Video of the day

So, this is pretty cool.  As described at Vimeo (though, you should watch it there for Hi Def):

CAMERA OBSCURA ‪FILM PROJECT

This video is a part of a pinhole movie project based on the principle of the Camera Obscura. An apartment is completely darkened. A hole is made in a window, letting lights from outside coming in. Projections are taking place everywhere inside.‬
‪Stenop.es is looking for amazing places in order to continue its visual work. Contribute now on ‬stenop.es
Film made without projector.

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Happiness vs. meaning

I was trying to recall and explain this interesting Atlantic piece about the more sophisticated way of thinking about happiness to my wife the other day and I pretty much failed.  Thus, I decided I better write a blog post about it so she could read it.   Here’s the gist:

Of course, it’s important to first define happiness. A few months ago, I wrote a piece called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” about a psychology study that dug into what happiness really means to people. It specifically explored the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.

It seems strange that there would be a difference at all. But the researchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors of the study wrote. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.” While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, “Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.” …

Happiness was defined, as in the earlier study, byfeeling good. The researchers measured happiness by asking subjects questions like “How often did you feel happy?” “How often did you feel interested in life?” and “How often did you feel satisfied?” The more strongly people endorsed these measures of “hedonic well-being,” or pleasure, the higher they scored on happiness.

Meaning was defined as an orientation to something bigger than the self. They measured meaning by asking questions like “How often did you feel that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it?”, “How often did you feel that you had something to contribute to society?”, and “How often did you feel that you belonged to a community/social group?” The more people endorsed these measures of “eudaimonic well-being” — or, simply put, virtue — the more meaning they felt in life.

In most people there’s plenty of overlap.  But for people who are happy without meaning, they are not particularly healthy.   Short version: meaning matters.  And don’t just strive to be happy, strive to have meaning.  Or even better, strive for happiness through meaning.  That’s what works for me.  E.g.,

Lies, damn lies, and even more damn lies

Among the right’s all-out war on Obamacare as of late, the detestable Americans for Prosperity (i.e,. more prosperity for those already prosperous) has started running some fabulously misleading Obamacare ads.  Here’s the local NBC story on it last night featuring your’s truly.  (Sorry, cannot embed the video).  I’m not going to waste my time mentioning all the lies and half-truths in the ads–  most of you are probably already familiar with them.  Anyway, it is just so wrong and so frustrating that they are 1) just completely lying; and 2) trying to therefore dissuade Americans from enrolling in much needed health insurance.

This second ad– not featured in the news story– bothers me even more.

The woman talks about her son having seizures and how somehow Obamacare will mess this all up.  Hey lady– try getting insurance coverage for your pre-existing condition son if something happens to your current insurance.  Oh wait, she can now because of Obamacare.  And this whole business of the government choosing your doctors!  Good grief!  You are going to get insurance through a private health insurance company who will choose your doctors.  Just like you already have (like when your son had seizures).  And if the government’s not “choosing” your doctors (which they’re not), you know who is?  Aetna.  Cigna.  Etc.  Is that really so much better.

Photo of the day

From the National Geographic Tumblr.  This is just bizarre.

A man holds a Cape cobra as his son force-feeds it to assure venom supply, November 1950.Photograph by Justin Locke, National Geographic

A man holds a Cape cobra as his son force-feeds it to assure venom supply, November 1950.PHOTOGRAPH BY JUSTIN LOCKE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Two Americas

Loved this Robert Putnam (super-influential Political Scientist) essay on growing up his working class hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio and how it has dramatically changed– reflecting the changes in American society.  Great stuff.   Just read it.  That said, here’s the concluding paragraphs:

R’S story is heartbreaking. But the story of Port Clinton over the last half-century — like the history of America over these decades — is not simply about the collapse of the working class but also about the birth of a new upper class. In the last two decades, just as the traditional economy of Port Clinton was collapsing, wealthy professionals from major cities in the Midwest have flocked to Port Clinton, building elaborate mansions in gated communities along Lake Erie and filling lagoons with their yachts. By 2011, the child poverty rate along the shore in upscale Catawba was only 1 percent, a fraction of the 51 percent rate only a few hundred yards inland. As the once thriving middle class disappeared, adjacent real estate listings in the Port Clinton News Herald advertised near-million-dollar mansions and dilapidated double-wides.

The contrast with the egalitarian ethos and reality of the 1950s — the contrast between the upward mobility experienced by J and the bleak prospects of R — vividly captures Port Clinton’s transformation in the last half-century, much like that of the rest of the country. My research team has talked with dozens of R’s from Austin, Tex., to Duluth, Minn., and from Atlanta to Orange County, Calif.

The crumbling of the American dream is a purple problem, obscured by solely red or solely blue lenses. Its economic and cultural roots are entangled, a mixture of government, private sector, community and personal failings. [emphasis mine] But the deepest root is our radically shriveled sense of “we.” Everyone in my parents’ generation thought of J as one of “our kids,” but surprisingly few adults in Port Clinton today are even aware of R’s existence, and even fewer would likely think of her as “our kid.” Until we treat the millions of R’s across America as our own kids, we will pay a major economic price, and talk of the American dream will increasingly seem cynical historical fiction.

Conservatives very much do have something to add as this truly is, in part, a cultural problem (a reality some liberals don’t like to admit).  Alas, we need more conservatives to actually care that the American dream is crumbling.  The problems of Port Clinton (and America writ large) need solutions and they simply cannot be addressed solely by tax cuts for rich people and fewer government regulations.   Furthermore, as a matter of politics, its’ presumably a lot easier to address the economic and private sector (regulated by the public sector) failings.  It would be great if liberals and conservatives could work together to solve this problem.  Yes, liberals probably need to do more to admit the cultural and “personal failings” elements, but this is a problem liberals are at least trying to address.   There are some conservatives out there who really care about this, too.  Alas, pretty much none of them are in the US Congress.  

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