Posts Tagged 'Robert Putnam'

The Very Best Diet, Part II

Last week I named the very best diet for weight loss as being one of low car use. That’s because our bodies were designed to get us from place to place with this cool gait called walking. My husband and I share just one car, and use public transit, our feet and our bikes for many of our trips. It’s more fun, too.

What else has been rising in the U.S. in the past decades besides car use, body weight and obesity rates? Television watching. We’re watching four hours a day per person on average. I haven’t met anyone who thinks that’s a good thing. Robert Putnam in his breakthrough book “Bowling Alone” showed that decreased exercise, voting, social activites, etc. are all so closely linked to increased television watching that we can fairly say heavy TV use crowds out the things that create healthy citizens.

That’s why I believe the second part of the very best diet for Americans is the diet for our televisions. The less time we spend sitting still watching it, the more we move around doing other things being relatively active, both physically and socially.

Thor and I watch literally no television. While we own a TV, it lives humbly downstairs in the basement, and gets used occasionally for a rented movie. If the weather is halfway decent the poor thing can be starved of any attention for weeks at a time. It’s not a flat-screen either — flat-screens use too much electricity and we believe in energy diets too . . . a topic for a future post.

Consider putting your television on a diet, too. I bet it helps you lose weight by opening up time for more activity, both physical and social.

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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?)