Archive for the 'happiness' Category

Death of Retail & Naked Ladies

Short post this morning on the deaths of many retail stores recently in the U.S. First, I really feel for the people who are losing their jobs, and in many cases, their retail businesses. This is painful and scary for them, and I wish stability for all the people affected.

In the bigger picture, the retail industry has simply got to get smaller. It (with help from all of us) consumes way too much of the earth’s limited resources. We in the U.S. are 4% of the earth’s population, consuming 25% of what the earth has to offer. And the research by Juliet Schor and many others is clear that added layers of consumption after our normal needs are met brings very little additional happiness.

That said, I’m keenly aware we have to consume things in order to live. And I admit I struggle with my own addiction to used — isn’t the euphemism ‘pre-worn’– clothes (see Unclothing the Horse and Juliet Schor). I played this out with more fun than usual yesterday when I bicycled to a Naked Lady Party. We all brought clothes we no longer needed, tried things on and brought new-to-us outfits home. I’m wearing one now, it’s beautiful. My point is that we need economic transformation, including an emphasis on community and sharing resources. We don’t need a return to how the retail industry used to be.

And to cover my biggest retail experience of this or any decade, I’ll write later this week about the new car Thor and I are actually buying and bringing home, after all our extended debate. (Want to purchase a pre-used 1993 Nissan Sentra)


Love In The Time Of Global Warming

“Love In The Time Of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is about a fifty-year love triangle. Love in the time of global warming is, for me, my own love triangle. The three players are the world, global warming and myself.

Perito Moreno Glacier calving, Patagonia.
Photo by Hanmi Meyer
Perito Moreno Glacier calving, Patagonia, photo by Hanmi Meyer

When I am even halfway happy I experience the world as my lover. I cherish it, I notice a hundred endearing things about it, I want to nurture it and help it flourish. Global warming threatens the world with pain, suffering, the destruction of species and millions of people. I feel about global warming the way I’d feel about a person trying to maim and mutilate my in-person lover. I want to do whatever is within my power to prevent my beloved’s pain and suffering.

I see what’s within my power as being both big-picture things like political and policy work (macro) and hands-on-in-my-own- household things (micro). The CRAG (Carbon Reduction Action Group) I’m starting (with Ewan O’Leary, Colleen Kaleda and their spouses) is largely the hands-on type. But I think it can spread and become a big-picture thing, also.

Our culture construes love as primarily a romantic one-to-one thing, but I find that an impoverished notion of love. I say that even as I am happily married. A narrow, couple-only focus can suck two people dry, in my experience, while a shared mission in the world can bring a couple into community with others. I actually met and fell in love with my husband Thor Hinckley in the context of fighting global warming. He was leading a workshop on renewable energy that I attended. Our relationship is the best one I’ve had (and I’ve had several).

Love feels like joy to us, like haven and happiness, and global warming way different from love, like doom, danger, a dark future. But love and global warming are wrapped tightly around each other in my heart. My love for the world means I cannot passively tolerate a business-as-usual life as global warming menaces it. Here I am, in an ongoing love triangle, but a healthy, vital one: love in the time of global warming.

Learning To Count Carbon

I posted my thoughts on Bear Stearns right after it collapsed. But a deeper problem even than the money-drunk nature of our culture is the way we count.

Our economic system hasn’t yet learned how to count in a way that reflects reality. Natural systems like air, soil and water (also known as the primary world) are holding up our whole civilization. Our economy is predicated on them and would collapse in their absence. Yet we assign them no value in our Gross Domestic Product, which unfortunately gives us every incentive to squander them in the course of making and consuming the things that are counted in GDP. Most of those things, in turn, contribute very little to our happiness.

The other thing we need to learn to count is carbon emissions. They’re the primary drivers of global warming and all of us are creating them every time we drive and fly and most of the time that we use electricity. If carbon emissions were counted and taxed we would create them more sparingly. They’re not taxed, partly because we haven’t figured out how to count them, and also because we lack the public and political will to do it.

All the market players, government, businesses and individuals alike, will be continuing to operate in economic unreality until we have a carbon tax and also accurate valuations of what natural resources actually contribute to the economy. The cost of these delusions, of our not knowing how to count, is exponentially escalating climate change with economic impacts that will make the Bear Stearns collapse look like a fond memory.

Nudging Ourselves Into Sanity

My idea of today’s best read is not anything by me, but rather, John Tierney’s excellent article on carbon footprint and behavior change in the New York Times.

I entered his contest to invent the best name for a little device that will give people a steady feedback loop on their home’s energy consumption. Research shows that these visual cues nudge people into consuming more carefully and using less energy. I submitted the name TerraNudge.

But since I doubt I’ll win the first place prize — a copy of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness,”  by Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, I’ll probably need to go out and buy one. 

Is Skiing Sustainable?

I wrote on Monday about what a blast Thor and I just had on a Portland Parks and Recreation trip to Crater Lake, Oregon. Who’d have thought that skiing in a snowstorm could be so fun?

Since my vision of the diamond-cut life involves true sustainability, how sustainable was this group venture? Well, our crew of 22 created far fewer emissions with our snowshoes and cross-country skis than if we’d been on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s). And vanpooling with 11 people in each van was certainly fuel-efficient. But how about our polypropylene and fleece clothing, which is all petroleum-based? And what of the large amounts of embodied energy in our high-tech skis, poles and snowshoes?

Most folks on this trip were strongly drawn to sustainability, and a number of us worked in the field. The group agreed on the merits of green buildings, renewable energy and human services, but never questioned (out loud, at least) the lion’s share of resources embedded in our own sports equipment and clothing.

Which was quite human of us. It’s hard to be objective about yourself and your choices. But I’m trying to be objective, so: How do you not use the petroleum-based clothing that keeps you warm and dry in sub-freezing conditions? Once these things are invented, how can you abstain? People had plenty of fun in the snow before high-tech clothes and gear were invented. So why are we so hooked on the current inventions?

I’m good at being happy, at finding joy in simple things and the natural world and in most people I meet, but I don’t know how to truly transcend this materialistic, fossil-fuel-based culture that I was born into. I do not have all the answers on how to live the sustainable, diamond-cut life of my vision.

I am open to people’s best advice.

Skiing In A Snowstorm

I just returned from Crater Lake, Oregon, where Thor and I went on a three-day cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trip with a group of 22 organized by Portland Parks and Recreation. It was sparkly, low-consumption, deeply satisfying, a good outing for the diamond-cut life I keep learning how to craft.

To clarify, we had sparkly snow and sun on Sunday, but a snowstorm on Saturday. The conditions were a little scary, actually. To back up, I had only been on skis four times in my life, mostly in high school (three decades ago, now). How was this going to work out?

I almost titled this post “Techno-Dork Goes Skiing In a Snowstorm.” My mechanical and equipment-handling skills are weak, while my athletic ability is strong. I learned later that someone had murmured in the parking lot, “She can’t even handle her ski-bindings; how is she going to keep up?” But I kept up fine, in what a skilled fellow-skier said was intermediate/advanced terrain and conditions.

I think a good life takes certain leaps of faith, whether you’re setting out on a trip with strangers (they soon became my friends) or skiing in a snowstorm (I kept a positive attitude, worked hard and imitated what the experienced people were doing).

The trip was a joy, and I highly recommend these trips to others. With one exception, it embodied my current understanding of the diamond-cut life: being outdoors in the elements, in community with others, locomoting with our bodies rather than engines. I’ll write about the exception later this week.


The Peak Of Happiness

I recently asked a good friend how happy he was on a scale of 0 to 10. He only had to think for a few seconds. “A five,” he said. “You?”

“I’m at 9 or 10,” I replied. Interestingly, he makes about twice as much money as I do, and even likes his job (as do I). The social sciences have studied happiness quite thoroughly, so what have they learned about what makes us happy? Plenty, but the single viewing- lens I’ll choose for today is the year in which people in the U.S. reported their highest level of happiness, which was 1957.
In 1957 people did less T.V.-watching, more reading and more bridge-playing with friends and neighbors than now. They ate more meals together at home and did less dining out. They voted more. They walked and used public transit more, owned fewer cars per household, and did less driving. They bought fewer clothes. In fact, Americans were less affluent and did much less purchasing of most items in general during the time in history in which they reported the most happiness.

Would I want to be living in 1957? Absolutely not. Back then our culture was stiflingly homogeneous and repressive of women and minorites. I don’t believe in idolizing ‘good old days’ that really never were, but instead, in learning all we can from our history. In its favor (if you care about social justice in addition to happiness) 1957 America had a strikingly smaller gap between rich and poor than it does now. Of course in all times and places, if your survival needs are not met, you have no chance of happiness. Incomes were much more moderate than now during the peak of happiness in the U.S.

All the above makes it unsurprising that I report twice as much happiness as my friend who earns twice what I earn. (Note: he is single and I would like to set him up with a cool single woman. Any ideas?)

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