The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What's Wrong with Being Single?

I am now focussing my reading on Keeping the Love You Find, the book for singles (and that includes me). The reason? Any further work with Getting the Love You Want really needs a partner, and I no longer have one.

I’ve just finished the first chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with Being Single?” This is a VERY interesting chapter. Unfortunately it’s too long to summarize, so I shall extract a couple of especially meaningful passages...

Singles often tell me they feel there’s something wrong with them because they’re so needy of a relationship. Sometimes, they say, they get to the point where they just hope that someone – anyone, practically – will come along and fall in love with them, and they’ll get married and everything will work out fine. This seems immature and desperate, but such “it’s my only chance” marriages occur all too frequently, with disastrous results. People who marry without honoring the mandate of their singleness are, in a way, just postponing their single years until after they divorce – unless they get lucky, or work very hard in their marriages, or stay in dead-end relationships.

I don’t want to judge too harshly, though, because in most cases something more complex is going on here – not just a desperation to get married, or a desire to fill any empty life. That neediness is symptomatic of a profound but unrecognized desire in the unconscious, a manifestation of the human need for wholeness and connection and, specifically, for a safe, intimate, enlivening partnership. I am saying that in order to feel whole, to feel fully alive, fully human, and to heal the wounds we carry from childhood, we’ve gotta have it. This sounds pretty dramatic, but I believe it is profoundly true. It is not a matter of desperate singles. Our human nature and needs, no matter how we rationalize or adapt, cannot be denied.

One young woman actually said to me, “Well, I love Joel, but he’s only a trainee at a bank, and he’s not interested in theater or going to museums. What will happen if I tell Joel I’ll marry him and then I meet someone better?”

So many singles concentrate all their efforts on perfecting the outside trappings and strategies of singleness, in order to stand up to the scrutiny of the mating game, while their inner selves remain unexamined and neglected. They want to find the perfect partner, get married, and then worry about being happily married. They reject prospective partners, finding them defective in one way or another, not realizing that the fault is in themselves, the rejectors. The irony is that nearly 50 percent of those who marry before they unpack and examine their childhood baggage, before they get some relationship training, are all but doomed to rejoin the ranks of the single the hard way – via divorce. What they don’t understand is that nothing will change until they change. They won’t meet a healthier, more mature lover until they are healthier and more mature, until they’ve done their homework and preparation.

What Hendrix is saying is that singlehood is an opportunity for us to mature, to learn about who we are, to identify our true desires, to confront our inner strengths and demons. It’s a time to make changes in the things that stymie our pleasure and progress in life, to learn how to connect and communicate. And rather than doing this haphazardly, there is a prescribed way to do it. This book hopefully will be my guide...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sociology 101

For years, I’ve wondered about the cause(s) for modern society’s breakdown of family values. Why are there so many screwed up kids, who grow up to become screwed up adults, who in turn have their own screwed up kids? This vicious cycle is why society is going down the toilet. But it never occurred to me that the cause might be the failure of our culture to understand the nature of marriage. Hendrix’s theory is intriguing, and after pondering it at length, I tend to agree with it...

In times past, it was love and adultery that went together “like a horse and carriage.” Marriages were arranged; wives were bought or traded. Such marriages were typically passionless, but stable; their primary agenda was the continuity of the family and community, the perpetuation of property rights. Only infrequently, and usually accidentally, was romantic love connected with the marriage partner.

The rights of the individual came to include the right to marry the person of one’s choice, thus radically transforming marriage from a sociopolitical institution to a psychological and spiritual process. For the first time in history the energy of attraction between men and women was directed into and contained within the structure of a marriage. This radical idea precipitated tremendous upheaval in the institution of marriage.

Widespread divorce, following the Second World War, wrought havoc. The structure of the family began breaking down under the crushing number of divorces. With the burgeoning number of second, and third, marriages, themselves misguided answers to the marriage crisis, the step-family emerged. Now single-parent families and “blended” families of every stripe are considered the norm, primarily because we have become disillusioned with the possibility for happy marriages. All are adaptations to the problem of marital failure, an attempt to normalize cultural realities that have come about because of our lack of understanding of the underlying agenda of marriage. We have bought the idea that unhappy people should not have to stay in unhappy marriages. We have given credence to the idea that when trouble comes you should just change partners, when the truth is that the way you are living with that person must be changed. It’s all backward. Rather than getting rid of the partner and keeping the problem, you should get rid of the problem so that you can keep the partner. What has happened is that in trying to make things easier, and more tolerant, we have lost sight of our own real needs and desires.

If we could get this situation under control, if there could be a nationwide recognition of the need to reeducate ourselves about relationships, marriages would survive and prosper, our children would be healthier, and we wouldn’t need 80 percent of the remedial programs now dealing with the end products of unloved children – whether they be drugs, violence, incest, child abuse, high dropout rates, thievery, alcoholism, or teenage pregnancy.

We are learning, too, that no matter how easy we make it, the children of divorce carry lasting scars that go unnoticed. Divorce may allow people to escape from bad marriages, but until we take steps to ensure good marriages, to facilitate individual happiness and fulfillment, until we learn what we’re about, we will continue to have desperate singles, joyless marriages, troubled children, and a society becoming more dysfunctional by the decade.

- Keeping the Love You Find

The breakdown of family values caused by...the breakdown of families. What a novel idea!

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Corporation

I believe in Capitalism to the extent that it is the best way to meet our needs, to achieve financial security, and to provide for our families. But is there anyone on earth who needs a hundred million dollars in order to live comfortably and raise his children well? An incentive-based, competitive economic market should bring out the best in individuals, but there is a point at which such pursuits cross the line into greed and inhumanity.

Is there any philosophy that can justify this kind of excess? How can it possibly be good for the individual to have such limitless wants? This is the basic objection I have to any philosophy that promulgates the values of material greed within the context of individualism. Capitalism is such a philosophy.

While people can place controls on themselves to limit their greed, corporations cannot. This occurred to me early this morning while I was meditating in bed. A corporation is an “individual” in the eyes of the law and has protected rights and privileges. But unlike people, a corporate individual, even though it’s run by human beings, is not itself human. This stunning realization convinces me that corporate capitalism (assuming there exists other kinds of capitalism) is fatally flawed.

Despite the fact that a corporation has a human CEO and a human board of directors, the corporate entity actually takes on a life of its own. And it’s not a human life!

That’s why a corporation can act without conscience, without remorse, without compassion. In those instances where a corporation does act humanely, it’s thanks to the employees who are able to override the corporate imperative, either momentarily, or over an extended period of time. But ultimately a corporation must assert its primary directive, that of maximizing shareholder profit without any human constraints. It is, thus, not surprising that big corporations have raped our environment and cruelly exploited low-wage employees and low-income consumer populations. They have no conscience – they are literally psychopathic! Like some alien monster, they share nothing in common with humanity.

This subject is explored with far better clarity than I can hope to show in this rant in the excellent documentary called “The Corporation.” Highly recommended.


I’ve arrived at the second major revelation in the book Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix. The first was that we all choose our partners, not for how sexy they are, or how kind they are, or how smart they are, but for how closely they resemble our parents or primary caregivers. After some lengthy reasoning, Hendrix comes to the startling conclusion that the purpose of marriage is to heal our childhood wounds!

Some of you may think this is absurd. But I am absolutely confident that Hendrix is correct. Even before I read this book, I had an inkling of the same notions. And after some therapy with Dr. S, Hendrix has helped all of my ideas gel in my mind.

The second revelation is not so much new as it is a clarification of something that most people have closed their eyes to...

In a culture where serial monogamy is a way of life, the idea of a permanent commitment to one partner has a quaint, old-fashioned ring to it. The prevalent question of the 1950s – “Can this marriage be saved?” – has now become “Should this marriage be saved?” And millions of people decide that the answer is no. In fact, ironically, many of them have come to view divorce as an opportunity for personal growth. It’s not within marriage that people grow and change, according to this increasingly popular view, it’s when the marriage falls apart. People believe that this opens their eyes to their self-defeating behaviors and gives them an opportunity to resolve those problems with a new partner. But unless they understand the unconscious desires that motivated their dysfunctional behavior in the first marriage, and learn how to satisfy those desires with the new partner, the second marriage is destined to run aground on the same submerged rocks. The feeling of growth and change between marriages is an illusion: it is merely the pain that comes from exchanging one set of habituated behaviors for another.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

This Book is Transforming Me

By scrutinizing the fruits of hundreds of painstaking studies of well-being we have, first, dispelled some popular but mistaken ideas:

  • that few people are genuinely happy,
  • that wealth buys well-being,
  • that tragedies, such as disabling accidents, permanently erode happiness,
  • that happiness springs from the memories of intense, if rare, positive experiences (idyllic vacations, ecstatic romances, joy-filled victories),
  • that teens and the elderly are the unhappiest people,
  • that in their early forties, many men experience a traumatic midlife crisis,
  • that when their children leave home, women typically suffer an empty-nest syndrome,
  • that one sex is happier than the other,
  • that women’s employment erodes the quality of their marriages,
  • that subliminal tapes provide a happiness quick fix,
  • that African-Americans, women, and the disabled live with impoverished self-esteem,
  • that because miserable marriages more readily end in divorce today, surviving marriages are happier,
  • that trial marriages (cohabitation) reduce the risk of later divorce,
  • that opposites attract, and continue to find each other fascinating,
  • that half or more of married people have an affair,
  • that religious faith suppress happiness.

We’ve also pondered things that do enable happiness:

  • fit and healthy bodies,
  • realistic goals and expectations,
  • positive self-esteem,
  • feelings of control,
  • optimism,
  • outgoingness,
  • supportive friendships that enable companionship and confiding,
  • a socially intimate, sexually warm, equitable marriage,
  • challenging work and active leisure, punctuated by adequate rest and retreat,
  • a faith that entails communal support, purpose, acceptance, outward focus, and hope.

My purpose in writing this book has been more to inform than to prescribe or advise. It’s like Consumer Reports, which doesn’t tell us what to buy – because that has to depend on our personal needs and circumstances. But we’d be foolish to ignore its information when making choices. Similarly, let’s not be so smug or intellectually aloof that we shy away from using the new information about well-being in ways that could enhance our well-being.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

The key lessons for me were:

  1. Back off from materialism – stop being so focused on money.
  2. Stop comparing my life with others’ – I have many blessings.
  3. Behave my way to success – fake it until I make it.
  4. Find something to do in which I may lose myself in ‘flow’.
  5. Stop being so selfish (in the Objectivist sense) – individualism is anathema to well-being.

The most important thing for me to TRY to do is become more outgoing. This will be very tough, as it is counter to my personality.

The second most important thing is to find a new occupation...

I finished reading The Pursuit of Happiness, by David Myers, today.

The last chapter was on religious faith and its relation to happiness and well-being. Myers says that people of religious faith are happier than people without faith. Okay, but I don’t know what practical, therapeutic value it can offer to people who are looking for personal well-being.

Does Myers suggest that we should seek religion in our pursuit of happiness? If so, how does one develop religious faith? I rather doubt that any psychotherapist could offer a usable prescription for how to believe.

Except for this one chapter, the rest of the book was a useful resource. I was able to derive a running “formula” for “how-to-be-happy.” I will have to put “faith” aside for the time being. Unless someone can offer a practical means to achieving it...

The other thing that I found notable about this last chapter was the statement: “Totalitarianism, materialism, and self-reliant individualism have deluded us with false promises of well-being for all.” Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is big on “self-reliant individualism” - the Objectivist websites proudly state this, so one need not turn to Atlas Shrugged to confirm it.

Needless to say, I disagree with a worldview that focuses on the individual as the ultimate end in itself. It is absolutely counter, and counterproductive, to the pursuit of happiness and well-being, which is, or should be, the ultimate goal of all human beings.

I found this story especially poignant:

With good reason, we can affirm positive thinking – with but one cautionary reminder: Not all dreams come true. Among my life’s closest friends was my lovable, caring college roommate, Dan Gates. Not only were we intimate friends, so were our fiancees. As married couples still in college we therefore spent hours in one another’s apartments sharing laughter and dreams. Throughout college, Dan was fired by a dream of becoming a doctor. Although some doubted he would make it, Dan dared to believe. But the doubters were right. When no medical school accepted him, Dan was let down. Nevertheless, he picked himself up and used his biology training in teaching, with hopes of becoming a high school counselor. Again, it wasn’t to be. Although loved by his wife, friends, and students, the crushing of dreams combined with a growing sense of futility and worthlessness led Dan one summer day to pull his car off a Seattle freeway. There he descended into a ravine, pulled out a gun, and put a bullet through his broken heart.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

At Home In Hell

What is it that I fear? I fear frustration. I fear living at home in hell. I fear losing my well-being.

The Greek dramatist Euripedes wrote: “Marry, and with luck it may go well. But when a marriage fails, then those who marry live at home in hell.”

Epiphany II

I’ve arrived at a turning point in my therapy. Ahead of me is an obstacle of ageless familiarity, an old enemy. How shall I proceed? How can I proceed? I do not know how to defeat this enemy. From Getting the Love You Want:

We all have an understandable desire to live life as children. We don’t want to go to the trouble of raising a cow and milking it; we want to sit down at the table and have someone hand us a cool glass of milk. We don’t want to plant seeds and tend a grapevine; we want to walk out the back door and pluck a handful of grapes. This wishful thinking finds its ultimate expression in marriage. We don’t want to accept the responsibility for getting our needs met; we want to “fall in love” with a superhuman mate and live happily ever after. The psychological term for this tendency to put the source of our frustrations and the solutions to our problems outside ourselves is “externalization,” and it is the cause of much of the world’s unhappiness.
It’s human nature to want a life without effort. When we were infants, the world withheld and we were frustrated; the world gave and we were satisfied. Out of thousands of these early transactions, we fashioned a model of the world, and we cling to this outdated model even at the expense of our marriages.

Standing in the way of the changes we need to make in order to have a more satisfying relationship is our fear of change. A fear of change is also basic to human nature. We can feel anxious even when we’re undergoing a positive change, such as getting promoted, moving into a new home, or going on vacation. Anything that breaks us out of our comfortable or not-so-comfortable routines sets off an alarm in our old brain. The old brain is alerting us to the fact that we are entering territory that has not been mapped or surveyed, and that danger may lurk around every corner.
With so many years invested in habituated behaviours, it’s only natural that they should experience a great reluctance to change. After all, I am asking them not only to risk the anxiety of learning a new style of relating, but also to confront the pain and fear that have been bottled up inside them for decades – the reason for their dysfunctional behaviour in the first place.

Ten Characteristics of a Conscious Marriage

10. You accept the difficulty of creating a good marriage. In an unconscious marriage, you believe that the way to have a good marriage is to pick the right partner. In a conscious marriage you realize you have to be the right partner. As you gain a more realistic view of love relationships, you realize that a good marriage requires commitment, discipline, and the courage to grow and change; marriage is hard work.

Let’s take a closer look at number ten, the need to accept the difficulty involved in creating a good marriage, because none of the other nine ideas will come to fruition unless you first cultivate your willingness to grow and change.

And herein lies the problem. The fear of change. The need to live without effort. I never outgrew these childhood, old-brain tendencies.

And after half a century, I am so set in my ways that I have no idea how to escape my tar pit...

Moving on to the Conscious Marriage

Scanning the first five chapters [Part I: The Unconscious Marriage], it would be easy to get the impression that the old brain [the brain stem and the limbic system] is the cause of most of our marriage problems. It’s the old brain that causes us to choose partners who resemble our caretakers. It’s the old brain that is the source of all our elaborate defenses – the projections, transferences, and introjections – that obscure the reality of ourselves and our partners. And it’s the old brain that is responsible for our infantile response to frustration, the “cry-or-criticize” response that only results in further alienation.

But the old brain also plays a positive role in marriage. Although some of the tactics of the old brain may be self-defeating, its fundamental drives are essential to our well-being. Our unconscious drive to repair the emotional damage of childhood is what allows us to realize our spiritual potential as human beings, to become complete and loving people capable of nurturing others. And even though our projections and transferences may temporarily blind us to our partner’s reality, they’re also what binds us to them, setting up the preconditions for future growth.

The problem with the old brain is that it’s unguided; it’s like a blind animal trying to find its way to the watering hole. To achieve the valid and important objectives of the old brain, we need to enlist the aid of the new brain [the cerebral cortex] – the part of us that makes choices, exerts will, knows that our partners are not our parents, that today is not always, and that yesterday is not today. We need to take the rational skills that we use in other parts of our lives and bring them to bear on our love relationships. Once we forge a working alliance between the powerful, instinctual drives of the old brain and the discriminating, cognitive powers of the new brain, we can begin to realize our unconscious goals. Through the marriage of old-brain instincts and new-brain savvy, we can gradually leave the frustrations of the power struggle behind us.

- Getting the Love You Want

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Ills of Individualism

It’s funny. We’ve been discussing the topics of happiness and Objectivism a great deal lately, but I didn’t expect these two threads to intersect! This morning, I read a passage from The Pursuit of Happiness that astonished me. Keep in mind as you’re reading this that Objectivism is largely an extreme extension of “Individualism.”

Individualism and Depression. University of Pennsylvania researcher Martin Seligman believes that depression is a new plague among young and middle-age Americans. The cause? Epidemic hopelessness. Hopelessness caused by what? Individualism, believes Seligman.

This is, as Ronald Reagan declared in a speech on Wall Street, “the age of the individual.” Individualists enjoy independence and take pride in their achievements. But at a price. When facing failure or rejection the self-driven individual takes on personal responsibility for problems. If, as a macho Fortune magazine ad declared, you can “make it on your own,” on “your own drive, your own guts, your own energy, your own ambition,” then whose fault is it if you don’t make it on your own?

So, take your pick: People in competitive, individualist cultures, such as the United States, have more independence, make more money, take more pride in personal achievements, are less geographically bound near elderly parents, are less likely to prejudge those outside their groups, and enjoy more privacy. Their less unified cultures offer a smorgasbord of life-styles from which to choose. But compared to collectivists, individualists are also lonelier, more alienated, less likely to feel romantic love, more likely to divorce, more homicidal, and more vulnerable to stress-related diseases such as heart attacks. “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up,” warns the sage of Ecclesiastes. Seligman concludes that “rampant individualism carries with it two seeds of its own destruction. First, a society that exalts the individual to the extent ours now does will be ridden with depression... Second, and perhaps most important, is meaninglessness [which occurs when there is no] attachment to something larger than you are.”

I am essentially an individualist. But this is tempered with a profound understanding of the universe that I live in. In the end, it’s all about balance...

The Unlikeliest Cult in History

The cultic flaw in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is not in the use of reason, or in the emphasis on individuality, or in the belief that humans are self motivated, or in the conviction that capitalism is the ideal system. The fallacy in Objectivism is the belief that absolute knowledge and final Truths are attainable through reason, and therefore there can be absolute right and wrong knowledge, and absolute moral and immoral thought and action. For Objectivists, once a principle has been discovered through reason to be True, that is the end of the discussion. If you disagree with the principle, then your reasoning is flawed.
So far so good. I might have even made it into the Rand inner circle. But I would have been promptly excommunicated as an unreformed heretic (the worst kind, since reformed heretics can at least be retrained and forgiven), with my belief that no absolute morality is scientifically or rationally tenable, even that which claims to have been derived through pure reason, as in the case of Rand. The reason is straightforward. Morals do not exist in nature and thus cannot be discovered. In nature there are just actions--physical actions, biological actions, and human actions. Human actors act to increase their happiness, however they personally define it. Their actions become moral or immoral when someone else judges them as such. Thus, morality is a strictly human creation, subject to all the cultural influences and social constructions as other such human creations. Since virtually everyone and every group claims they know what right and wrong human action is, and since virtually all of these moralities are different from all others to a greater or lesser extent, then reason alone tells us they cannot all be correct. Just as there is no absolute right type of human music, there is no absolute right type of human action. The broad range of human action is a rich continuum that precludes its pigeonholing into the unambiguous yeses and noes that political laws and moral codes require.

This is a VERY good piece!

The Fortress of Solitude

“To do great work,” wrote the English novelist Samuel Butler, a person “must be very idle as well as very industrious.” Happy people, too, live full, active, industrious lives, yet also reserve time for renewing solitude and rest.

I hesitate to sound like a parental voice from the past, but it’s true: A good sleep predisposes a good mood. For some, fatigue doesn’t stem from staying up late, but from difficulties in falling or staying asleep. Too little sleep can be a symptom, as well as a cause, of depression. But we all experience sleeplessness at times. When we are stressed or anxious, alertness is natural and adaptive. As Woody Allen said in the movie Love and Death, “The lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but the lamb will not be very sleepy.”

Experiments by University of British Columbia researcher Peter Suedfeld and his colleagues show that renewal comes not only from rest, but from REST – Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy. Suedfeld knew from earlier studies of sensory restriction that being alone in a monotonous environment heightens a person’s sensitivity to any sort of stimuli, whether external or internal. So he offered hundreds of people a chance to tune more deeply into themselves through a literal day of REST, during which they would do nothing but lie quietly on a comfortable bed in the isolation of a dark, soundproof room.

Lone explorers and sailors often have a deep spiritual experience – a new relationship with God, a feeling of oneness with the ocean or the universe, a life-changing new insight into their personalities. In Japan, where the widely practiced “quiet therapies” combine solitude with Zen Buddhist practices, a depressed or anxious person may undertake a week of bed rest and meditation.

The experiences of great philosophers, scientists, artists, and religious visionaries confirm the creative power of solitude. Being freed from distractions may trigger vivid fantasies and deep insights. Jesus began his ministry after forty days alone, and thereafter lived a rhythm of engagement and retreat. Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, and countless other mystics, monks, hermits, and prophets have found inspiration in times of contemplative silence. Aborigines have gone on “walkabouts,” Native Americans on vision quests, spiritual seekers on retreats.

It’s ironic. In a time when the hustle and bustle of working, shopping, and entertainment have become a seven-day-a-week affair, Euro-American cultures have turned away from the traditional day of rest at the very time that researchers are affirming the healing and renewing power of just such a day – one of REST. To experience well-being it’s good to be both active and also, for interludes, very idle. For everything there is a season: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to do, and a time just to be (like the song says, do-be-do-be-doo). Wordsworth’s words, from “The Prelude,” are worth remembering:

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

The Fortress used to be a place where I would hide from the world, hide from relationship, hide from my own fears and insecurities. My home is now a retreat within which I find peace, tranquility, renewal...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The How-to-be-happy Formula, Part III

University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [pronounced chick-SENT-me-hi] was struck by

the relative poverty of experience in free time, the emptiness of most leisure... We all want to have more free time: But when we get it we don’t know what to do with it. Most dimensions of experience deteriorate: People report being more passive, irritable, sad, weak, and so forth. To fill the void in consciousness, people turn on the TV or find some other way of structuring experience vicariously. These passive leisure activities take the worst edge off the threat of chaos, but leave the individual feeling weak and enervated.

An example: Italian researchers report that 3 percent of those who are watching TV report experiencing flow, 39 percent feeling apathetic. For those engaged in arts and hobbies the percentages flip-flop – 47 percent report flow and 4 percent report apathy. In fact, the less expensive (and generally more involving) a leisure activity, the happier people are while doing it. Most people are happier gardening than power boating, talking to friends than watching TV.

Why do most people in their hard-won free time sink into what Csikszentmihalyi calls “a state of apathy that brings no joy.” Are we simply too exhausted to enjoy more active leisure? If so, why do so many people in more traditional societies (such as in Thai villages and Alpine farming communities) work dawn to dusk in the fields and then spend their free time weaving, carving, playing musical instruments, and engaging in other flowlike activities? The problem seems to be our culture’s reliance on television and other forms of passive leisure and on our inability to structure our free time in ways that would enhance our well-being. Well-being resides not in mindless passivity but in mindful challenge.

So, off your duffs, couch potatoes. Pick up your camera. Tune up that instrument. Sharpen those woodworking tools. Get out those quilting needles. Inflate the family basketball. Pull down a good book. Oil the fishing reel. It’s time to head out to the garden store. To invite friends over for tea. To pull down the Scrabble game. To write a letter. To go for a drive. Rather than vegetating in self-focused idleness, lose yourself in the flow of active work and play. You may be surprised what happens. “In every part and corner of our life, to lose oneself is to be a gainer,” noted Robert Louis Stevenson; “to forget oneself is to be happy.”

- The Pursuit of Happiness

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I have to say, The Pursuit of Happiness and Getting the Love You Want are two of the most amazing books I have ever read (well, I’m still reading them). They have a transformative power that surprises me – I don’t expect to find that in a book. (I tried reading David Burns’ Feeling Good and it didn’t do much for me.)

It’s not that The Pursuit of Happiness tells me anything I didn’t already know. I’m smart enough and experienced enough and observant enough that I have gleaned a great deal of knowledge over the years. But this knowledge was not internalized – it was like a jumble of jigsaw pieces, some misplaced, some forgotten. The book served as a guide to piecing the puzzle together, forming a coherent picture. But more importantly, it showed me that there weren’t any missing pieces! So I didn’t have to waste any more time searching in order to complete the puzzle.

When does knowledge become wisdom? When does awareness become enlightenment? How do you arrive at true understanding...? How the hell do I know?! But I can say that, for me at least, this book was a conduit from one to the other, a valuable tool of empowerment. And for that, I am grateful to David Myers.

Getting the Love You Want was also a transformative book. But this time, it DID tell me things I didn’t know. The premise that Harville Hendrix presents for explaining the nature of conflict in a relationship was a real eye-opener, and utterly astonishing in its paradoxical aspect.

Early this morning, after I had read some more from both books, I suddenly and unexpectedly arrived at an epiphany! I understood where I was! As a result, my spirit soared. I knew what had to be done in my life and in my relationships! And I finally felt I had the strength to do it.

My journey is not over yet, not by a long shot. But I feel I’ve reached a major milestone. Hopefully I will not forget what I have achieved today...

The How-to-be-happy Formula, Part II

Most people assume that our traits and attitudes affect our behavior. That is true (though less so than is commonly supposed). But it’s also true that our traits and attitudes follow our behavior. We are as likely to act ourselves into a new way of thinking as to think ourselves into a new way of acting.

Many streams of evidence and experience converge on that attitudes-follow-behavior principle. For instance, immoral acts shape the self. Those induced to speak or write statements about which they have misgivings often come to accept their little lies. Saying is believing. Most educated people are familiar with Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience studies, in which adult Connecticut men were asked to test out a supposed new teaching method, using punishment for wrong answers.

The men began not with a hurtful act but my signaling a wrong answer with a trivial fifteen volts – a barely perceptible tickle. The ensuing steps (thirty volts, forty-five volts, and so forth) were each trivial increments. By the time the supposed victim first groaned, the subject had already complied five times and begun to internalize reasons for doing so. Actions and attitudes were feeding each other in an escalating spiral, leading ordinary people to become agents of evil.

So it happened during the early 1970s, as Greece’s military junta trained young men to become torturers. Trainees selected for their obedient tendencies would first be assigned to guard prisoners, then to participate in arresting squads, then occasionally to hit prisoners, then to observe torture, and only then to practice it. As compliance bred acceptance, a decent person evolved into an agent of evil. Cruel acts bred cruel attitudes, enabling heightened cruelty.

Fortunately, the principle works the other way too: Moral acts also shape the self. Children who resist a temptation become more conscientious. Altruists come to like the ones they’ve helped. Desegregation has been followed by diminished prejudice. Jewish tradition has the idea: To deal with anger, it suggests, give a gift to the object of your rage.

There is a practical moral here for us all. Do we wish to change ourselves in some important way? Perhaps to boost our self-esteem? To become more optimistic and socially assertive? Well, a potent strategy is to get up and start doing that very thing. Don’t worry that you don’t feel like it. Fake it. Pretend self-esteem. Feign optimism. Simulate outgoingness.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Failings of Objectivism

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Ayn Rand

It is claimed that Objectivism is the only true path to achieving happiness.

As I said before, Objectivism is a very nice theory. But it is only a theory. Unlike Marxism, it has never been put to the test. Its conclusions are drawn from a beautiful theoretical construct, not from empirical evidence. Show me an objectivist society where the people are demonstrably happier than we are.

Having researched Objectivism, I have to say I agree with many of its basic tenets. How can I not? They’re based on logic and reason! But I also disagree with its final conclusions.

The problem is, people are not totally reasonable beings. Life is not, and cannot, be lived on a purely reasonable basis. Human beings are driven by emotions and base instincts and the pleasure/pain response. We live our lives largely on this foundation.

Our laws and judicial system recognize this fact. So do our social and foreign policies. The way we structure our society is motivated as much by fear and compassion as by reason.

A close friend of mine has said on several occasions that people “must be held to account for their own actions.” This is Objectivist-speak which, when translated, means “if you fouled your bed, you clean it up – don’t expect anyone else to help you with it.”

The homeless have no one to blame but themselves. They’re the ones who shot poison up their veins. They’re the ones who poured solvent down their throats. They’re the ones who suffer the demons and hobgoblins of their fractured minds.

The hungry of our society? They didn’t work hard enough. They didn’t EARN their survival. We are NOT obligated to help them, says the Objectivist. We MAY help them, but it is entirely OUR CHOICE to do so,...or not.

Voluntary charity has, so far, worked so well. There’s no need to institutionalize help for these downtrodden.

Objectivism fails to recognize a universal truth: We are all flawed human beings. We almost always need others’ help when we slip and fall. And, yes, very often the fall is of our own doing (the term “personal mistake” is absent from the Objectivist’s vocabulary). But when help is forthcoming, many of these people find redemption and continue to live healthful and productive lives.

Objectivism does not say any of this. However, the “purity” of the Objectivist’s reason-based philosophy eventually leads to a denial of this reality.

Objectivism also very clearly eschews religion. This is problematic on a planet where more than three quarters of the people subscribe to one religion or another. This is the second major failing of this philosophy.

A theory that has no practical applicability is nothing more than a “castle in the air.” That’s why I believe in having a balanced philosophy, one where we can take the best from opposing ideologies and meld them into something that addresses the issues of the REAL world in which we live, not of some idealized fantasy world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Each society has a unique collection of practices, laws, beliefs, and values that children need to absorb, and mothers and fathers are the main conduit through which they are transmitted. This indoctrination process goes on in every family in every society. There seems to be a universal understanding that, unless limits are placed on the individual, the individual becomes a danger to the group. In the words of Freud, “The desire for a powerful and uninhibited ego may seem to us intelligible, but, as is shown by the times we live in, it is in the profoundest sense antagonistic to civilization.”

But even though our parents often had our best interests at heart, the overall message handed down to us was a chilling one. There were certain thoughts and feelings we could not have, certain natural behaviors that we had to extinguish, and certain talents and aptitudes we had to deny. In thousands of ways, both subtly and overtly, our parents gave us the message that they approved of only a part of us. In essence, we were told that we could not be whole and exist in this culture.

- Getting the Love You Want

I've learned the essence of my pain: I am not whole, my psyche has been injured.

The How-to-be-happy Formula

Despite our enjoyment of happy memories, there is both theory and evidence to suggest that dwelling on the Camelot moments from our past makes the present seem pretty pedestrian. If we use our happiest memories as our yardstick for assessing the present, we doom ourselves to disappointment. Although the memories themselves are pleasant, nostalgia breeds discontent.

Ecstasies remembered exact a price: They dull our ordinary pleasures. UCLA psychologist Allen Parducci explains why. Like our perceptual judgments, our assessments of current happiness are relative to the range of our prior experiences. If our current experience is near the top of our best-to-worst range of experience, we feel happy. Raise the top end of your range (by taking an idyllic vacation, earning twice the commission you’ve ever earned before, sharing sexual passion such as you’ve never experienced, receiving a Christmas basket break from grinding poverty) and what happens? You now find your everyday experience – your weekends, your regular commission, your normal lovemaking, your everyday macaroni – less enjoyable. Ergo, if superhigh points are rare, we’re better off without them. Better not to expose ourselves to luxury and excess, if their rarity only serves to diminish our daily quiet joys. Better to have our best experiences be something we experience fairly often.

It’s also better to experience an occasional reminder of how bad things can be – to provide a point of contrast with one’s comfortable daily experience. Given time to fully recover, people report greater happiness if they experienced a health problem requiring hospitalization. Indeed, contrasts define many of life’s pleasures. The pangs of hunger make food delicious. Tiredness makes the bed feel heavenly. Loneliness makes a friendship cherished.

If we seek greater serenity we can strive to restrain our unrealistic expectations, to go out of our way to experience reminders of our blessings, to make our goals short-term and sensible, to choose comparisons that will breed gratitude rather than envy.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

As a child grows older, eros is directed not only to the mother but also to the father, siblings, and the world as a whole. I remember when my daughter Leah was three years old and wanted to explore everything around her. She had so much vitality that she could run all day long and not be tired. “Run with me, Daddy! Somersault!” She twirled in circles and got so dizzy that she would fall down and laugh and laugh. She would chase fireflies, talk to leaves, swing from her knees on the monkey bars, and pet every dog she saw. When I looked at Leah, I saw eros, the full pulsation of life. I envied her and yearned for what I had lost.

Helen and I strive to keep eros alive in Leah, to sustain the brightness of her eyes and the thrill of her contagious laughter. But, despite our best intentions, we do not meet all of her needs. Sometimes it seems as if life itself is making her turn inward. Once she was frightened by a large dog and learned to be wary of strange animals. One day she slipped in a pool and developed a fear of water. But sometimes Helen and I are more directly to blame. We have five other children besides Leah, and there are times when she feels left out. There are days when we come home from work too tired to listen to what she is saying, too distracted to understand what she wants. Tragically, we also wound her by unwittingly passing on our own childhood wounds, the emotional inheritance of generations. We either overcompensate for what we didn’t get from our parents or blindly re-create the same painful situations.

For whatever reasons, when Leah’s desires are not satisfied a questioning look comes over her face; she cries; she is afraid. She no longer talks to leaves or notice the fireflies darting about the bushes. Eros is blunted and turns in on itself.

- Harville Hendrix in Getting the Love You Want


From these simple biological facts and from observations of newborns, we can surmise that the fetus lives a tranquil, floating, effortless existence. It has no awareness of boundaries, no sense of itself, and no recognition that it is encased in a sac inside its mother. There is a widely held belief that when a baby is inside its mother’s womb, it experiences a sense of oneness, an Edenic experience free from desire. Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, put it this way: “in fetal existence, we were in communion with the universe.”

The feeling of unity that a child experiences in the womb and in the first few months of life gradually fades, giving way to a drive to be a distinct self. The essential state of unity remains, but there is a glimmer of awareness of the external world. It is during this stage of development that the child makes the monumental discovery that its mother, the gentle giant who holds it and feeds it and makes such comforting sounds, is not always there. The child still feels connected to its mother but has a primitive awareness of self.

When babies are in this symbiotic stage, development psychologists tell us that they experience a yearning to be connected with their caretakers. They label this the drive for attachment. The child’s life energy is directed outward toward the mother in an effort to recapture its earlier sense of physical and spiritual union. A term that describes this yearning is “eros,” a Greek word that we normally equate with romantic or sexual love but that originally had the broader meaning of “the life force.”

- Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix

Root Causes

I had dinner with friends the other day and the main topic of conversation was happiness. I think we hit upon the main reasons for the increasing lack of happiness in our society...

The first one is the economic and marketing machine that has evolved over the past several decades to ENSLAVE people around the world! This may sound like an overstatement, but I assure you that it is not.

The key aims of this economic and marketing machine are to: 1) brainwash people into CONSUMING ever more goods and services so that global economic growth continues unabated, and 2) encourage people into using more and more CREDIT so that they get into DEBT and spend the rest of their lives servicing this debt (this is the enslavement aspect of it).

The first aim is accomplished through the use of media (for example, film and television) to inject wants and desires into our collective psyche. To aid in this goal, the machine employs sexual imagery (after all, sex sells!) and the glamorization of wealth and power. Our lust for lotteries is a natural offshoot of this phenomenon. Our obsessive pursuit of wealth is the fallout.

The second aim is merely an extension of the historical practice of indentured servitude. In olden days, if you were in debt and couldn’t pay it off, you had to work it off. Today, the machine strings you along indefinitely with high interest rates and continuing credit use (see aim #1) that force you to work and work and work, just to discharge the interest payments on your debt principal. The machine does NOT want you to catch up and discharge the debt fully. Thus, they have you in their grip forever, milking you incessantly, sucking the lifeblood out of you!

All of this is to say that the machine undermines our ability to achieve true well-being.

The second reason is URBANIZATION. With more and more people migrating to large urban centres, the subsequent loss of “community values” serves to isolate us and take away our spiritual base. People living in big cities just DON’T CARE about their neighbours. There is no sense of community. Households look inward for their emotional sustenance.

So again, we are deprived of the foundation for finding real happiness in our lives.

But even if we were not DISTRACTED and DIVERTED from our search for genuine happiness by economic enslavement and urbanization, the question remains: What is it that we seek to fulfil in order to be happy?

Ultimately, I believe, it is to relieve the empty void that we feel within ourselves. So it really boils down to the age-old and ageless question of spirituality...

Which, of course, has no final answer. :-(

Happiness is Relative to Others’ Attainment

Happiness is relative not only to our personal past experience, but also to our social experience. We are always comparing ourselves to others. And we feel good or bad depending on whom we compare ourselves to.

This simple fact explains why if you escape poverty your happiness increases, yet, paradoxically, societies do not become happier as they progress from relative poverty to affluence. Because what we perceive as a “need” is socially determined, those who live in richer places and times have a higher standard of comparison. Today’s ghettos have more cars and TV sets than yesterday’s suburbs, yet the continuing inequalities leave those with small pieces of the growing pie no more satisfied. Today’s middle class has double the spending power of three decades ago, yet, because the rising tide lifts all boats, feels relatively deprived compared to their better-off neighbors.

Even the rich seldom feel rich. In a 1990 Gallup poll, Americans readily applied the label “rich” to others. The average person judged that 21 percent of Americans were rich. But virtually none – fewer than 0.5 percent – perceived themselves as rich. To those earning $10,000 a year, it takes a $50,000 income to be rich. To those making $500,000, rich may be a $1 million income. When the Oakland Athletics signed Jose Canseco to a $4.7 million annual salary, his fellow outfielder Rickey Henderson became openly dissatisfied with his $3 million salary. Refusing to show up on time to spring training, he complained “I don’t think my contract is fair.” Other teammates, smirking, took up a collection for him. When Pittsburgh Pirate outfielder Barry Bond’s salary was raised from $850,000 in 1990 to $2.3 million in 1991, instead of the $3.25 million he had requested, Bonds sulked, “There’s nothing Barry Bonds can do to satisfy Pittsburgh. I’m sad all the time.”

These “bawl players,” as Sports Illustrated called them, illustrate a well-confirmed principle: How frustrated or contented we feel, personally, depends on who we compare ourselves to. How well a group as a whole is doing will influence its readiness to protest, to demonstrate, to strike. But our personal feelings of well-being hinge more on how we’re doing compared to our peers – our fellow workers, our friends, our extended family. Such comparisons influence our expectations.

- The Pursuit of Happiness

“Bawl players.” This really slays me!! :-)

Happiness is Relative to Our Prior Experience

This first principle reaches from ancient philosophy to contemporary experiments, which show that we judge various experiences relative to our previous experiences. From our recent experience we calibrate “adaptation levels” - neutral points at which sounds seem neither loud nor soft, lights neither bright nor dim, experiences neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

If we get a pay raise, receive an improved test grade, bring home a promotion, or get asked out, we feel an initial surge of pleasure. But if these new realities continue, we adapt. Black-and-white television, once a thrill, began to seem ordinary until we got that exciting nineteen-inch color set, which itself will be replaced by a bigger fix – a twenty-seven-inch set or maybe even high-definition television. So it happens that luxuries become necessities.

Indeed, as our experience changes, relative luxury may even begin to feel like poverty. Thus in 1990 psychiatrist Lewis Judd resigned as director of the National Institute of Mental Health because “simply put, I found family and I can no longer afford to remain in government service” - on a mere $103,600-per-year salary. William Bennett must have sympathized. In spurning a $125,000 offer to become chair of the Republican National Committee he remarked, “I didn’t take a vow of poverty” - which apparently is what $125,000 feels like after making $240,000 in speaking fees during the preceding four months. But even double $240,000 doesn’t feel like wealth to some professional athletes. “People think we make $3 million or $4 million a year,” explained Texas Ranger outfielder Pete Incaviglia. “They don’t realize that most of us only make $500,000.”

I roll my eyes at such insensitivity to those hungry or homeless. But are any of us immune to adaptation?

- The Pursuit of Happiness

Monday, November 07, 2005

Closing Thoughts on Money and Happiness

The river of happiness is fed far less by wealth than by the streams of ordinary pleasures. "What keeps our faith cheerful," says Garrison Keillor, "is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and books, raising kids - all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle [and happy] people."

- The Pursuit of Happiness

Dear God, what have I been missing?! Perhaps the sense of joy that comes, as Garrison Keillor suggests, through more ordinary, ongoing moments of cheer - through identifying with children as they ride their adolescent roller coasters, through laughter and tears shared with friends, through work created and completed, through daily games of pickup basketball with friends, through happy recollections of Chinese tearooms, of family beach fires, of falling in love.

Realizing that well-being is something other than being well-off is liberating. It liberates us from spending tons of money on fancy SUVs and waterfront beach homes - all purchased in a vain quest for an elusive joy. It liberates us from envying the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It liberates us to invest ourselves in developing traits, attitudes, relationships, activities, environments, and spiritual resources that will promote our own, and others', well-being.

This is the path that I hope I am on, and with Dr. S's help, I sincerely hope I am successful on this journey.

Je comprends...

The Roman statesman/philosopher Seneca wrote:

our forefathers...lived every jot as well as we, when they provided and dressed their own meat with their own hands, lodged upon the ground and were not yet come to the vanity of gold and gems...which may serve to show us, that it is the mind, and not the sum, that makes any person rich... No one can be poor that has enough, nor rich, that covets more than he has.

Why are we so obsessed with luxuries? Why do we salivate over Ferraris and Porsches? What is the great attraction of iPods and PSPs?

Why do we lust after homes in Rosedale? And feel despondent when we don't win the 6/49 jackpot?

It is human nature to covet our neighbour's possessions. The grass is always greener on the other side. But somehow I can't help feeling that we failed to learn proper life lessons if we do not place the acquisition of wealth within the proper perspective.

It is not wrong to enjoy a fine vehicle, a fine wine, or a fine big screen TV. But to give such acquisitions anything more than a passing thought is to miss the point of human existence, which is to help each other realize our potentials in this world.

No man is an island. But more than that, we are all interconnected. For example, when we ignore what's happening to our youths, the issue comes back to bite us in the ass in the form of random gun violence. When we bury our heads in the sand and dismiss the suffering and frustration at the other side of the world, we are rewarded with terrorism and revenge.

When we only look after "our own personal interests" and forget that our fellow man is absolutely deserving of our help and attention, we poison ourselves, and society is the worse off for it. Such is the state of the world we live in today...

The Reconstruction of Richard Eng

Slowly but surely, I am beginning the process of reconstructing myself. My shrink, Dr. S, has gotten me to start reading a bunch of books as part of my therapy to repair my broken psyche.

The first book is The Pursuit of Happiness, by David G. Myers. Myers doesn’t pretend to have the formula for finding happiness. This book is the synthesis of numerous psychology research studies into the nature of happiness and well-being. As Myers says...

In Psychological Abstracts (a sort of reader’s guide to psychology) the number of articles pertaining to “happiness,” “life satisfaction,” or “well-being” mushroomed from 150 in 1979 to 780 in 1989. This book reports what we have learned so far, and although the new research offers no easy how-to-be-happy formula, the findings are enlightening. Looking over scientists’ shoulders in their pursuit of happiness in human lives informs our personal pursuit of happiness.

And that’s the point. Reading this book will inform MY pursuit of happiness...

The other two books that Dr. S has me reading are: Getting The Love You Want and Keeping The Love You Find, both my Harville Hendrix. These books are intended to help me mature emotionally, to appreciate the value of human relationships. I’ve read the opening chapters to these two books and I must say, I am mightily impressed. More on this in the future...

Funny Anecdote

“Show me one couple unhappy merely on account of their limited circumstances,” wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “and I will show you ten who are wretched from other causes.”

As examples of the latter, one thinks of Howard Hughes, Christina Onassis, or J. Paul Getty. Or Erno Rubik, whose puzzle cube transformed him overnight from a $150-a-month professor of design to Hungary’s richest person. The toy he built in his room in his mother’s apartment perplexed half a billion people, yet left its taciturn inventor unable to solve the greater puzzle of happiness. While he was showing interviewer John Tierney through his new house, with its pool and sauna and three-car garage and Mercedes, the never-smiling Rubik’s emotions were as gray as the sky. Noting that Rubik eliminated the dining room when remodeling his house, Tierney wondered: “Do you plan to have many people over to dinner?” Puffing on a cigarette and gazing out a window, Rubik frowned. “I hope not.”

- The Pursuit of Happiness

“Peace in a thatched hut – that is happiness,” says a Chinese proverb. My friend Ruth, a former nurse in a Nigerian village, recalls “a group of five- to seven-year-old boys wearing rags for clothes and racing along our compound’s driveway with a toy truck made of tin cans from my trash. They had spent the greater part of a morning engineering the toy – and were squealing with delight as they pushed it with a stick. My sons, with Tonka trucks parked under their beds, looked on with envy.”

- The Pursuit of Happiness

There are two ways to be rich: One is to have great wealth. The other is to have few wants.

Since I achieved financial security in the late 1990s (thanks largely to my ATI stock options, but ALSO to my saving ways), I have acquired many “toys.” To name a few examples, a variety of desktop computers and notebooks, my home theatre audio system, a PDA, a cell phone, my Omega Seamaster watch, a camcorder. But none of these things have improved my well-being. I am no happier for owning them.

I’m suffering from toy overload. I just can’t get excited about new gadgets anymore. Materialism is waning in my life. (Just in case you’re wondering, I STILL want that plasma TV!)

But, seriously, I’ve got to move AWAY from material concerns, away from pursuing greater wealth. I have enough money to retire on; any more would only give me diminishing returns on my personal well-being.

So I shall live a more ascetic existence; I shall no longer worry about the future. If I avoid reckless spending, my money will last. If I should be struck down by calamity, I shall deal with it as it comes. Life is to be lived in the moment.

Money and Happiness

Where is the point of diminishing returns beyond which more money does little to enrich our lives? How much money should we leave our own children? Should our financial goal be to leave these special people as wealthy as we can, or to benefit the rest of the world? How can we be generously loving and supportive, now and later, without demotivating their own achievements or needlessly diminishing what we can do for others?

Likewise, where is the point of diminishing returns in our consumption of material goods? Although it eluded me, I am sure there is a difference between the racks of eighteen-hundred-dollar Christian Lacroix dresses I saw at Chicago’s Marshall Field the other day and the nearby racks of two-hundred-dollar Bonnie Marx dresses. But is the sixteen-hundred-dollar difference – money enough, UNICEF director James P. Grant tells me, to fund the survival of three ill or malnourished children at five hundred dollars per child – really going to affect the wearer’s well-being? I don’t mean to sound miserly, for I do enjoy the conveniences and pleasures of life in an affluent society. Still, for each of us there is a point of diminishing returns. With our needs comfortably met, more money can now buy things we don’t need and hardly care about, or if unspent becomes blips on a bank computer or numbers on a stock report. Beyond this point of diminishing returns, why hoard more and more wealth and wares? What’s the point?

- The Pursuit of Happiness, by David G. Myers

This got me thinking...

I used to believe that the point was to ensure my own security in later life...amassing enough wealth to safeguard myself against possible calamities, such as catastrophic illness or a colossal lawsuit. But reading David Myers’ book, I now realize where I went wrong.

Financial security against perceived possible catastrophes does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make me a happier person! And there are no guarantees in life anyway. A catastrophic illness is just as likely to KILL me as render me impoverished. By focusing so heavily on this financial aspect of life, I am robbing myself of the true pursuit of happiness.

Something else for parents to think about... Leaving behind wealth for your children is NOT the real purpose of parenting. The real purpose is to prepare your kids to face the world so that they can make their own way with confidence and responsibility. This business of dynasties and passing on wealth from one generation to the next is nonsense...