Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 12th, 2022

Is Happiness Really a Choice?

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Phillip Chard writes in Shepherd Express, a Milwaukee alternative paper:

Happiness—what it is and how to achieve it—has been a hot topic in the mental health field for some time now. That’s good. When so-called positive psychology emerged a few decades ago, for every study focused on happiness, there were over a hundred examining psychopathology. My profession did a far better job of describing what makes us distressed and out of whack than how we can increase life satisfaction. What followed was a self-help industry bringing in $13 billion a year that pushes a plethora of methods for growing happiness. However, overall well-being in our population has declined precipitously rather than increased. What gives? Are we just too distracted or lazy to apply these methods, or do they simply not work?

Well, as usual, it’s complicated. Evidence from sociological studies suggests there is an unrecognized flaw in positive psychology’s recommended approach, one that leans too heavily on individual effort. The underlying premise is that happiness is a choice. If we embrace life in particular ways, practice good self-care and manage our attitude, then we can intentionally enhance our well-being and sense of personal fulfilment. To be sure, there is an element of truth here. There is research showing these kinds of efforts have the potential to move the happiness needle in the right direction, but not nearly as far as some positivity gurus claim.

What’s more, the data shows most of are heading in the wrong direction in this regard. Since 2004 and as measured pre-pandemic, the number of Americans who identify as optimistic (an attitude correlated with happiness) is down from 79% to under 50%. Meanwhile, the incidence of mental maladies has increased, with depression, anxiety and addictions topping the list. The pandemic has been no friend in this regard, as rates of these disorders across the population have soared by over a third.

Nature, Nurture, Both?

So, what determines how happy one is? Well, positive psychology often claims it’s about 50% genetics, 40% life choices (individual control) and only 10% circumstances. However, social psychologists assert otherwise, maintaining that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 5:31 pm

Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life

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Oliver Burkeman writes in the Guardian:

In the very first instalment of my column for the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, a dizzying number of years ago now, I wrote that it would continue until I had discovered the secret of human happiness, whereupon it would cease. Typically for me, back then, this was a case of facetiousness disguising earnestness. Obviously, I never expected to find the secret, but on some level I must have known there were questions I needed to confront – about anxiety, commitment-phobia in relationships, control-freakery and building a meaningful life. Writing a column provided the perfect cover for such otherwise embarrassing fare.

I hoped I’d help others too, of course, but I was totally unprepared for how companionable the journey would feel: while I’ve occasionally received requests for help with people’s personal problems, my inbox has mainly been filled with ideas, life stories, quotations and book recommendations from readers often far wiser than me. (Some of you would have been within your rights to charge a standard therapist’s fee.) For all that: thank you.

I am drawing a line today not because I have uncovered all the answers, but because I have a powerful hunch that the moment is right to do so. If nothing else, I hope I’ve acquired sufficient self-knowledge to know when it’s time to move on. So what did I learn? What follows isn’t intended as an exhaustive summary. But these are the principles that surfaced again and again, and that now seem to me most useful for navigating times as baffling and stress-inducing as ours.

There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating. Today more than ever, there’s just no reason to assume any fit between the demands on your time – all the things you would like to do, or feel you ought to do – and the amount of time available. Thanks to capitalism, technology and human ambition, these demands keep increasing, while your capacities remain largely fixed. It follows that the attempt to “get on top of everything” is doomed. (Indeed, it’s worse than that – the more tasks you get done, the more you’ll generate.)

The upside is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect, in favour of what matters most.

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?” We’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth. (Relatedly, don’t worry about burning bridges: irreversible decisions tend to be more satisfying, because now there’s only one direction to travel – forward into whatever choice you made.)

The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower. It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. You already know it won’t kill you to endure the mild agitation of getting back to work on an important creative project; initiating a difficult conversation with a colleague; asking someone out; or checking your bank balance – but you can waste years in avoidance nonetheless. (This is how social media platforms flourish: by providing an instantly available, compelling place to go at the first hint of unease.)

It’s possible, instead, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, like weight training at the gym. When you expect that an action will be accompanied by feelings of irritability, anxiety or boredom, it’s usually possible to let that feeling arise and fade, while doing the action anyway. The rewards come so quickly, in terms of what you’ll accomplish, that it soon becomes the more appealing way to live.

The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need. I spent a long time fixated on becoming hyper-productive before I finally started wondering why I was staking so much of my self-worth on my productivity levels. What I needed wasn’t another exciting productivity book, since those just functioned as enablers, but to ask more uncomfortable questions instead.

The broader point here is that . .  .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Philosophy

An end-of-life doula’s advice on how to make the most of your time on earth

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Rachel Friedman in Vox has an interesting article on what a death doula can offer. She writes:

“I want a party in the woods with an all-night campfire. I’ll be off to the side in a sleeping bag, nice and cozy. There will be s’mores and cocktails. My friends can come and go, saying goodbye however they want, or just sitting quietly with me and holding my hand. Nobody should touch my feet, though. I hate having my feet touched. A playlist of my favorite songs should be on repeat. I’d like to die as the fire burns out at dawn. Lights out and lights out, you know?”

I’m on Zoom and a chaplain from Iowa is describing her ideal final hours of life. We’re training to become end-of-life doulas, and this morning’s assignment is to help each other talk through a final hours ritual. It’s one of many exercises designed to confront us with our own mortality, so we can leave our own feelings about death at the door before we step across someone else’s threshold to help with theirs.

End-of-life (EOL) doulas are at the opposite end of the life cycle spectrum from birth doulas. They provide non-clinical care (emotional, logistical, and physical) and help with planning; engage with life reviews and legacy work; and provide support for family and friends so caretakers can bring their best, rested selves to support their dying loved one.

I knew training to become a doula would change my relationship to death, but I didn’t anticipate how it would transform my day-to-day life. Like others, my smartphone use skyrocketed during the isolation of the pandemic. Even after those panic-inducing first months in NYC, I still found myself using my phone as a constant distraction — lurking on Instagram, clicking every New York Times alert, obsessively refreshing my email like it was a Vegas slot machine.

I didn’t become an end-of-life doula to fix my fragmented focus. I did it because Covid-19 made death suddenly feel very real and very present. But I found that a deep dive into death work profoundly clarified my priorities, and has helped me spend time in ways more aligned with those priorities thanks to the soul-shaking understanding that our time here is truly limited.

Here are three components of EOL doula training that have been useful in my never-ending quest to live a more present and focused life in this Age of Endless Distractions. Think of it as a looking-back-from-your-imagined-deathbed approach to living — which sounds morbid in theory but is empowering and enriching in reality.

Imagine you have three months to live

I’m not going to lie to you: This exercise isn’t going to feel great! Please do it only if you feel equipped to engage with feelings of grief and loss. I recommend having someone you trust read it to you, someone who also has the emotional bandwidth and who is not currently grieving. You’ll need a pen and paper. Choose a time when you’re not going to feel rushed and are in a comfortable space. Take some deep breaths. Settle in. Here we go.

Write down your five  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

Back again to boar, and applying lessons learned

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It’s hard to break away from boar once you’ve used a well-broken-in boar brush, and right now that’s the only sort of boar brush I have (but perhaps it’s time to get one that’s not yet broken in and start a new brush romance). This Omega 20102 was for a while my favored boar, and though I now like the Omega Pro 48 better (again), this guy is still no slouch. I wet the knot well under the hot-water tap and let the brush stand, sopping wet, while I showered. That’s all it needs.

I applied my lesson learned from the two previous shaves and again over-loaded the brush (though perhaps I am simply loading the brush, having previously under-loaded the brush). The soap is a special run, Phoenix & Beau Specialist (“vanilla, vetiver, malt whiskey, hops, barley, and freshly picked tobacco leaf”), made for West Coast Shaving (which offers the matching aftershave, being the only vendor who has P&B aftershaves to match the soaps).

The razor today is Above the Tie’s S1, a slant with very little slant to it but a nice razor nonetheless. Three passes (with that wonderful lather) left my face totally smooth, and a splash of Southern Witchcrafts Valley of Ashes aftershave milk provided an excellent finish with another overtly masculine fragrance: “Coal, Tar, Bourbon, Tobacco, Bitter Citrus, Smoke, Leather, Motor Oil, Burning Rubber, Diesel, Clove, Birch Tar, Bergamot.” This fragrance reminds me strongly of Chiseled Face’s Midnight Stag (“Russian Leather, Motor Oil, Hoppes #9, Birch Tar, Oakmoss, Gasoline, Smoke, Cedar, Cade, Bergamot, Vanilla”).

“Lessons learned,” a useful exercise following any experience, is a pause to ask yourself what new things you’ve learned from the experience. Sometimes, it’s nothing; but sometimes, now that you mention it, ….

For example, I’ve now made quite a few batches of fermented vegetables — well beyond plain sauerkraut — yet in my most recent batch I still learned a couple of lessons. I generally write down lessons learned since I’ve found that recording them helps also to remember them — and if I do forget, I can readily refresh my memory.

Update: In practice, it occurs to me now, the “lessons learned” often result, after completing some task or project, from asking myself, “How could I do that better next time?”

The tea this morning is Murchie’s London Afternoon: “Fragrant rose petals are interwoven with smoky Lapsang Souchong, sweetened with creamy vanilla and a touch of bright bergamot.”


Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 11:33 am

China’s economic problems: Watch “The Big Short”

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While watching yet another YouTube report on China’s rapidly escalating economic crisis (which seems almost certainly will result in a world economic crisis), I was strongly reminded of the movie The Big Short. That movie (based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name) described the US financial crisis in 2008, when the market collapsed after the over-leveraged housing market fell like a house of cards and resulted in a great recession.

Because many believed that real estate would continue to grow in value, people began borrowing (subprime) loans to purchase houses on spec. The money was available for those subprime loans because many believed that collateralized debt instruments could deserve a AAA rating if enough subprime loans we bundled together. The frenzy of lending and buying meant that some people were “buying” (i.e., taking out loans for) two or three or more houses, as “investments.”

Then the music stopped, which the film explains well and entertainingly (as does the book).

Worth watching/reading. At this point, it seems prudent to minimize personal debt — but that is often a good idea.

I commented on a video on China’s on-going economic crisis, and I received an illuminating reply.

Michael Ham

The real estate dealings reminded me very much of what happened in the US in 2008: the same sort of over-leveraged commitment to purchase second, third, fourth homes as “investments” because real estate prices could only go up, and thus the proliferation os sub-prime lending through collateralized debt instruments — see the movie “The Big Short.”

Tall Troll

No, it is much, much worse than that. At least the 2008 US mortgages were secured against properties that actually existed, and had people living in them. Most of the problems in 2008 stemmed from the securitisation and packaging of those mortgages, mixing high and low quality loans together, then assigning them value as if they were all high quality, and lack of clarity on who actually owned what. After it all got worked out, it turned out that on the whole, even the suspect packages were mostly profitable.

The Chinese situation is fundamentally different. A LOT of people have been sinking a LOT of money into real estate, because it is the only asset class that most Chinese either trust, or have access to, and far, far too many of the building that people own on paper just don’t exist, or would be better if they didn’t exist, because then whoever buys them wouldn’t have to pay to demolish the worthless structures occupying the land. When that all gets worked out, it’s going to turn out that a lot of people have lost everything. That includes the banks too, who are also suffering from other bad debt problems, and will be suffering even more so when the badly run industries that real estate was propping up go to the wall (the Chinese steel industry is in real trouble right now, because their main customers were, yes, the real estate developers. The Chinese steel industry was already suffering from overcapacity problems, and the collapse of domestic demand is going to ruin a lot of them, which will make things even worse for the banks that have been financing them).

So, you’re going to have an industry worth about ~30% of Chinas’ GDP collapsing, with knockon effects in several other major industrial sectors (steel, cement and furniture/decor, all also fairly large contributors to Chinas overall economy), with the resulting bad debts all hitting the banking sector which has other massive problems right now (decades of corruption and poor management/investment decisions catching up with them), massive destruction of savings coupled with what will probably turn out to be pretty big job losses, and they are just about to hit their demographic peak, so all of this will have to be dealt with by a shrinking, aging population. Oh, did I mention that the governments chip development fund has just started arresting and investigating it’s top officials and the CEOs of major chip manufacturers? They seem to have managed to have collectively pissed about $100bn down the drain, so yeah, they are all getting executed, but wouldn’t that $100bn have come in real handy right about now?

Written by Leisureguy

12 August 2022 at 5:45 am

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