Don't want to be killed? Move to New York City.

Gregg Easterbrook, in his book, The Progress Paradox, says this about the murder rate. Read it carefully because it does fit with prevalent stereotypes.

"In fact, by 2001 the Big Apple had a lower murder rate than most rural states. Despite the stereotype that big Northeastern cities are the dangerous places, since the onset of crime decline, the Northeast has become the safest region in the nation from the standpoint of homicide. Today the South has the highest murder rate, one per 12,500 people per annum, compared to one per 16,667 people west of the Rockies and one per 25,000 in the Northeast. Note that the regions with more murder tend to vote conservative, those with less murder tend to vote liberal." p.39

It is also interesting to note that states with the death penalty have higher homicide rates than states without it.

Easterbrook offers an interpretation of the data.

"Rural men and women who vote conservative may be responding to the perceived lawlessness of their regions, while urban voters who favor liberalism may be responding to the perceived stability of their local social order. Who would have guessed that the liberal regions would suffer less crime than the conservative ones? That has been the American pattern the last decade."

I would have guessed it, because I know that, in general, liberal policies, in most instances, are more humane and work better to foster the public good.

It has become increasingly clear to me in this polarization of conservative/liberal, red state/blue state, that the issues is not about who is right and who is wrong, but what works.

It appears, if you analyze the data, that it is less likely you, a loved one, and/or a neighbor will be killed if you live in a moral, liberal, humane blue state than if you live in a judgmental, fundamentalist, right wing, red state. You are safer in New York City, Boston, and/or Los Angeles than in Dismal Seepage, Texas, Tobacco Road, South Carolina, or Gooseberry Gap, Kentucky.

Why aren't we happy?

Gregg Easterbrook's book, The Progress Paradox, has this interesting thesis that Americans never had it so good and they still aren't happy. He looks at various indicators of well being and makes a compelling case that indeed there has been phenomenal advances on all indicators. So why don't people feel happy?

He says there are two reasons: the revolution of satisfied expectations, and collapse anxiety.

What he means by the "revolution of satisfied expectations" is that it is hard to have anything to look forward to when you already have everything. What do you buy the person for Christmas who doesn't need anything? And when we have no hopes, no dreams, nothing to work for, look forward to, we get depressed. We are glutted with stuff. Who needs more? The old Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is" perhaps says it all.

Collapse anxiety is when we have everything but we live in fear that it can't last and we will loose it. Freudians call it the "success neurosis". People who are successful are waiting for the other shoe to drop. They know it's only a matter of time before something happens to ruin a good thing.

Both sources of unhappiness are based on a dependence on material things to make us happy. It is a belief that stuff will make us happy, and if that doesn't work it's because we don't have enough stuff, or the right stuff, etc.

As we have been told "Money can't buy you love". There is plenty of evidence that wealthy people are not any happier than people of moderate means. I don't mean to say that money has no bearing on happiness, I only mean to say that after a moderate amount of wealth so that we can meet our needs, more money does nothing for us.

I love the saying "Money can't buy you love, but it sure helps."

The spiritual traditions have all pointed out that money not only does not bring happiness but in fact can be the root of unhappiness.

So I am reminded of my friend, Al, who when I asked him, "Al, what is the measure of a person?", Al said simply, "Kindness, Dave, kindness."

Do you suppose that kindness can bring us happiness? Could it be as simple as that?

Is too much leisure a bad thing?

Continuing my reading of Gregg Easterbrook's book, The Progress Paradox, I discover that the amount of leisure time has signicantly increased in the last 100 years. Back in 1880 the typical adult American male had  11 hours per week for relaxation and now it is over 40. (p.29)

Similarly 100 years ago 50% of an American adult's waking hours was spent in some form of imposed labor and know it is a little under 20 percent.

Why then do we feel so stressed and like we don't have enough time for things?

Probably because we voluntarily fill up our days with trips, sports, shopping, transporting kids, watching TV, etc. The constant bombardment of electronic media: TV, cel phones, radio, Ipods, flashing billboards, etc. provides a sensory stimulating environment which is draining and exhausting.

However stressful we find our days, the fact is that leisure time, once the province of the rich and elite class, is now available to everyone if they want it.

Another way of looking at this issue of time is the length of the life span. In 1870 the average lifespan of the British upper class was 17 years longer than the population as a whole, whereas now days there are no class differences.

Interestingly, especially for our youth, it appears that the amount of leisure time is debilitating. Youth has a sense of ennui, and uselessness as they while away their days playing video games and surfing the net for chat rooms. The youth suicide rate is up in the last twenty years perhaps because youth increasingly have nothing to live for. Not much is expected or required of them. The days of working on the family farm, doing chores taking care of livestock, are over. Without purpose, without work to do, people die.

Is too much leisure a bad thing for people and society? Only we can decide. There is no question that we have more of it on our hands.

Physical toil or white collar work - which is better?

Miner Gregg Easterbrook points out in his book, The Progress Paradox, that in 1900 about 20% of the population was engaged in white collar work while 42% were engaged in "primary labor" such as mining, forestry, fishing, and farming. Most of the rest were engaged in factory work.

Today, almost 60% of Americans are engaged in white collar work. The release of the majority of Americans from physical toil is rarely noticed by most Americans.

While this phenomenon can be seen as a great boon, it also probably has a lot to do with the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and the rise of the "fitness" and "health club" business.

When I was a kid working on my grandfather's and a neighbor's farm, I had all the exercise I ever needed, and in fact every summer lost 15 pounds, and became much more muscular while getting paid for it. Of course, I was also exhausted at night and at the beginning of the summer ached all over from muscle strain for a couple of weeks.

I learned how to work hard, though, 9 hours per day from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and some nights during haying season and good weather to 9:30 PM. My boss, Stan Progrozewski had been up since 5:00 AM and milked 45 cows before we started at 8:00 AM, and milked them again after I quit at 6:00 PM.

Interestingly, being a psychotherapist, administrator, and teacher most of my adult life, I am 100 lbs. overweight, and I often wonder whether I am any happier? I love my work, but I miss the physical work as well. I certainly resent the physical exercise of the health club because I remember when my physical toil resulted in work accomplished while walking on the treadmill or lifting weights reminds me of hamsters running on a treadmill.

While some would say that life is much easier for people today who engage in white collar work instead of physical toil, I wonder if it really is better?

Does eating at McDonald's make us any happier?

Eating_at_mcdonalds As a 59 year old man it is interesting to note that in the last 50 years the percentage of their budget that Americans spend on restaurant food has almost doubled from about 25% in 1955 to 46% today. I remember when going out to eat was a real treat and now it is common place. As the oldest of five children, I don't think I can remember more than five times going out to eat in a restaurant with my family and this was on one vacation we took to Washington, DC.

Gregg Easterbrook points out in his book, The Progress Paradox, that many Americans today believe that times are hard, but compared to previous generations we live like royalty. I have been reviewing some of the indicators for "quality of life" which Easterbrook discusses.  I wonder how many people would say that the ease, convenience, and delectibility of eating in restaurants has improved their satisfaction with their lives as compared to a "home cooked meal"?

Have our jet setting ways made us happier or filled us with terror?

Jet_plane Gregg Easterbrook points out that 30 years ago and more, only the wealthy were able to take vacations overseas. We even had a phrase for them. They were referred to as the "jet set". In 2002, over twenty five million Americans took vacations overseas. Adjusting for population this rate of overseas vacations is 30 times what it was in 1900. Now, 200 million Americans, or about 70% of the population are members of the "jet set", hardly an experience only for the wealthy any longer.

The world has certainly become smaller.

My wife and I had 9 kids and I make my living as a Social Worker one of the lowest paid professions in the world, and yet my third child, Kelly, was able to go to China in 1986 when she was a junior in high school as a "community ambassador" from our village in Western New York State, Brockport, NY. What a thrill to see our daughter go from Rochester, NY to Chicago, to San Francisco, to Tokyo, to Hong Kong, and eventually into mainland China.

While I have never been out of the country myself except to Canada many of my children have been places like Mexico, England, Ireland, Germany, France in addition to Kelly's trip to China.

Having watched the plane fares, there have been times when it was cheaper to fly from Buffalo, NY to Paris than it is to fly to Disney World in Orlando, Fl.

It is not rare any more for Americans to visit exotic far away distant places. These kinds of journeys are common place and while interesting and exciting for the traveler not uncommon or of particular interest to anyone else.

Has this mobility and contact with diverse cultures made us any happier or wiser?

If it did, why are we so full of "terror"?

Rejoice! We have built the best health care system in the world.

Continuing my reading and discussion of Gregg Easterbrook's book, The Progress Paradox, I run across his comments on page 25 that while currently 14% of Americans have no medical insurance, two generations ago nobody did and only the very wealthy knew any protection against ruinous medical expense because of their wealth.

Physicians, nurses and hospital staff lived humbly often bartering services with locals who traded the goods and services that they had for the health care they received. Of course, the locals often went without and died.

As health care has become more technological it has become more effective, getting better outcomes, but also more expensive, and the practice of medicine has shifted from a vocation, a calling, and a profession, to a business, a way for individuals and organizations to make money. What has been gained in effectiveness and efficiency has also been lost in humanity and caring.

I think many health care providers struggle with the conflicts between being a good business person who needs to generate revenue to stay in business, and being of service to people which is often time consuming, energy depleting, and not as efficient. People want to be attended to, not simply treated as objects, pieces of meat. There, unfortunately, is no billing code to be used with insurance companies for caring about patients.

As much as we may regret the conflicts between ministering, and fixing for money, the health care system has improved tremendously in two generations in terms of its effectiveness, its efficiency, and its coverage for the vast majority of Americans rich and poor alike.

A co-worker told me two days ago that her infant son who required cardiac surgery within a week of his birth or he would die, has been successfully treated now and is doing well at 2 1/2 months. She said the bill has come to over one million dollars. 30 years ago this infant son would have died.Without health insurance this young family would be bankrupted for the rest of their lives.

It's a grand world we are living in. Rejoice and be happy!

Don't let schooling interfere with your education

High_school_classroom Four-fifths of Americans now are high school graduates, and one quarter have college degrees. Americans average 12.3 years of schooling, the highest average in the world. This is an astounding change from a couple of generations ago when only the rich from the upper class could have the leisure to pursue so much schooling. The typical American does not have to go to work out of high school, but can go on to college or some other training.

So with this signifcant change in the school experience of most Americans why don't we feel smarter and appreciate it more? This is the ongoing question from Gregg Easterbrook's book The Progress Paradox.

Perhaps the answer lies in the idea that it is not IQ and academic success that make people successful in life, but rather their EQ or emotional quotient. EQ has to do with empathy, self control and self discipline, and the ability to set goals for oneself and persist in their pursuit.

I also think that EQ has to do with the ability to think critically and systemically which is something that I find our school systems at all levels no longer teach or appreciate. In fact, I believe that schooling can be antithetical to one's education.

So, I would make a distinction between "schooling" and "education". They are not the same thing and in fact can be antithetical and contradictory. Years in school does not translate necessarily into education. There are lots of ways that people learn and get an education.

What is important to success in life is wisdom, good judgment, the ability to make good decisions, and develop and implement plans to improve the common welfare. Bureacracies and large institutions are not set up or structured to teach these things to their participants so I believe that our public schools' failure is endemic to their structure and organization.

So to ask whether we are the best schooled nation on earth or the best educated nation on earth is to ask two different questions.

Modern day living arrangements - good or bad for mental health?

House Gregg Easterbrook points out in his book, The Progress Paradox, that today almost 70% of Americans own their own places of dwelling while only 20% did a century ago when most Americans were tenants.

Further, houses have gotten significantly bigger in the last 50 years with the average house growing from 1,100 sq. feet in the 50s to twice that size today with upgrades common like central air, two car or three car garages, swimming pools, inground gas grills, jacuzis and hot tubs being common place.

Easterbrook points out that the greatest growth in the housing market has not been the palatial mansions of the rich and famous but rather the beautiful, comfortable homes of the middle class.

In addition, all of this has been happening at the same time that family size has been shrinking and most Americans can have their own individual living space if they want it rather than having to share.

From a mental health point of view it is unclear whether this move to individualized living space is a good thing or not. While it provides privacy, independence, and autonomy, it also increases lonliness, isolation, and withdrawal from social relations.

At any rate, living situations today, by any standard are far more luxurious and rich than anyone could have imagined 50 or 60 years ago let alone 100. It is indeed ironic that these richly appointed living spaces for the contemporary generation has obtained the regressive appellation "my crib", as in "would you like to come over to my crib, man?"

Why aren't we happy?

Continuing my reading of Gregg Easterbrook's book, The Progess paradox, I run across this:

"Ninety-five percent of American dwellings are now centrally heated, versus 15 percent in our grandparent's generation; 78 percent have air conditioning, versus essentially zero then......But the premise of contemporary American life is that everyone should at all times be as comfortable as physically possible; how could anyone possibly stand a too-warm house ten days per year when calls to air conditioning contractors and to the bank's home-improvement loan office can change this?......There is nothing wrong, and much right, with seeking utmost comfort; the only real objection is that billions around the world have far more basic needs that go unmet." pp. 18-19

I woke up this morning and it is 10 degrees F out side and the gas furnace is purring away and it is a toasty 62 degrees inside and has been all night as I slept like a baby.

Every now and then, I thank God for what I have. I have to remind myself that I am happy and have nothing to complain about.

Easterbrook's thesis is that our perception of circumstances that make us happy is all relative. Happiness does not come from external circumstances but from our personal meaning that we make from our awareness of those circumstances. As the mystics have taught us the best frame of mind for us to cultivate that would make us truly happy would be attitudes of gratitude and compassion. And the best way to cultivate the attitudes of gratitude and compassion would be to take care of ourselves and then our neighbor.