Archive for June, 2016

Happiness and Stuff

What exactly are we storing away in the boxes we cart from place to place when we move? Much of what Americans consume doesn’t even find its way into boxes or storage spaces, but winds up in the garbage.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports, for example, that 40 percent of the food Americans buy finds its way into the trash.

Enormous consumption has global, environmental and social consequences. For at least 335 consecutive months, the average temperature of the globe has exceeded the average for the 20th century. As a recent report for Congress explained, this temperature increase, as well as acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and Arctic Sea ice are “primarily driven by human activity.” Many experts believe consumerism and all that it entails — from the extraction of resources to manufacturing to waste disposal — plays a big part in pushing our planet to the brink. And as we saw with Foxconn and the Beijing smog scare, many of the affordable products we buy depend on cheap, often exploitive overseas labor and lax environmental regulations.

Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?

In a recent study, the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen linked consumption with aberrant, antisocial behavior. Professor Bodenhausen found that “Irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mind-set, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in well-being, including negative affect and social disengagement.” Though American consumer activity has increased substantially since the 1950s, happiness levels have flat-lined.

My experiences show that after a certain point, material objects have a tendency to crowd out the emotional needs they are meant to support. Often they take up mental as well as physical space. It’s a hard train to get off of. Many of those things mean a lot at the point of acquisition, but later…not so much. Yet we hang on to them as if they do. Like that’s our security from something.

Let ’em go…



To Die of Love


This painting captures the final denouement of Les aments de Teruel (The Lovers of Teruel), which is alleged to have actually taken place in 1217 in the city of Teruel Spain.

Juan and Isabel were in love, but Isabel’s father forbade their marriage because Juan was not wealthy. Juan left Teruel to build his fortune and while he was gone Isabel’s father forced her into a loveless marriage with Don Pedro de Azagra. When Juan returned with his riches Isabel refused – out of religious virtue – to kiss him. Spurned, Juan died of a broken heart. The remorseful Isabel went to bid her love farewell, and as she bent to kiss him, she breathed her last breath, thus ensuring their union for eteLoversofTGravesrnity.

They are currently entombed at Iglesia de San Pedro. Numerous dramatic adaptations and plays have beenToDieofLove inspired by the story. A filmed ballet about it was released December 14, 1962.

These tragic yet beautiful and dramatic stories are compelling to us. The elements are: True love. An obstacle (culture, her father). Juan respected that tradition and nobly rose above the challenge to earn his love’s hand. Meanwhile she was stuck (a common theme) in a loveless marriage, yet stayed true to her religious virtue, morality, character. He loved her so much that he died (there was no other for him), and she followed suit (reciprocating love). Now they are together, a happy(ish), if tragic, ending; ultimate romance.

We’re compelled because…we somehow want to be them? It doesn’t seem like they were very happy in life. She was stuck in a marriage and probably thinking about Juan all the time. He was off, missing her, trying to make his fortune. Yes, he had a purpose that fueled his fire, and he probably felt great for a short time as his fortunes mounted and he rode back into town, but generally those years were presumably pretty lonely and frustrating.

Maybe we aspire to be like them? They made the best of a shitty situation, which appeals to us. They are together in eternity, which is also a comforting thought.

We love to experience the emotions a story like this elicits. Most of us generally don’t have the passionate love or the dramatic obstacles to overcome. In our actual lives things are generally pretty easy and mundane. This is often by (our) design, of course, as we fear taking the big risks that may produce this type of drama.

What if you loved so much you could die? What if you persevered against the odds? For most, those sorts of things will be fantasies. We’re all dreaming in some ways. For Isabel and Juan there was also a fantasy…that they could live together in love. Most would say there is nothing wrong with a good fantasy, so long as it doesn’t dominate or ruin your life. But put yourself in Juan’s shoes. Should he have given up and married another?

It wouldn’t make much of a story. It wouldn’t make much of a life.




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