March 2009

If you read my book, you know that one of the messages I try to convey is that it is not what we have that makes us happy, but what we can give.  Here is an article from the Associated Press that shows some scientific evidence to support this belief:


Article from the AP:

Science, Bible Agree: Giving Is Better

WASHINGTON – The Bible counsels misers that it’s better to give than to receive. Science agrees. People who made gifts to others or to charities reported they were happier than folks who didn’t share, according to a report in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

While previous studies have shown that having more money can increase happiness, the researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard University wondered if the way people spent their money made any difference.

Turns out, it does.

Lead researcher Elizabeth W. Dunn, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, said she wasn’t surprised that doing something for others made people happy.

But she was struck by how big the effect was and that how people spent money was more important than how much money they had.

“This work suggests that even making small alterations in how we spend money on a daily basis can make a difference in happiness,” Dunn said in a telephone interview.

“That doesn’t mean go get a high paying job so you can spend tons of money on others. The message is, given what you have, how can you make little alterations to do something for others,” she said.

And, she added, “there’s nothing special about money,” giving can involve time or special skills to help other people.

The report didn’t surprise Sue Citro, senior digital membership manager for the Nature Conservancy:

“We do hear from our members and our supporters that they do get a real feeling of satisfaction from knowing their giving is doing good,” she said.

Andrea Koslow, director of advertising at the American Red Cross, said: “The act of helping has its own profound effect.”

“People need a humanitarian outlet … feeling that they make a difference … that’s very motivating,” Koslow said.

The good feeling associated with giving is why workplace charity opportunities can engage employees and lift morale, added Kristine Templin, director of corporate partnerships at the American Red Cross.

The researchers started by asking a sample of 632 Americans, 55 percent of whom were women, to rate their happiness on a scale of 1 to 5, the higher the number the happier.

Then they asked the participants to report their annual income and estimate how much they spent on paying bills, buying gifts for themselves, buying gifts for others and giving to charity.

The first two were considered personal spending and averaged $1,714-a-month, the second two were termed “prosocial” spending and averaged $146-a-month.

“Personal spending was unrelated to happiness,” said the researchers. “But higher prosocial spending was associated with significantly greater happiness,” they found.

Not content with that, they then studied 16 employees of a company in Boston, asking about their happiness one month before and six to eight weeks after each received a profit-sharing bonus from their employer.

In the second interview they also asked about personal and prosocial spending and once again those who spent more on others were happier.

“The manner in which they spent that bonus was a more important predictor of their happiness than the amount of the bonus itself,” the researchers found.

Finally, 46 Canadian students were asked to rate their happiness and then each was given a random envelope containing money, ranging from $5 to $20. Some were instructed to spend it on themselves, others were told to buy a gift for someone else.

At 5 p.m. that day, they were called together again and asked to rate their happiness.

The amount of money had no impact on happiness, but those assigned to buy something for another person reported greater happiness than those told to get something for themselves, the researchers said.

A separate study published in 2006 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the same parts of the brain that produce the good feeling when a person receives a reward also respond when they give to someone else.

Indeed, researchers led by Jordan Grafman at the National Institutes of Health found the reward areas were more active when giving a gift than when receiving one.

Associated Press Writer Natasha Metzler contributed to this report.


A service of the Associated Press (AP)



Remember all of those science fiction movies that took place in the distant future and featured flying cars, post-apocalyptic leather chaps (Mad Max), robotic butlers, and ray guns, yet still maintained the mulleted and feathered hairstyles of the 70’s and 80’s?  I thought it would be interesting to check out when these events in the distant future were to take place… no really; I did think that would be interesting.  Here are a few popular Sci-Fi movies/television shows and the date in which they were set:


·         Escape from New York – 1997

·         2001:  A Space Odyssey – I think you can guess that one

·         Blade Runner & The Running Man – 2019 (only 10 years away… seems like the Y2K scare was just yesterday)

·         Lost in Space – 1997

·         Star Wars – A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away

·         1984 – I know it’s a satire, not sci-fi… but it has talking animals.  Oh, and it took place in 1984.

·         Strange Days – 1999

·         Terminator 2 – 1997

·         Transformers the Movie (Animated) – 2005

·         Project Moonbase – 1970

·         Timecop – 2004

·         Death Race 2000 – Take a guess


Where’s my jetpack?  Here we are in 2009, twelve years after Will Robinson and his family took a wrong turn in their Jupiter II, and I still don’t have a personal spacecraft, a metallic flight suit, or a robot that dispenses a nutritious meal replacement supplement.


The point here is that time has a way of going by faster than we anticipate.  Back in 1965, when Lost in Space came out, the year 1997 seemed like the unimaginable future (it would be equivalent to 2041 to us now).  All of those spaceships and robots seemed perfectly plausible 32 years in the future. 


What did we actually get in 1997?  Vanna White got new touch letters so that she wouldn’t have to turn them, IBM’s Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat a human world champion in chess, the Dow topped 7,000 for the first time ever (a remarkable sign of growth that would be repeated… last week), and the Treasury Department unveiled a new $50 bill.  Somehow this falls short of the anticipated advances.


The point I am trying to make is that the future keeps becoming today.  If there is something important you want to do with your time, talent, and passions, you’d better get started soon.  Don’t wait until you retire, the kids are off to school, or you get that anticipated promotion.  By then, who knows where the world will be?  Vanna may have a remote control that allows her to light up the letters from her Hoveround and the Dow may reach some crazy number like 10,000.  Hey we can dream, can’t we? 


I’m tired of hearing about the crisis of the day, so today’s posting will aim for levity.  My oldest daughter is now 3 and a half.  This is that magical age in which children possess an interesting vocabulary.  Their familiarity with words and attempts to incorporate them into conversation slightly outstrips their understanding of the words, resulting in some hilarious outcomes.  These are all real things Olivia has said recently:


We were playing with a toy rocket and I asked her count down for blast off.  She began counting, “One, two, three…”


“No,” I said, “count backwards.”


She immediately turned her back to me and began, “One, two, three…”




As I was making breakfast, she walked into the kitchen and said, “I love you, daddy.”  Which she immediately followed with, “And I like eggs!”




Olivia has been taking gymnastics for several weeks and always calls it “misternastics”.  We couldn’t figure out where this was coming from until we realized that “gym” sounds like “Jim”, which is a man’s first name, hence “Mr. Nastics”.




Shortly after our second daughter’s birth, we were in the hospital and the baby started crying.  After a few minutes of crying, Olivia said, “Baby sister is hungry.  She needs to eat some boo-boos.”



One night we were having dinner at a restaurant and our waiter was bald as beach ball.  Every time he came to our table, Olivia asked him, “What happened to your hair?  I’ll help you find it.”



I’m sure there are countless more, but this is all I can think of for now.  Post some replies if you have some stories of your own.



Ok, “decession” is not a word.  It doesn’t even make sense, but since “repression” was already taken, it is the term I’m giving to what we are going through now.  The Chicken Littles are running around saying that we’re heading into another Great Depression.  Well, we’re not there… yet.  However, what we are in is worse than what we have called a recession in the past.


By definition, a recession occurs when the gross domestic product (the value of all of the goods and services we produce) shrinks for two consecutive quarters.  We’ve been there since December 2007.  By definition, a depression… uh, there is no agreed upon definition for a depression.  I think economists shy away from it because it scares the daylights out of us.


Let’s compare/contrast where we are now to where we were around 1929:



The Great Depression – 25%

Now – 8.2%


True, the population of the US is much greater now than it was in the 1930’s – 8.2% of our current population of 300 million people is 24.6 million, which is pretty close to 25% of our 1929 population of 12o million people (30 million).  However, there are other factors to consider.  First of all, one out twelve people experiencing unemployment is a lot different from one out of four.  Nonetheless if you are one of the 8.2% without a job, it is of little consolation that we are only at one third of the unemployment rate we endured during the Great Depression.  Another big difference now is the diversity of work available.  Back in the 30’s we basically had agriculture, mining, and some industry.  Now, you have a plethora of opportunities even in the worst job market since 1983.



The Great Depression – Millions of homeless, starving people resorted to begging and relying on the charity of others for their next meal.


Now – Numerous CEOs making millions of dollars have resorted to begging and relying on the American taxpayer for their next “mil”.


The Stock Market

The Great Depression – From October 1929 to 1932, stocks lost about 80% of their value.


Now – Though stocks are taking a beating, the Dow would have to go down to about 2,800 to be at 20% of its October 2007 high of 14,000.


Money Supply

The Great Depression – From 1929 to 1933 it is reported that 10,763 of 24,970 commercialized banks failed and the money supply fell 30.9%.


Now – Because of what happened in the 1930s, we have a wiser Federal Reserve (believe it or not) that would likely take more drastic measures to prevent the money supply from falling so sharply.  Yes, this would lead to inflation, but it could stave off the drought of credit lines.



The Great Depression – Policymakers sought to increase prices (and thereby, wages) by decreasing production.  The thought was that if we had a reduced supply, prices would go up and wages would follow.  Of course the problem with this strategy is that if production is decreased, fewer workers would be needed and fewer people would be able to afford the now higher-priced commodities.


Now – I think we all know that creating jobs is the way out of this mess.  A lot of talented people are getting laid off and are left wondering what to do next.  I think America needs an entrepreneurial boom.  We need to stop giving taxpayer dollars to huge companies that are hemorrhaging money and start offering more assistance to small businesses and people who taking the initiative to begin their own economic recovery.


Living Conditions

The Great Depression – People lived in cardboard boxes known as “Hoovervilles” and used newspapers to try to keep warm.


Now – We complain about not being able to sell our 2,500 square foot homes while watching American Idol in high definition.  I’m not trying to marginalize our current condition.  I know a lot of people are truly struggling to figure out their finances and face losing their homes, but even in our toughest economic times, we have it pretty good.  If you don’t believe me, consider this:  50% of the world (that’s over 3 billion people) live on $2.50 or less per day, 80% of the world lives on less than $10 day, and according to UNICEF, in 2005 up to 30,000 children died every day due to poverty.  You’re probably thinking, but that’s in lesser developed countries.  Exactly.  That’s my point – we have it pretty good.


I didn’t plan on putting up another posting about the economy, but it’s hard not to talk about it these days.  I know that some of you are struggling.  I recently found out that one of the plants where I used to work will be shutting down and some of the readers of this blog are now trying to figure out what’s next.  Sometimes we gain perspective from the decisions we make.  Sometimes perspective is forced upon us.  Whatever your situation, it is essential to remain optimistic.  I know… easier said than done.  I’ve learned that optimism does not come from believing that you will get what you want.  It comes from appreciating that you have what you need.


It’s another bad day on Wall Street. As of the time of this posting, the Dow is down about 237 points to 6,826. Today’s bad news is that AIG (you know, the company we bailed out so that employees could go on a luxury retreat) posted a $61.7 billion loss for the 4th quarter of 2008. Now they’re getting another $30 billion of federal aid our tax dollars. Expect more bad news for the next few months – we’re not out of this yet.

Despite the losses that we have all suffered, we should keep things in perspective. I know that what used to be my “portfolio” now more closely resembles a Post-It note and people are panicking about their losses, but give some thought to what we have gained in our lives. In our peculiar thought process, we humans tend to focus more on the pain loss than the joy of gain.

If I were to ask how much your 401(k) lost last year, most of you could probably give a pretty accurate dollar amount or percentage. Now if I were to ask how much your investments increased in the year prior to the financial crisis, you likely have no idea. That’s just how we tend to think.

Here is another example to consider. Imagine you are walking down a sidewalk and find a $5 bill. You feel pretty good for a minute or two, but soon forget about it. As you’re walking down the sidewalk, you come across a vending machine and have a sudden craving for some Funyuns. You put in a crisp one dollar bill and punch “G-4”. The dispenser screw begins to turn and then the unthinkable happens… the machine stops and your Funyuns remain precariously perched on their rack. In your anger and disappointment, you shake the machine but to no avail. Your anticipation for those deep fried onion flavored corn snacks turns to utter defeat when you realize that the bag will not drop.

Even though that bag of Funyuns probably only cost 50 cents, the disappointment you feel for that loss is greater than the joy you received from finding 10 times that amount on the sidewalk. There are $5 bills to be found all over the place. It would probably do us all some good if we started being thankful for them and stopped obsessing over our teetering Funyuns.