Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Get Small

Last month, I read a story on The Huffington Post that refuses to leave my mind. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, found that $60,000 per year results in happiness. Any amount of earnings above that result in the same level of happiness. "I've rarely seen lines so flat," he said with surprise at the steadiness of response. Sure, Kahneman noted that the level of satisfaction may be higher at $600,000 per annum than at one-tenth the amount, but, emotionally, people remain constant. Below $60K, life is worse ("lack of money certainly buys you misery"), and gets progressively suckier the further from the magic number one gets.

When we moved from suburban Chicago to Cooperstown, there were several motivations: getting kids into a smaller school, regaining huge chunks of my life by not commuting to the Loop, pulling back post-9/11 and spending time with the family before everyone went their separate ways. What I've learned these last seven years is that quality of life is so much more important than quantity of stuff. Seeking happiness through material things never leads to long term contentment. Believe me, I come from a long line of people who have been consistently crushed by the deep seated belief that the next car, boat, house, whatever, would be THE ONE, the thing that would cure their emotional ills. Never worked, never will.

That's not to say I don't have a healthy enjoyment of stuff. Luckily, my tastes are the same at 47 as they were at 17 - books, records, the occasional baseball card set. Sure, those are still "things" but they're pretty cheap and the joy they bring lasts a long time.

Kahneman's study got me thinking. The future is not going to be one of consumption, so the endless pursuit of dough is something of a dead end. Going smaller, getting less, searching for happiness that isn't money-centric, that's the course for me. It sounds great.

Now if I could only stop having to pay a monstrous amount of money on health care, I'd really be in good shape.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Willpower - Do I Still Have Any?

When I was twelve years old, I had a problem. It dogged me constantly. Grades? No. Friends? A-OK. Girls? Well, that was a problem, but not a big one yet.

What troubled me was my obsessive need to buy packs of cards - baseball, football, basketball, hockey. I was insatiable. No sooner did I open up the waxy outer wrapper (after a ceremonial rubbing of the pack and wishing for a particular card), was I ready to buy more. A vicious cycle indeed and it bothered me. I had to prove to myself that I could break the habit.

I went to the trusty stationery store and bought two packs of Topps Hockey cards, 1974-75 edition. I already had the set, but still bought some packs. See? It was a problem.

Not for this pair. I wrapped them in a taped banner of torn looseleaf paper and wrote the date: January 23, 1975. My plan was to wait a week, then another, then a month. It was a test, and I passed with flying colors: those packs are still unopened today.

Did I prove anything? Sort of. But I've opened thousands of packs since then, so what was the point. I don't know, I was only twelve.

Those cards have been on my mind lately as I feel myself helpless at the altar of record albums. Those who know me aren't surprised by my addiction, but lately I feel it may be out of hand.

I swore this past weekend that I wouldn't order or buy any platters until September. Then, I remembered I may be visiting a label's warehouse and that'll lead to some buying. I have a list already. On Saturday, J., 14 and on the verge of his first stereo, found Vintage Vinyl, ten miles from a wedding we attended in Somerset, NJ. Of course we went, and of course I carted out another 11 records. Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall - I couldn't pass that up!

So, can I do it, can I go months without a new batch of discs? I don't know. I may not have the same will as the 1975 me. Yet, I'm starting to wonder if these personal tests and inner struggles are even worth the time.

Regardless, they're no match for the pure joy of finding Magic Christian Music by Badfinger. And on Apple too!