Loneliness vs. Being Happy. A choice?

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.  His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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The Boy at six.  How much fun is Christmas?

This week the Internet has been aTwitter® about loneliness.  It’s part of the cycle – it’s Fall, so it’s time for peak talk about being lonely.  Weight loss stories go year ‘round, but they peak after Christmas.  And the stories have a kicker.  “Loneliness is worse than ______ (obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, or, heck choose your own favorite disease to fill in the blank).”  The most recent article that I read seemed to focus on middle aged men, but I think it goes much deeper than just loneliness.  I think the roots are back to Hope.

When was the last time you were so excited that you could hardly sleep because of the day ahead?  That’s Hope.

I’m old enough I enjoy giving stuff more than getting it, but I’ve observed that kind of Hope, that level of anticipation most recently in The Boy and Pugsley.  The Boy is seventeen, and really surprising and delighting him at Christmas is difficult, now.  But Pugsley is twelve and would have the Christmas tree up in early September if we’d let him.  Pugsley dearly loves Christmas, and that spirit is alive in his heart, even when The Mrs. and I play Scrooge and Grinch®.  The Christmas Spirit (which is really just super-concentrated Hope) is naturally strong in the young.

I’ve recently discussed Scott Adams’ Formula for Happiness (LINK),

Happiness = Health + Money + Social + Meaning.

How does it apply to the young?

Health is (generally) a given.  When a child is sick enough that he leans over the side of his bed and throws up in his brother’s pants (which just happened to be on the floor there because they shared a room), he tends to remember that.  (My brother, John Q. Wilder, was not happy.)  Youth and vitality go together, since they haven’t had time to wreck their health yet.

Money is a hit or miss.  But (generally, again) money issues don’t weigh heavily on the mind of a kid.  They know that times might be tight, but they have no perspective to keep them up at night worrying about money.

Social?  In all but the extreme cases, kids have plenty of chances to interact with other kids and make friendships that last a lifetime.  Even shy kids.  They might not be friends with the popular kids, but they can have friends.

Meaning?  Yes, but like kids, it’s pretty shallow.  Being good is near enough what constitutes meaning for the younger set.  Meaning often comes from adequate performance and parental praise.

But as people get older (past their thirties), the equation changes.

Health:  Yearly you are reminded of increasing limitations, stronger eyeglass prescriptions, and less hair (except on the back, where it grows thicker than an Amazon rain forest).  Ow.  My hip hurts.

Money:  Generally people are better off financially as they get older, with the caveat that their peak earning potential may be in the past.

Social:  Friendships may have worn away through long hours and distance – most social contacts might even be at work.

Meaning:  Meaning likely comes from work, spouse, or volunteer organizations, or, in some cases, just making it to another birthday.

What role does hope play?  Hope is looking forward to time with friends and family, having goals big enough to be worthy of chasing, having plans of things you want to do and experience.  These things lead to enthusiasm and excitement in life.

What does the opposite side of the Adams Equation look like?

Despair=Poor Health(No Hope)+No Money(No Hope)+Alone Socially(No Hope)+Meaningless Existence(No Hope)

Despair leads to all the bad issues:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness
  • Pain (real, not like needing a safe space in college because spaghetti is cultural appropriation)

It’s a lot like being a fan of a California NFL© team.

A sudden cratering of any one of the factors in the Equation of Despair can bring about a vicious cycle, leading to spiraling sadness.  This despair is dangerous – fatal if long enough and deep enough.  How many widows die within a month of their husband?  How many men die a month after retirement?

Whereas Hope can put you in a bad place and make you stay for too long (bad job/bad marriage/Raiders® fan), Hope is of then the only thing that will keep you alive when things go horribly wrong, as they absolutely will from time to time.

I think the key might be in being able to look at the world, not through the jaded eyes of experience, but by being able to maintain that sure Hope of a six year old on the night before Christmas . . .

Value Creation and Zombie Steve Jobs

“Lies are like children: they’re hard work, but it’s worth it because the future depends on them.” – House, M.D.

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Pugsley, prior to going for his midnight shift in the PEZ® mines.

I was talking to a friend yesterday when he mentioned that he had been transferred to manage a group of newly graduated college kids.  To be clear – this group of college graduates is in no way typical – I imagine that they’re making in range of $80,000-$90,000 a year.  Not Harvard Law money, but still pretty good for the small(ish) town my friend lives in.  So, as a new manager to the group (he’s been managing people for decades, and he’s a good one) he got the group together to explain what he was looking for from them, what his general expectations were of his employees.  In one line that has been standard for him for years, (I heard it from him when Bill Clinton was President) he indicated that he expected the group to put in, on average, fifty hours a week.

Chaos!

Pandemonium!

My friend had become Literally Hitler.

He eventually backed down to forty-five hours per week, and was demoted to just being Literally Saddam Hussein.

As he told the story, I laughed.

The irony is that these college grads that actually do put in the long hours that my friend suggested will soon be so far ahead of their colleagues that their colleagues will never be able to catch up with them:  the harder worker will have more knowledge, more skills, more credibility, and very soon, much bigger raises and promotions.  Their colleagues will call them, “lucky.”

90% of success is showing up on time.  At least 5% is working just a bit harder, so your skills build up faster, especially when you are young.  (The remaining 5% is turtles.  All the way down.)

What’s the point in all this hard work and achievement?  To be rich?  To stress yourself out to the point where you have a heart attack in your 30s and die?

No.

The point is Value Creation.

One of the coolest aspects of the capitalist system is that it allows you (really, forces you in a purely capitalist system) to be of value to your fellow man.  Capital flows to those that create and provide value.  So, in a truly capitalist system, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for someone you might not even know or ever meet.  Bill Gates made money when I bought my copy of MicroSoft® Word™, and yet he’s never invited me for dinner.  Nor will he, unless that restraining order lapses.  I’ve told him to stop calling me, but that man won’t listen.

Value creation is like magic.  You take an idea or concept to make someone else’s life better, and then you create a product or service out of wood, metal, plastic, or just plain computer code, or, like this blog, just out of pure ideas.  If your idea is good, people will buy it, eat it, or read it, but probably not all three, unless it’s breakfast cereal.

Capitalism is simple – you (should) make money only when you create value for someone else.  Value Creation is nearly alchemy.  Alchemy was (at least in part) focused on turning lead into gold.  Capitalism is better.  It can turn cow poop into gold – when sold as fertilizer.  In a capitalist system, we transmute lower valued items into higher valued items every day.

The flows of capital follow the paths cut by Value Creation.  Those people (and businesses) that are best at creating value get more money.  What do they do with that money?  Do they put it in a box?  No.  They use it to create more value.

And that’s what my friend’s newly graduated college students do not get.  The business isn’t there for them to have a great life.  It doesn’t exist to pay them a living wage.  It won’t pay more because housing is more expensive where the business is.  Companies pay based on the value the employees create.  Don’t create more value than somebody else would for minimum wage?  You’ll get minimum wage.  Don’t create enough value for a three bedroom house on two acres in San Francisco?  Your boss and company don’t care.

In the end, it’s Value Creation.  How do you do it?

There are lots of ways, but perhaps the best way to create value is to solve someone’s problem.  The bigger the problem and the greater the number of people, the greater the value creation, and, generally, the greater the wealth that the person or company can expect to get.  The cell phone is a great example – before it existed, people spent no money on it.  After it was invented, people would spend . . . some money on it.  After the phones got data, and the phones got smart?  Massive floodgates of money poured into a product that had never existed.  Apple© went from a value of $30 billion to a market cap of 30 times as much, nearly a trillion dollars after their innovation with the iPod® and with the iPhone™.  They created a new category, and brought value to people in ways that nobody (except Steve Jobs) anticipated.  I hear that their primary focus right now, however, is bringing Steve Jobs back to life, so they can have a new idea.

The effort that went into creating the new products that Apple® launched was legendary.

And it was more than forty hours per week . . . because changing the world takes more effort than that . . . .

Reality: Does it exist? And if it does, are there cookies?

“It’s been six hours.  Dreams move one one-hundredth the speed of reality, and dog time is one-seventh human time.  So, you know, every day here is like a minute.  It’s like Inception, Morty, so if it’s confusing and stupid, then so is everyone’s favorite movie.” – Rick and Morty

Pugsley after trying to figure out quantum mechanics on his Quantum Mechanics Lego® set.

Phillip K. Dick wrote multiple stories about reality being fluid, or, in many cases, entirely misleading.  The tricks that memory can play were multiplied, and often the memories you recalled weren’t yours at all.  You can see that in titles of his stories, such as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” and “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”  You might recall the movie versions of these:  Blade Runner® and Total Recall™.

Dick had a certain sense of paranoia that pervaded him, with a nearly constant theme of an eroding reality falling apart around him in both his life and in the characters that he wrote about.  In The Man In The High Castle, Mr. Dick alludes to this reality being a different one, and that there are nearby realities that were close enough to impact ours in real and permanent ways.

So, if you’ve ever felt this reality was just a little bit off, remember, that sometimes even paranoids are right . . .

The Boy and I went to go see Blade Runner: 2049 today.  He didn’t like it.  Too long, music was overpoweringly loud.  I agree it was too long – it probably would have been an awesome 90 minute or 100 minute movie.  And, as a dude getting older, louder things don’t bother me too much.  I liked this movie better than the original and would recommend 2049, though I must admit to not being a big fan of the original.  The Thing®, Fast Times at Ridgemont High™ and even First Blood (Rambo)© were better films, I thought.  (Odds are you won’t remember the film that won Best Picture® that year:  Chariots of Fire.  I’ll save you the time.  Booooooring.  Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi, who starts a film production company with Burt Reynolds where they concentrate on creating movies about quality footwear from India.  Again, my mini-review:  Boooooooring.)

But Mr. Dick brought the question forward:  what’s real?

I know that there’s a pretty big consensus that this universe that we inhabit is real, it has substance, objects are made of matter, your senses tell you the objective truth, your memories are reliable, and that the whole thing follows a set of understandable logical rules.  Time is linear, and goes just one way.  You can understand the things that are local, that are near you, but you have no perception of things that are very far away, unless you have a cell phone or a radio.  If a tree falls in the forest, well, it falls in the forest, whether you heard it or not.

This is the best way to get through a day.  Guessing that a train has mass and that mass times velocity will turn you into a fine mist if you ignore it is probably the safest way to consider reality.  Ignoring that one is pretty much an “at your own risk” sort of thing, though there’s anecdotal evidence that none other than George Washington had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullet holes in his jacket during the French and Indian War.  So, did reality change around Washington (LINK)?  Scott Adams thinks that reality might be very malleable (LINK) and he is a millionaire cartoonist, so I’d take whatever he says seriously (seriously).

 

But we all agree that baking bread smells good, and poo doesn’t.  So our senses are right on track.  But flies . . . seem to like the smell we don’t?  Are our senses lying to us on what is good or bad, or are they finely tuned to present a picture of reality to us that is most advantageous for us our long term survival?  All evidence is that sugar tastes sweet and good to us, not because it is good for us, but because it has a high energy content.  A sucrose or dextrose or lactose or maltose or fructose (note the trend) molecule all taste (more or less) sweet.  That would tell a primate to eat more of the sweet stuff, and much less of his own poo.  Flies?  Not so much, I’m sure poo smells like fresh-baked bread to them.  In no way does your sense of smell tell you the objective truth, though it’s got some pretty good programming built in for your survival.

But surely, your sense of sight doesn’t lie?  Well . . . why is a rose pretty?  Why is a pretty girl pretty?  While much of the reality you see might be (at least somewhat) accurate, even the filters your sense of sight puts the world through are far from objective.  Plus, a big portion of what you see during a day is just your brain filling in details for you.  Your effective actual visual area is much smaller.  HD camcorders now pull in far more data than the human eye.

I am generally sure my memories are good, though.  But one night while watching a television special on stupid game-show moments, The Mrs. and I were wondering when it had been narrated, since the narrator was Richard Dawson.  I remembered vividly reading about him dying in 1990 or 1991.  The Mrs. recalled the same thing, from the same timeframe.  Even the cause of death was the same: cancer.  We hit up Alta-Vista® or some other search engine.  Yahoo® maybe? It showed clearly that Richard Dawson was alive, and had not died the way we both remembered he had.  (He has since passed on.)

We’ve since come on to a few more things that we both remember that were counter to what Google® says when we ask.  So are our memories what changed, or was it reality?  Are The Mrs. and I slowly slipping through a myriad of potential John Wilder and The Mrs. personas throughout multiple, closely related universes?  Could it be that every time we part from one another, we don’t come home to exactly the same person we left?  I slipped left, The Mrs. slipped right?  I’m one step closer to a universe where the Kardashians are poor, unknown grifters operating out of Wal-Mart® parking lots, and The Mrs. I left this morning slipped towards a universe where the Kardashians have solidified control of a world government?

Let’s pretend there’s only one reality.  Does it follow rules that we can understand?  In the famous double-slit experiment, the answer really is:  No.  It doesn’t.  Let me give a description of the experiment:  There are two slits on a piece of paper.  A photon, or particle of light, can go through either one.  But if light is a wave, it will go through both, and create a diffraction pattern on the back.  Sure enough, we can prove that light is a wave!  It creates a diffraction pattern on the back, as shown below (source: Wikimedia, Jordgette, CC By SA3.0)

It does it because waves of light behave like this (source, Wikimedia, Lookang, CC By SA3.0):

But if you look to see where if a photon goes through a particular slit?  The diffraction pattern disappears.  You know enough about the photon that it no longer behaves as a probability wave, but now has to be a particle.  It forms a boring old line.  Diffraction disappears due to knowledge.

Whose knowledge?  Your knowledge.  If you observe it, you make the photon choose where it is.  Observation changes the nature of the phenomenon, and, in this case, determines reality.  No, reality has rules that conform to your observation.

So, is time a linear one-way street?  This (LINK) experiment shows that there just might be reactions to stimuli . . . before the stimuli occurs.  Beyond that, there’s more than anecdotal evidence that just shortly before his death, Lincoln had a dream that detailed his body lying in state.  So, there’s that.

And being able to understand only things that occur locally?  Here is a study (LINK) that admittedly is more on the fun side – this lady’s dog knew when she was coming home.  At a random time.  When she was at least 8 miles away.

As far as superpowers go, these would be awesome.  I mean, seeing is way better, but seeing the future would be awesome.  Especially seeing into the future for the next thirty seconds or so.  Imagine the saber-tooth tigers you could avoid by halting before you cross just that spot on the way to the watering hole.

Oh, and the tree falling in the forest?  It hasn’t.  And it has.  Until it’s observed, it exists only in a state of quantum superposition – it hasn’t fallen/has fallen but it won’t until it’s observed, and that observation in the future triggers the quantum collapse of the superposition state into a fallen tree or an upright tree.  Just like the dual slit experiment, the very nature of the reality we observe on a day-to-day basis is dependent upon the observer.

So, reality, when viewed a little closer, maybe conforms more to Philip K. Dick than we’d normally, comfortably like to see.  I mean, we like the comfort of assuming that everything is as it seems, but it may be that we develop more of our own reality than we think we do, as both actor and observer in our life.

And when it comes to observers, The Boy says skip Blade Runner: 2049 and instead go read The Man in the High Castle . . . .

Tom Petty, AM Radio, Heavy Metal, and Motivation

“If you ask me, you are both off the mark.  Last night was about two people ruled by very powerful superegos, tortured by them, who found a chance, however misguided, to break through and rediscover their ids together.  Call me an old softy, but that’s how I see it.” – Frasier

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The Boy and Pugsley dancing in the rain, which makes my id sing.

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a Tom Petty song.  Where I grew up was media vacuum.  On TV, we had three channels, plus PBS® (Who watched PBS©?  Nobody.).  Unless it was nighttime, we only got two radio stations, and both of them were AM stations.  One played country music, so, for me it might as well not have exisited.  The other played a complicated mix of top 40 from four years previously, news, and an hour of mariachi music at lunchtime.  It signed off (shut down) at 11PM.

But at night . . . at night the mighty KOMA blasted out 50,000 watts of rock and roll at 1520 on the AM dial, the ionosphere conducted the signal hundreds of miles and back toward earth and over the mountains to my house.  It’s probable that I first heard Tom Petty on some cool summer night (down to 50 ˚F most summer nights).  Maybe it was “Don’t Do Me Like That.”

But Tom was always a bit older than I was, both in age and in the issues he raised in his musical themes.  Me?  I gravitated toward metal, mainly hairy metal, Ozzy™.  Mötley Crüe®.  The Scorpions©.  Despite the previous list, what I liked wasn’t all hair metal.  I liked “normal” music, too.

I ended up on a strange quest:  I’d heard a song, once, and I’d try to tell people what it sounded like, and say intelligent things like “it goes Da Da Dadum dadum de-da dum Ohh-Aiii-Uh . . . Uh.”  The record store clerk would nod knowingly, and point to a cassette or album.  It would turn out to be Judas Priest™.  Which I really, really liked.  Or Molly Hatchet©, which was kinda okay.   I would dutifully buy the tape or album, zip home (first on my ten speed, later in my pickup) and then listen to the album.  Normally, in the first song I would know if it was the same singer.  Always the answer was it wasn’t.  But these mistakes were beautiful – I can still remember sitting on the couch on a dim, overcast day, the clouds pregnant with snow that had yet to fall, blasting “The Hellion” and thinking . . . “okay, life is really cool.”

Imagine that this song played every time you entered a room.  I imagine Google® is working on that.

Again, none of them were the band I was looking for.  I think I spent $300 or so on every single album that featured leather, scantily clad females, and Spandex® that I could find.  For reference, I had all of these as either cassettes or albums.  Album cover copyrights belong to their respective corporate overlords.

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Funky font?   Check.  Picture that looks like something the disturbed kid drew in art class?  Check.

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Satan?  Check.  Priest in glasses being thrown into a pit of fire?  Check.

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Hmmm.  I don’t know about you, but something screams, John Wilder, BUY THIS ALBUM NOW!

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Spandex®?  Check.  Leather?  Check.  Canadian?  Check.  But . . . they’re dudes.  I bought this on cassette, so, thankfully, the picture was tiny.

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Swords?  Check.  Giant flying leathery chicken?  Check?  Leather . . . on a girl this time?  Check.

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Wow.  Just . . . wow.

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I never could figure out what sort of naughty thing they were supposed to be doing.  In the day.  At a drive in.  With both feet out the window.  Probably ripping the labels off of pillows?

Until . . . like Columbus I discovered what was already there (and broken up by the time I found them): Led Zeppelin.  True Fact:  Christopher Columbus first discovered Robert Plant picking onions in a Nevada prison camp, and introduced him to Jimmy Page at a ballet class, but would take no credit because he wanted Led Zeppelin to do disco music.

So, I listened again to Zeppelin. “Yeah, it might be that guy singing?”

It was.  It was this song:

This was the song.  Yay! 

But I’d have to special order the album, since they didn’t have Led Zeppelin III in stock.

Nope.  Too much commitment.

As you might have been able to tell by the artists and album covers above, my musical tastes were driven by my id.

If you don’t remember your Freud, he broke the brain into three bits:

  1. The Super Ego, which, like your dad, is for criticism and moralizing.
  2. The Ego, which is the organized human who lives on the main floor and deals with society in a realistic manner, and
  3. The Id, where all base instincts (Sex, PEZ® and Rock and Roll) live in the basement of your brain.

I listened to a lot of rock that was id driven.  And why not, I was working on a multi-decade winning streak.  Sad songs were for people who occasionally lost stuff.  But Tom Petty’s music was deeper.  It spoke to the conflict between the Super Ego and Ego, an intellectual and emotional conflict I really didn’t have.  I was riding high on year after year of success, slaying dragons and charging the castle.  Why would I question anything?  Party on, dudes!!

It wasn’t that Tom and I didn’t get along – he was no Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Depp, who are both dead to me.  They know why.

Really, it took life kicking me in the teeth more than once to move me from the normal reckless abandon that I attacked life with to a person who asks the kinds of questions that Tom Petty discusses in his songs.  I still recall having a conversation with The Mrs. when I began to realize that I liked Tom Petty:

Me:  “You know, the older I get, the more I understand Tom Petty.”

The Mrs., shaking her head, raising her voice a little:  “Can’t hear you . . . blow dryer on.”

But now Mr. Petty is speaking to me again – he died.

It’s not unusual for rock stars to die young – it’s like we pick an unstable, talented personality and then shove massive amounts of cash at them.  I’m just surprised that 90% of them aren’t dead by 30.  Just my luck that after the apocalypse the Twinkie®, the cockroach, and Johnny Depp will still be around.

But Tom Petty won’t be around, even though The Postman (movie) promised me that he would be.  His death hit me (oddly) harder than I’d anticipated.  He hadn’t been my life’s soundtrack, though I’d clearly been listening to him more recently.

He made it to 66.  According to the CDC, 83% of white non-Hispanics will make it to 67.  Only 1% of 66 year olds die.  If you make it to 66, your mean life expectancy is to make it to 86.  So, from this data, he died early.  But he didn’t look out of shape.  Far from it – he’d just finished a part of a concert tour comprised of 50 dates in five months, which can take a toll on 26 year olds, though I presume at 26 it’s the Jack Daniels® and late nights and not the (presumed) warm tea, oatmeal cookies and obligatory cellophane wrapped butterscotch hard candies that old people like that filled the Heartbreaker’s dressing room.

Though Mr. Petty was quite a bit older than me, I guess his death hit me like it did, because even at 66 it seemed he should be too young to die, just as his voice entered my soundtrack with a greater frequency and volume.  It makes me feel that much more mortal, and therefore more committed to getting into the best shape possible now so I can be in the 50% that make it to 82 years.

Tom Petty inspired millions in many ways – through emotional ups and downs.  He inspired artists everywhere that they could pick up a guitar and play and that their music would, like his, give them a slice of immortality.  And guys like me who want to keep runnin’ down our dreams.  I think this is the part where I get the dragon, right?

Thanks, Tom.

Income, Happiness, and Bad AC/DC

“See, this is what we call an all you can eat buffet.  Here you can eat all you want for just $6.99.  That why everyone comes here on Tuesday nights, except for Kenny’s family because for them, $6.99 is two years’ income.” – South Park

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The purpose of having money is so you can afford to buy things like this. 

I remember having a negative net worth and still enjoying most parts of life.  I had my health, my youth, good friends, PEZ® and meaningful work.  I also remember sleepless nights worried about how I was going to pay this bill or that bill.  I clipped . . . coupons.  And used them.  I’m so ashamed.

Let me back up.

I was married before The Mrs., as I’ve mentioned before.  That relationship ended (which made both of us happy) but my previous spouse had been in charge of paying the bills.  On her last day in the house she handed me a bulging plastic grocery sack filled with bills.  She then handed me a checkbook in a blue plastic cover, the sides of the cover starting to crack at the point where the cover bended to open and close the checkbook.

“I have no idea how much money is in the account,” she said.

The answer was, “not much.”  The first bill I pulled off the top of the stack was a credit card that hadn’t been paid in several months.

Wow.

I got out a spreadsheet and started to add up bills.  I made a list of minimum payments.  I made a pretty ruthless budget ($4 a day for food for three?) and . . . went to work.  I took a loan against my 401K and paid all the back payments due on the accounts.  Lots of Hamburger Helper®.

But was I happy?  Well, yes.  My friends said that I hadn’t looked happier in years.  And I felt happy.

Now there has been no time in my life where I couldn’t afford to feed my family.  Were there times when I was a week of payments away from being at zero cash?  Certainly.  Did I have an emergency fund?  Not really.  I could have played the alternate-bill game, slowing payments for the electricity so I could pay the gas.  I could have maxed out my credit cards, sold family heirlooms, sold plasma, sold a kidney.  I could have averted bankruptcy for a few months.  Emergency fund?  No, a catastrophe spending plan.

Thankfully, it never came to that.  So, a negative net worth and a happy life?  Sure.  I was young:  the future was wide open.

But you don’t have to trust me.  Actual Nobel® Prize-winning economists (Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahnemann) did a study where they tried to measure the impact of income on happiness.  And, they found (in 2010 dollars, which were less plump and firm compared to today’s inflated dollars) that happiness was maximized at a household income of about $75,000 (that would be $85,000 in today’s dollars).  People’s perception of life increased with more money (they thought they were doing better) but they weren’t any happier.

I then began to wonder what factors might influence whether or not $85,000 is enough?

  • If you’re paying a huge proportion of your income on debt, it will prevent you from spending on other things.  In my personal example, I had debt, but I also had a plan:  work like the devil to pay it off.  Each retired credit card or past due bill was a little victory.  There are some forms of debt, though, that are worse than others.  The king of bad?  Student Loan debt.  While education is valuable, the only way to default on a student loan is to die, and I think that’s pretty extreme to get out of a bill.
  • Location, location, location. New Yorkians and San Franciscainites would scoff at $85,000 per year.  Their homeless rat-catchers make more than $85,000 on a bad year.  I tried to come up with a city that might be near the national average for cost of living:  I ended up with Reno, Nevada.  To replicate $85,000 in Reno would require $184,000 in Manhattan, and $143,000 in San Francisco.  I’m not sure that this really covers it, because the average house in San Francisco per this survey was $1,000,000, and the last time I looked, $1,000,000 buys you a house with 830 square feet in San Fran.  750 square feet in Manhattan.  My college apartment was larger.  No free range children there – you probably have to stack cages to keep more than one.
  • What does your future look like? This is going to impact your overall contentment.  Feel like it’s all over and the dark of winter of your life is at hand?  Or is it just dawn, and you’re looking at a warm spring day with a lifetime ahead?  Your perceptions of yourself, your potential, and your future influence your contentment.  Grumpy old men?  Yeah, they think that they’re at their winter and are angry that you’re limber enough to touch your toes.
  • Number of Kids/Parents to Support. Have you ever spent money to buy food for a seventeen year old defensive tackle/noseguard?  I have seen The Boy get up from a Sunday dinner and go directly to the fridge to see if there’s anything to eat.  How many ribeye steaks can you eat?  I’ve seen him eat three.  After three or four bratwurst.  These are not exaggerations.  I went shopping one Sunday with The Mrs.  We had a shopping cart filled with food.  She looks at me.  “This is just for The Boy’s lunch.  One week of his lunch.”  He has a little brother, Pugsley, who will soon enter Junior High and the high calorie consumption of testosterone and a teenager.  Then there’s college.  There are cars.  Spending money.  Have a dozen kids?  Yeah, $85,000 for the household seems a bit sparse – you might need to sell some for medical experimentation.
  • Medical Expenses. The Mrs. listens not to my entreaties that her insulin costs nearly as much as gold per shot.  She’s all, “Well, if I don’t take it I’ll die.”  The Mrs. has a really crappy pancreas.  But if you have medical expenses that are very high?  Forget insurance – it’s been awful for years – it’s like paint made for the government:  it’s expensive and covers nothing.  Have enough of these issues?  Jimmy Kimmel will cry for you, and $85,000 might seem woefully small.  Note:  substituting “homemade” insulin is not recommended.  The Mrs. did NOT think that was amusing.
  • Hobbies.  Sure, they’re optional, but we’re talking about being happy.  I like collecting 17th century glassware.  And then using it for practicing skeet shooting.
  • Spending Habits. Being on a budget sucks – the discipline it takes to plan and scrimp and save is rough, but it’s better than homelessness . . . .  Sometimes you don’t get to pick the Sam Adams® and have to just pretend Natty Lite© is awesome.  My previous post on the money philosophy of Mr. Money Mustache, Financial Samurai, and Early Retirement Extreme still applies (LINK).  Read it.

The Kinks understand that nobody likes being a cut-priced person in a low budget land . . .

So the $85,000 is above the median (half of the households above, half below) household income of ~$60,000.  As near as I can figure, $85,000 puts a household in the top 35% of income in 2017.  Again all of this research doesn’t prove you’re happy or unhappy at any income.  It just shows the sweet spot where additional income seems to stop adding additional contentment for most people.

I would (personally) guess a big predictor of long term happiness would be the amount of wealth that you had managed to save.  It would certainly add peace of mind, knowing that you had some long term money, and that would remove a lot of the day to day stress from unexpected events – job loss, sickness, needing to buy Cher concert tickets.

But can you have too much money buried in Mason Jars® behind your house?  Sure.  If it removes your incentive to work, does that remove meaning from your life?  I’ve seen more than one person retire and die a month later.  And you don’t have to be old to lose your purpose and give up, as Buzz Aldrin proves (LINK).  Not everyone will lose their purpose, and I really do recommend working until you’re sick and tired of it – that’ll get you in the right mindset to retire.

But higher income come with issues as well that might detract from the overall contentment that income earners get – don’t think that the $150,000 crowd has it easy.  Long hours.  Deadlines.  Job insecurity (average VP only lasts six years before being canned).  Travel.  Time away from the family.  Awful bosses (CEOs rank high on the range of socio-psychopath).  So, at some point, it’s probably better to live cheap rather than live a stressed out life.

Because the future is wide open . . . .

Some bonus content, since we’re thinking about cheap:

The following is almost nine years old, back at my old blog, Wilder by Far.  Here’s a link to the original post (LINK).

For your pleasure, I have transcribed an AC/DC™ tune Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, as written by William F. Buckley. Enjoy.

If you’re experiencing difficulty with the school principal
He’s making you quite sad
You wish to complete education without resorting to implied sexual intercourse
Here is a course of action
Grab a telecommunication device, I never leave my domicile
Contact me whenever it’s convenient
E-mail – Bonn.Scott73@acdc.com
I conduct my life through extralegal means

Hey

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

You are experiencing difficulty with your life partner
You have serious emotional depression over the relationship
He’s conducting a clandestine illicit possibly romantic relationship with someone with whom you share extremely strong interpersonal ties
You may feel so emotionally distraught that you cry
Grab a telecommunication device, I am currently not in the vicinity of other humans
Or come visit informally with no set purpose or agenda
Enter and remove thoughts about him from your mind
We will cooperatively either stage a fancy dancing party or partake of our own illicit romance

Hey

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

You have a female domestic partner whom you wish to no longer have contact with
But you lack courage to take action
Your domestic partner is continually argumentative and critical
Sufficiently so to make you question your mental competence
Grab a telecommunication device, leave your domestic partner without other human companionship
The proximate moment for you to exhibit some sort of courage is now
With reasonable financial remuneration, I would be glad to
a)perform a silent act of assassination while you pursue your own alibi or,
b)have an illicit romantic encounter with your female domestic partner
(the Internet is unclear here, I prefer version a since I see no reason version b would in any way bring the situation described to a favorable conclusion, but there is some scholarly debate)

Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively, yeah
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts and they’re performed inexpensively

Heavy quasi-stone masses intended to sink bodies when attached to the feet
Molecules containing triple-bonded carbon and nitrogen
Tri-nitro-toluene
Performed inexpensively

Ooo, common items used for the purpose of constricting the ability of a subject to breathe
Agreements to do wrong
Large differences in electrical potential
Performed inexpensively, eah

Nefarious acts, I will perform them without regard to what they are, performed inexpensively
Nefarious acts, nefarious acts, nefarious acts, performed inexpensively

Yaaargh

Happiness, Dilbert, and Suffering

“There are two kinds of pain.  The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain.  The sort of pain that’s only suffering.  I have no patience for useless things.” – House of Cards

20160706_150654

Talk about suffering . . . these guys fight to the bitter finish!

Suffering and evil.

They exist.

But so does happiness.

Scott Adams (the Dilbert® author/artist) even has a formula for it.  His post about it is here (LINK).  The formula as presented by Mr. Adams is pretty simple:

Happiness = health + money + social life + meaning

That’s a pretty short list, and a pretty simple formula, and, unwittingly those are represent three of the four items that I chose to feature on this blog – Monday Meaning, Wednesday Wealth, and WilderHealth Friday (yeah, that rhyme sucks, let me know if you have a better one) that this blog is thematically intended to address.  I guess that great minds must think alike?

Health

I believe Mr. Adams intended the list to be (more or less) in order.  For instance, if you’re on your deathbed, having money and a party with tequila-shooting 23 year old actual girl bikini models (you have to specify the “actual” part after 2016, I guess) in your room plus the Pope and Dalai Lama asking you for advice with their religious problems . . . okay, I’ll admit that’s not a bad way to go.  But the whole “going to die” in 20 minutes still turns the whole party into kind of a bummer, what with the dead dying guy and the Pope.  This Pope is not a party animal, unlike the last one . . . .

pope beer

Can I get an amen? – source, Internet, Provenance Unknown

Money

Money is second on the list.  Is it?  I think so.

Money cannot by happiness, but it can buy experiences.  It can buy leisure time.  It can create situations where you have a social life.  And, it can create situations where you create meaningful experiences.  And I’ve been with very little money ($70 in the checking account and $150,000 in debt) and have been out of debt, and I very much recommend having money.  If you’re healthy, that’s a great start.  If you’re healthy and have money?  You can get to the next bits.

Social Life

So, you’ve got health, and money.  Without anyone who cares about you, it’ll seem pretty hollow, since we humans are (mostly) social creatures.  Oh, I’m sure that you’ll bring up Grizzly Adams® but even he had his bear, Ben.

James_Grizzly_Adams_-_Towne_&_Bacon,_1860

In truth, Adams was just a businessman and shoemaker who made and lost several fortunes and died of an aggravated grizzly bear bite after a monkey bit him in the same spot five years later.  Normal, boring suburban life.  Picture source, Wikimedia, public domain.

Meaning

So, finally we end up with First World Problems.  Health is a common problem in the world, as is money, although I think plenty of strong families do get by without money, and even find tons of meaning during a simple life.

Weird Al talking about First World Problems.  Perspective, right?

There’s probably a sweet spot for income, too.  There might be a classic “Three Bears” problem of too much, too little, just right, but I’ll imagine it skews more towards having too much money.  We’ll hit the topic of earning “too much money” (really, probably working so hard and so stressfully that you die sooner) some Wednesday.

Meaning is important, and I can recall some occasions in my life where I had all the money, social connections, and health anyone could really ask for, and then I’d start thinking about meaning.  It was during those situations that I realized that mankind wasn’t horribly predisposed to contentment.  If it isn’t health, material possessions or friends, we have to have something to search for, and it turns out meaning is an easy one.

And I think that the search for meaning often shows up when we do have most of our comforts met – I know that some periods of personal success have left me feeling hollower and brought me back to looking for that deeper side of life.

The Other Side of Happiness

Some churches and religious folks preach that money and the good life is a gift from God, and I’ll agree.  But we cannot forget the gift that suffering is.  I’m not sure that there are many people who have been made better by having all that money.  But when a person has to go through a tough time?  Suffering exists, and difficulty exists, and they exist so we can vanquish them and emerge from the other side, better and stronger.

Is there suffering?  Undoubtedly.

Is there evil?  Certainly.

These exist.  And, we can use them, or rather, in vanquishing them, if we do it right.  If we don’t give in to despair when suffering, if we don’t become evil in vanquishing evil, then we emerge on the other side better for our journey.  And stronger.

At least that’s what I told the Pope and the Dalai Lama, but I’m not sure they heard me over the music.  And the Pope can totally drink tequila.  He’s a party animal!

Insulin 🙂, Glycemic Index and Weight Loss: Not so simple?

“Lord Walder let me choose any of his granddaughters, and promised me the girl’s weight in silver as a dowry. So I have a fat young bride.” – Game of Thrones

 DSC02083

I wonder what the glycemic index of ALL THE CAKE is?  Probably pretty high.

One thing I love about writing this blog is that I always learn something.  My favorite times writing are when, in the middle of the research that I’m doing that I find out something new that changes my conclusion.  Or, like today, when I think I’m pretty up on a subject but I end up finding out something that doesn’t change my conclusion, but changes the way I got there.  So, spoiler alert – I learned a lot, but my conclusion didn’t change.

When it comes to weight loss, it still comes down to what you eat.  For the last two and a half months(!) I haven’t been practicing what I preach – I strayed pretty far from the Paleo®/Primal©/Atkins™ low-carb type diet.  I’d give you my reasons and excuses, but I’m not in junior high anymore and am not really worried about stuff like that.  I’ve mentioned plateaus (LINK) before, and have decided to research the whole diet mess in greater detail.

Like junior high, it’s all about hormones.  Just not exactly the same ones as junior high.

The first and most critical hormone when it comes to weight loss appears to be insulin.  What is insulin, besides expensive?

Let’s take a step back before we answer that.  What’s a hormone?  A hormone is a messenger chemical that the loose agglomeration of organs that your body is made of use to signal each other.  They probably don’t have as much information as, say, a text message.  Think of hormones as the emoji’s of your body.  Keep in mind, these emoji’s don’t just go to one place – they go everywhere.  And do different things in different combinations.

The primary triggering mechanism (but not the only one, as we will see) to flood your body with insulin is the blood sugar level.  Your body actually can see the quality of your blood as it goes through your veins, probably through telepathy.  When the blood sugar level increases, the pancreas releases insulin.  Insulin is the 🙂 of your body.

So, let’s pretend you’re six years old, and the idea of eating a cup of sugar appeals to you.  Your blood sugar content rises, your body sends out a batch of insulin 🙂 .  This insulin allows the sugar (specifically glucose) into the cell to be converted into energy – unless your cells have plenty of energy already, in which case the glucose is converted into glycogen for storage in the muscles for when it’s needed.  If the cells and the glycogen storage are full?  Game over.  Let’s turn all that spare sugar into fat.

So, let’s eliminate insulin 🙂.  That seems easy enough.  No insulin, no fat.

Without insulin 🙂, your cells wouldn’t allow the sugar through the cell wall, and the sugar would continue to increase in concentration until your blood took on the consistency of maple syrup.  Just kidding – your body would dump the sugar through the kidneys, which the kidneys totes do not like – the ancient Greeks even had a name for this:  diabetes, from the words for “pass through” and “sweet.”  Really.

This is actually what happens with type one diabetics:  their pancreas stops making insulin 🙂 and then they get really skinny.  And then, if not diagnosed and given injections of life-giving insulin 🙂, they die.  Elevated blood sugar for long periods of time is really bad for you.  The Mrs. is a type I diabetic.  I tell her that she should stop being dependent upon drugs.  She hits me.

Insulin 🙂 is anabolic – it signals the body that it’s time to build stuff – in this case, fat or glycogen.  Fat is an especially potent storage form, it has about twice the thermal energy per pound or gallon (I could say gram, but I’m not a communist) as sugar does.  But, we should all recall that a calorie is not a calorie – your body uses them differently (LINK).

So, the insulin 🙂 wants to do something with your blood sugar – it has to or else it will kill you.  Part of the choice is yours – eat a batch of potato chips and lounge on the couch?  Right to the fat conversion.  Eat a batch of potato chips and go exercise?  Creating that caloric deficit is required to lose weight, but remember, you can’t outrun your teeth (LINK) even on a low-carb diet.

This forms the basis for the strategies in the Paleo®/Primal©/Atkins™ diets.  In Atkins™ the focus is entirely on elimination of carbs.  In Paleo®/Primal©, the focus is on eating things that are in tune what a hunter gatherer would have consumed back in the day, and a greater understanding of “insulin 🙂 reality” is a component of the diet.

It turns out that there is a list (a very long list that you can find here (LINK)) of what the Glycemic Index (I’ll just call it Index) of food is.  In this case, the Index is a comparison of how the food compares to just drinking 100 grams of glucose, the sugar that goes straight into the bloodstream without alteration.  So, glucose has an Index of 100.  White bread?  70.  Baked potato?  69, nearly the same as bread.  Carrots?  35.  Rocks and twigs?  0.  The Index tells you how much your food is going to go immediately to your bloodstream as sugar.

It’s a complicated system, and there appears to be no evidence that glycemic index values by themselves are a very good basis for a diet.  It does, however, provide a clue as to what causes an insulin response in your body.

A nice, juicy ribeye is composed of protein and fat (along with some garlic . . . mmmm).  The glycemic index of a ribeye is zero.  It doesn’t raise your blood sugar at all.  Let’s say you ate nothing but ribeyes and water for a week.  Wonderful idea!!!  You would not die, but you’d probably start to get sick of ribeyes.  After a year.

But when you ate the ribeye, your body would toss out insulin 🙂.  Well, it wouldn’t do just that.  It also tosses out glucagon (another hormone), which allows amino acids (protein) into the liver to be turned into . . . glucose.  It’s an example of how one hormone does many things, and, in combination with other hormones, does yet a different thing.  Maybe instead of emoji’s, hormones are more like a Rubik’s Cube® which each hormone turns the cube a different way and nobody understands except for Eastern European kids who have no social life.  Limiting this to just insulin 🙂 or even insulin/glucagon can’t tell all of the story, but it is a start.  If you overeat while on Atkins®?  Yeah, you can gain weight.  Thanks, a lot, insulin 🙂.

In a person who hasn’t developed diabetes (type II, the kind that old people get) this insulin/glucagon situation balances itself out.  And our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have a Dairy Queen™ to go get a Blizzard© at.  So, they ate their mammoth, some nuts, and berries.  Pretty low carbohydrate load and the insulin/glucagon balance didn’t create too many fat cavemen.

But we have Dairy Queen™, so modern us uses a lot of insulin 🙂 dealing with that sugar.  And the pancreas keeps pumping it out.  The response to that is that the cells start to ignore the insulin.  Oh, him again.  And then the sugar is stored as fat . . . and the negative cycle repeats, and the person slowly develops diabetes (type II).

But low carb diets improve insulin 🙂 sensitivity.  Working out hard and sleeping well increase sensitivity.  The best cure of all is to lose weight, though that’s not a guarantee to remove all negative aspects of loss of insulin 🙂 sensitivity.  Mark over at Mark’s Daily Apple® has a big list of suggestions on how to increase your insulin 🙂 sensitivity (LINK).

But it’s still a question of thermodynamics, and you’d have to eat a bucketful of broccoli to get to 2,000 calories a day.  Low carb diets just help you not be as hungry and are (in one respect) natural portion limiters, especially if you throw in lots of low carb vegetables as would be common with a Paleo® or Primal© diet.  (Fruits are harder, since we’ve bred them to be much sweeter over thousands of years.)

In the end, my advice is to treat life as you grow older like you treated life in junior high – work out hard, don’t ignore your hormones, and get used to hair showing up in weird places, like your back.

John Wilder is not a doctor.  Do NOT the take advice of anyone without first consulting with your physician, swami, healer, metaphysician, lawyer, and guru.