% versus 25%). One might think this was because liberals were made wretched by George Bush. But the data show that American conservatives have been consistently happier than liberals for at least 35 years.

This is not because they are richer; they are not. Mr Brooks thinks three factors are important. Conservatives are twice as likely as liberals to be married and twice as likely to attend church every week. Married, religious people are more likely than secular singles to be happy. They are also more likely to have children, which makes Mr Brooks confident that the next generation will be at least as happy as the current one.

When religious and political differences are combined, the results are striking. Secular liberals are as likely to say they are “not too happy” as to say they are very happy (22% to 22%). Religious conservatives are ten times more likely to report being very happy than not too happy (50% to 5%). Religious liberals are about as happy as secular conservatives.

Why should this be so? Mr Brooks proposes that whatever their respective merits, the conservative world view is more conducive to happiness than the liberal one (in the American sense of both words). American conservatives tend to believe that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed. This makes them more optimistic than liberals, more likely to feel in control of their lives and therefore happier. American liberals, at their most pessimistic, stress the injustice of the economic system, the crushing impersonal forces that keep the little guy down and what David Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that “everything is always wrong”.

I think there's an expectation gap at work here too.

Happiness, to a great extent, is a function of the gap between what you expect out of life and what you have. If your expectations are way out of line with what you have, or if you focus on things you can't control versus the things you can, it's difficult to be content. Put another way, happiness is the difference between having what you want and wanting what you have. But yesterday George Will highlighted another interesting paradox in the liberal/conservative divide. We may not be able to change the world, but at least we can make sure our actions consort well with our values:

Sixteen months ago, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.

If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

• Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

• Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

• Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

• Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

• In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

• People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

Brooks demonstrates a correlation between charitable behavior and "the values that lie beneath" liberal and conservative labels. Two influences on charitable behavior are religion and attitudes about the proper role of government.

The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion. It increasingly correlates with conservative political affiliations because, as Brooks's book says, "the percentage of self-described Democrats who say they have 'no religion' has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s." America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative. One demonstration that religion is a strong determinant of charitable behavior is that the least charitable cohort is a relatively small one -- secular conservatives.

Recently, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright excoriated the Bush administration (and white people in general) for doing far too little about the AIDS epidemic. But Bob Geldof had this to say about that:

Bob Geldof astonished the aid community yesterday by using a return visit to Ethiopia to praise the Bush administration as one of Africa's best friends in its fight against hunger and Aids.

The musician-turned activist said Washington was providing major assistance, in contrast to the European Union's "pathetic and appalling" response to the continent's humanitarian crises.

"You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical - in a positive sense - in its approach to Africa since Kennedy," Geldof told the Guardian.

The neo-conservatives and religious rightwingers who surrounded President George Bush were proving unexpectedly receptive to appeals for help, he said. "You can get the weirdest politicians on your side."

Former president Bill Clinton had not helped Africa much, despite his high-profile visits and apparent empathy with the downtrodden, the organiser of Live Aid, claimed. "Clinton was a good guy, but he did f**k all."

Lord Alli, the aid activist who is accompanying Geldof on the trip organised by the UN children's aid agency Unicef, echoed his praise of the Bush administration.

"Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk, but does deliver," Lord Alli said.

I think this is what cracks me up more than anything else about George Bush. The man is happier than most people, yet he manages to provoke his enemies into fits of incoherent illogic.

You go, Keith. Whatever makes you happy.

Posted by Cassandra at March 28, 2008 07:06 AM

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Comments

A number of years ago, I read somewhere that it is nearly impossible to "think" the word "smile" and not have a smile on one's face. A corollary to that states that if you put a smile on your face, even if you don't feel happy, you can train yourself to feel happier. I found that it really works.

"Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face...."

Posted by: Sloan at March 28, 2008 10:02 AM

Happy dolts titter
Endlessly about their luck
But luck is immune

Posted by: Mr. Frowny Face at March 28, 2008 10:41 AM

There is so much truth in there, I hardly know where to start. I spend so much time now wishing I had made more of an effort and been more forgiving in my first marriage, making my happiness MY responsibility and not his. I think if I had, my children might have been happier also, and my son might have graduated from high school instead of dropping out and getting a GED. I can't change it now, but I have talked to my children about it, hoping they don't make the same mistake.

Posted by: April at March 28, 2008 10:47 AM

Smarty pants :)

Posted by: The Harshed Mellow at March 28, 2008 10:48 AM

This calls for a song. A Happy song!

Posted by: Snarkammando at March 28, 2008 12:35 PM

April, I think women are particularly guilty of that crime :p

But then men have their own set of completely illogical things they do that drive us batty. I blame Mother Nature and an uncaring Bush administration :p

What is it La Femme Crickita always says about the battle of the sexes? No one wins b/c there is too much consorting with the enemy.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2008 12:35 PM

Cricket is clever that way. :)

Posted by: April at March 28, 2008 01:23 PM

From wee green clad girls
A mugging I did enjoy
Thin Mints made for milk

Posted by: Mr. Frowny Face at March 28, 2008 01:35 PM

Speaking of Reverend Wright...Would your “church,” if you fellowship with one, put on it’s bulletin board hateful articles from the anti-semitic, terrorist group Hamas? Barack Obama’s CURRENT church, Trinity United Church of Christ, did just that.

We just found out in the last 48 hours that Wright, while giving a eulogy in 2007, said that “(Jesus’) enemies had their opinion about Him… The Italians for the most part looked down their garlic noses at the Galileans.”

Now comes a report by NBC News that while Wright was in charge at Obama’s CURRENT church, reprinted anti-Israel writings, including one column by none other than Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, appeared on the bulletin board there.

The column by the Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, asked: “Why should any Palestinian recognise the monstrous crimes carried out by Israel’s founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state?”

The question becomes one of judgment, character, integrity, honesty and intelligence.

If I were to believe Obama’s defense that he didn’t, and still doesn’t, know what was, and still is, going on at his church for 20 years, then, in my opinion, he must not be very observant nor intelligent, and does not possess sensible judgement. Therefore he cannot be qualified to be the POTUS, in my opinion. If I do NOT believe Obama, then his integrity, character and honesty is woefully insufficient to be the POTUS, in my opinion.

Obama went to Harvard Law School (they don’t let just anybody in), where he became the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. He graduated magna cum laude in 1991. Now do you think he is NOT aware of what his church and ex-pastor are all about? Be AFRAID! Be VERY AFRAID!

Barack Obama’s political FRAUD against the American People continues…

Read the rest of this article here...http://777denny.wordpress.com/2008/03/28/barack-obama-reverend-wright-trinity-united-church-of-christ-and-hamas/

Posted by: Denny at March 28, 2008 02:07 PM

If you think government has a duty and right to extort money from rich people to help the poor, why the frack would you give the poor your own money?

Thus liberalism is fake liberalism, it is simply touting helping the poor in order to enrich themselves.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 28, 2008 03:02 PM

I don't know if charity can change the world, but I do think it is a sign of deeper connection, which is empathy, and a sense of personal responsibility for our fellow man.

Are we not our brother's keeper? Who does the bell toll for, if not for thee?

Contrarily, I think a lot of people who would be described as rationalists or modern political liberals, actually believe in a type of social Darwinism. They tend to resent anything that interfers with their personal self-actualization. The Bush administration is either realy gettting under Olberman's skin, or else GE is paying him a lot of money to do this; either way, it's some kind of personal self-actualization.
And besides, personal charity requires some time to devote to it. Hey, check it off my income tax; I gotta work on my MBA this year.

The world is a messy place. Always has been, always will be. It can also be a cruelly unpleasant place if every interaction between people is a "struggle for dominance", rather than a meeting place to trade ideas or thoughts. Which brings us to Villainous Company, which is one or the other of those things, I think. :)

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 28, 2008 04:04 PM

> David Mamet, a playwright, recently summed up as the belief that “everything is always wrong”.

This would be the same guy who's starting to get it (as noted by many before, including those at VC)...

http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0811,374064,374064,1.html

Proof that even some liberals can be saved.

Not all, but some.

SEE? There's a bright side to everything!

.

Posted by: obloodyhell at March 28, 2008 04:07 PM

A state of mind indeed...

And since I'm so dog ain't gone happy today, it time for the mandatory Friday afternoon boogie.

Happy Friday Milady, Col. Unit and to all of the villains.

Posted by: bthun at March 28, 2008 05:22 PM

Well bthun, I'll raise you one of my absolute favorite songs. I have no idea why, but this one always just fills me with joy:

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We've been conditioned to not make mistakes,
but I can't live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate
the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin

No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips

Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
the rest is still unwritten.

Posted by: Cass at March 28, 2008 05:44 PM

Conservatives are more happy in life than fake liberals because fake liberals can't get enough of oppressing people and crushing weak cultures underfoot.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 29, 2008 08:40 AM

My son is 14 months old and already the cell phone is his favorite thing. He sees somebody using one and he cries for it. Ought to be fun when he's 14 years old! *lol*

Posted by: Maida Stash at March 28, 2014 12:28 PM

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