The Psychology of Travel


“The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is a line that service industry employees know well. The squeaky wheels are our rant and ravers, adults that throw child-like temper tantrums. They scream and throw things, and they call the service employee before them every profane name they can think up to get what they want. Squeaky wheels know that the standards of the service industry are set up in such a way that no self-respecting manager is going to allow a squeaky wheel to stand at their desk and create a spectacle. They know the standards of the employee’s job duties are set up to appease the screaming minority that call corporate offices and write letters. Squeaky wheels also know that frustrated, low-level employees –those that want to rebel against these standards and treat the screaming minority in the same manner they treat the more deferential majority – are mere stepping stones to a manager that will step in and just give the squeaky wheels all the grease they need applied to make them go away.

“Imagine what it must be like to live like that every day of your life,” the front desk manager informed me after my frustrations reached a boiling point with one particular shrieking wheel, and the favorable treatment he received from the manager after the man acted like a petulant child that wanted a lollipop. ‘You’re not going to get anything if you continue to act that way young man,’ was my stance, but my manager stepped in and gave away the farm.

The idea that no discernible punishment awaited the hysterical man that stood before me was the source of my frustration. I grew up believing that there was a social, karmic contract that we all enter into where we attempt to treat others the way we want to be treated, and that the definition of character is formed on how we treat those that can do nothing for us. Watching the way this man acted, and the way management reacted, led me to believe that those standards are nothing but mottos that we’ve developed to keep the rubes in line, while the shrieking minority walks away with all the spoils. The gist of my more reasonable manager’s reply was that this shrieking wheel’s punishment for acting the way he did, was having to live the way he presumably lives.

“A person cannot be that obnoxiously miserable,” he stated, “without being obnoxiously miserable.”

No one involved in this obnoxiously miserable man’s spectacle knew what happened to him after we resolved his issue. We concluded, however, that the remaining moments of his trip would be as miserable as the rest of his life would be, because he was miserable, and that the greatest impediment to him having an enjoyable trip was the decision he made to take him with him.

Happy people tend to get lost in the shuffle in the course of a day at a hotel. They do not have chocolate truffle apologies sent to their room by the manager, they do not have extra-amenities lying in wait for them in their room, and they will not gain the sense of satisfaction that the miserable must gain by conquering an eighteen-year-old service industry employee’s desire to do everything they can to avoid rewarding the obnoxiously miserable. Happiness has its own rewards in all of the intangible ways everyone knows, but some it appears, would rather have a chocolate truffle.

It’s been my experience, working at a hotel in a decidedly non-tourist spot, that happy people can have great, enjoyable vacations no matter where they decide to travel, whom they vacation with, or what their vacation destination has to offer. Their happiness is so infectious that it bleeds over into their daily life, in much the same manner misery does for the miserable. To the happy, the very idea of travel is but a luxury afforded to those that know how to budget accordingly. The miserable, however, can find something to be miserable about in the most luxurious, five-star destination spots the world has to offer, because they make the unfortunate decision to take them, and all of their baggage, with them on vacation.

No vacation can make a person happier, or any more miserable, than they already are. The weather will not act according to plan, everything will be more expensive than calculated, some members of the service industry will be miserable jerks in a manner that makes a vacation more miserable, and a vacationer will run into some unreasonable jerks –in the general population of the locale to which you travel– because these people always seem to find the miserable. It’s been my experience, on both sides of the travel industry, that Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) will come into play whenever one decides to go on a vacation. I’ve also learned that Murphy’s Law doesn’t apply to places and things as much as it applies to people, miserable people that seek out misery.

If you are one of these miserable people, and you’ve arrived at the realization that the greatest obstacle to having a great time on vacation is that you have to take you with you, you may want to consider another course of action that will save you, and those you encounter on vacation, a great deal of headache and heartache by finding some way to avoid taking you with you. If that means staying home and watching TV, stay home and watch TV. You can complain about the dwindling number of shrimp in your takeout, or the amount of commercials on TV, from the comfort of your own home, and you won’t have to ruin a vacation for all the happy people around you that enjoy all that life has to offer.

Head in the Sand Gains

Traveling will not change a person, their intelligence level, or any personality traits that are endemic to character. If a person believes that the only way one can know anything about the Vadoma tribe of western Zimbabwe (called “The Ostrich People” in a derogatory fashion) is to travel there and shake hands with a tribal leader, they make a mistake by degrees. They might be able to use a line like this one for the rest of their life: “Oh, you simply must visit the Vadoma people personally. Gluck Gluck, the tribal chief, is an amiable host.” It may enrich a life somewhat to touch the Ectrodactyly-ridden toes of the fraction of this tribe that suffers from the ostrich-like condition, and that may provide a person a conversation piece that lasts the rest of their life that centers around the smell of their refuse, the particular foods that they eat, and the opportunity they had to share that quaint meal with the tribe, or they might even gain a perspective on their life that gives them a renewed appreciation of the extravagances life has afforded them. They will not become smarter, happier, or more miserable by travel alone.

There are people –and they know who they are– that believe that they are somehow worldlier, smarter, and more experienced than others are, based on the quantity and quality of their travels.

“How would you know?” a world traveler once asked me in a debate, completely unrelated to travel. “You haven’t traveled extensively.”

Few people are as bold, or as stark as that, but there does appear to be an element of this mindset in most world travelers. We should all take a moment out of our lives to inform them that some can derive intelligence by reading, and by the manner in which one studies a subject. If a person is one that already knows most of what there is to know about everything, and I think we can say that based on our experience with most world travelers think that they approach most subjects with this mindset, their prospects for greater intelligence are probably going to be limited. If their general nature is such that they approach various subjects without ego, and an insatiable curiosity, their intelligence level may reach a “boundless” characterization by those that listen to them, and they can accomplish this without travel.

This person that questioned my level of intelligence, based on comparatively limited travels, appeared to believe that by traveling in tour groups –on the yellow brick roads that the travel industry built to allow them to view the indigenous people of third world countries from behind proverbial velvet ropes that protected them from “icky” involvement with the indigenous, and basically allowed them to view indigenous people in the manner zoo patrons might view a rhinoceros– that she was somehow smarter, or worldlier than me. She was there, in western Zimbabwe, and no one can ever take that away from her, but she didn’t eat with the people, sleep with them, or spend any significant amount of time with them. She viewed them in the manner zoo patrons view baboons, refraining –we can only assume – from tossing them peanuts.

“I did it for the experience,” is something she might have said. “I did it to be a well-rounded character that has a greater perspective about the world.” 

No one can deny these possibilities, but listening to her one can’t help but think that she took this particular, third world vacation with an unspoken enthusiasm for the mileage it might gain her in the face of those that haven’t. What good is taking such a vacation, if a person doesn’t talk about it, feel worldlier in its aftermath, and lord it over those that haven’t taken such an excursion?

If this is not enough for a world traveler, and that world traveler wants to view a world beyond the proverbial velvet ropes that line the chamber of commerce’s yellow brick road, and they want to step into the world of adventurous travel, they may want to check to make sure they have an American, OHBM (outrageously hot, blonde mom) in their tour group. If there isn’t one, my advice would be to find the closest thing available and ask her and her husband to join your adventurous excursion. The reason for this is that no country –that makes any revenue from tourism– wants to see their country mentioned in the U.S. media, and there’s nothing the U.S. media loves more than a “Something happened to an  outrageously hot, blonde mom American” story. When something happens to an American overseas, it makes the news. Depending on the severity of what happened, the story may only make the local news and a few internet outlets, but the ability to tell a heart wrenching “Something happened to an American OHBM” story, coupled with the image of that OHBM, might just land the story Malaysian Airlines flight 370 style coverage. One has to guess that the minute a member of a country’s chamber of commerce gets one look at this OHBM, they might assign her their country’s special forces to make sure she isn’t so much as spoken to by the indigenous.

Know Thyself, Know Thy Family

Family vacations offer a far less dangerous adventure, of course, but some of those vacations involve reunions with long lost uncles and aunts. We’ve known them our whole lives, but our love for them jaded our perspective. This trip makes it clear that some of our people, in accordance with the ratio of all people, are miserable. We might acknowledge the idea that every family has one person that is a little angst-ridden, but we never thought one of ours could be that person, until we witness a side of them we never saw before.

Those of us exposed to this side of humanity, take comfort in the idea that we can always return home to our immediate family. We know our family, and we have a firmer grasp on how our parents raised those people. We might reserve some space for individual variance, but we cling to the idea that those that have ventured too far from the path will eventually have a redemptive “come to Jesus” moment that brings them back. We might find those moments laced with regret, but even if it’s not, we continue to hope that that moment will arrive before it’s too late. They usually don’t for reasons that are foreign to us. They usually don’t, because some people don’t believe that they’re been headed in the wrong direction. It’s there course, and if they could see that path, they would’ve corrected course long before the need for a redemptive moment arrived. What usually happens, in my experience with such matters, is that the finger crossers realize they don’t know their people half as well as they thought. These people are miserable, angry people that have some psychological underpinnings that prevent them from acknowledging what everyone else sees, and they have to live with themselves, but so do we.

We’ve all witnessed redemptive moments arrive for the subjects of our concern, and we’ve waited on half a bun while their “sure to arrive” realization tottered on the cusp. We’ve witnessed all of the past events that should’ve led them to a realization, and some of us have even had others corroborate our version of those events, in the company of our subjects. To our utter amazement, these people manage to move away from their vulnerability on the matter, they may offer some sort of excuse regarding their involvement, or they might inform those concerned that they were not involved in the matter. They might even accuse those of us that suggest that they have any vulnerability on the matter of either rewriting history, or being limited in our view on the matter. Long story short, those waiting for an “aha!” moment where the subject comes to the realization that they’ve been doing it wrong in ways large or small, are rarely granted satisfaction.

Bill Murray said that if a person is considering a wedding proposal, it might be a good idea to take that person on a long, extended trip with them before doing so. “Travel the world with them,” Murray suggests. The import of this suggestion has something to do with the stresses and strains of boarding a plane, transferring flights, engaging with hotel employees, visiting tourist destinations together, and all of the interactions in between that involves elements outside the other person’s routine. Watch how they engage with service industry employees, examine the trip in the aftermath, and gauge how they conducted themselves throughout. Did they make the most out of every day? Did they view some sites as inconsequential versus the preferred destinations, or did they value those lesser spots for what they were? In the aftermath of the vacation, how did the prospective mate describe the trip to others? Did they lord it over people that they had been to one particular location that the others had not? Coupled with all the virtues and pleasantries of travel, are the stresses and strains, and how a person deals with them can define them in ways that may not be apparent in those situations where they are able to keep their best foot forward. The point of the Murray suggestion, given in a prospective groom’s toast, was that people thinking about getting married should place their prospective mate in situations where they don’t know anyone else is looking. It might give a person some insight into whether their prospective mate is a happy person or a miserable person before they invite that person to join them in their journey through life, and how that journey might end up being a happier one if they decide not to take them with them.

Finding the Better, Happier Person Through Change


Are you happy? I mean happy. You can tell me. I’m just an anonymous writer. Are you happy? Whisper it to me. You’re not? Well, what are you going to do about it? Are you just going to sit there like a chump while the rest of us are living in the land of sunshine with fortune smiling down upon us? Go out there and get you some happy sistas and brothas!

I used to believe I was on the cusp of being happy. I thought I was so close that if my Dad would just loosen the purse strings a little and purchase this one, solitary item of the moment for me, it would launch me through the entrance of the land of hope and sunshine. I wasn’t running a con game. I truly believed that if my Dad would just purchase this one pack of KISS cards for me, it would go a long way to helping me achieve my ideal state.

“No!” was what he said (cue the dark and foreboding music). He told me “No” on more than one occasion, and there were even times when he would follow that ‘No!’ up with a heaping pile of “Shut up!” (Cue the B roll, creepy B actor with bushy eyebrows that point inward, playing my dad in this reenactment.)

A part of me believed that the constant “No’s!” I received from him manifested into a personality disorder in which I wanted to buy things, but I was scared that I wasn’t worthy of them. Another part of me wondered what kind of man I would be today if he purchased everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat? Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to have everything I wanted (see deserved) regardless if I had to go into debt to get it? Would I be one of those “I deserve it” adult babies who permeate the culture? Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to work my through whatever psychosis my dad chose to inflict on me, and that I would probably end up in the exact same place I’m in right now.

The point is that most of us believe we are in some location on the emotional equator just south of happy, and some of us will live our whole lives down there blaming our parents for it. Most of us are not miserable or depressed in the sense that we need medical assistance. Most of us are just a little south of unhappy, and a little unsatisfied with the way our lives turned out. We had incompetent parents, we grew up in broken homes, we never had any money, we were bullied in school, and our grades weren’t what they could’ve and should’ve been, and if we were able to do it all over again … We wouldn’t want to go through it all over again.

We are who we are, based upon what we’ve been through? Are we happy? Could we be happier? What do you got?

Was I unhappy in that temporary sense that every teen is unhappy when their parent tells them no? I’m quite sure that if a talent agent spotted me in the dramatic aftermath of one of my dad’s denials, they would’ve had their guy call my guy, and said, “That kid’s got the goods.”

As evidence of the fact that my dad did buy me things, I was one of the first kids on my block who had all of the cards necessary to complete the puzzle on the card backs. Did any of the items my dad purchased for me make me happy? I’m sure they did, temporarily, but throughout my reflective examinations, I have found those moments conspicuously absent. I’m sure I received some sort of validation from those sparse moments in life, until the next time my dad and I went to the department store. The next time we went to a store, I had the same notion of being on the cusp of happiness again, and I believed his decision could affect whether or not I would end up in a land of sunshine once again. When he decided not to make those purchases, the cyclical drama would begin again. The question is, was I so unhappy that my definition of happiness was dependent on my dad’s decisions in department stores, or did I enjoy casting him as the bad guy role in the end credits of my psychodrama?

What I thought I was talking about, when I talked to my Dad about making these purchases, was definition. I wanted to be a somebody who had a certain something that someone else had. I wanted to be a have in a world where I felt like a have not, and I knew that those who have are happier. I was also talking about fulfillment, whether I knew it or not. I was talking about a patch, or a hotfix, to correct a bug in my operating system that I thought would help me live through the teenage, “all hope is lost” software program that I just downloaded to my hard drive. I thought was talking about helping him help me become a real player in a world of people that had such products.

How many otherwise unhappy people had parents purchase those KISS cards for them at that seminal checkout counter of their lives? How many of them walked away realizing that that was it. One simple pack of KISS cards was all it took. That moment may have occurred thirty-five years ago, but I’m happy now. I reached the point, after all those years, of fundamental happiness. I have no wants or desire any more. I am what you could call a fulfilled man.

“And Dad, it was those KISS cards that you purchased, when I was all but thirteen years of age, that accomplished that for me. I find it hard to believe too, but all I can say is I told you so.”

Are we happy people in a fundamental sense, or do we define fundamental happiness based on attaining things? If we experience fundamental unhappiness, we may not know what caused it, but we know we need things, and change, and things that change us. We need constant change. Change results in definition and redefinition, until we achieve the ideal state of being that we believe is forever beyond our reach, but one solitary purchase away.

We are oysters in search of a process through which we can change our interiority to protect us from our internal intruders. It’s silly to believe that one pack of KISS cards, of course, as we need layers upon layers of calcium carbonate to shield us from the forces of interiority, until we create that pearl. This process is similar, yet different, from the outer shell we create to protect us from possible external intruders.

The intruder inside us is unhappiness, and to defeat it we need to undergo changes equivalent to those the oyster uses. We’re all animals after all, and we’re required to change, adapt, and evolve throughout life for our survival and for survival of the species? It’s natural, it’s science, and we’re not that much different from the oyster?

Are the changes we require biological, sometimes, but sometimes we just need some sort of change to give us a lift out of the tedium of today, regardless what we did yesterday, to give us a brighter tomorrow. If we’re unhappy, in a manner we define, how do we achieve fundamental and constant happiness? To what do we resort? How do we define ourselves, and if we make sweeping changes, are we ever happy in the aftermath, or are we in need of more change?

✽✽✽

A friend of mine resorted to drastic change. She pursued it. She achieved it. She needed it. The drastic change was so elemental to her makeup that she believed it bisected her personal timeline into a B.C/A.D. demarcation. When she and I talked –after years of separation from the drastic change– she no longer wanted to discuss the B.C. (before change) life that I knew. That discussion seemed irrelevant to her compared to the A.D. (after decision) lifestyle that she was now enjoying. She was no longer the person I knew. She changed, and any observer could see that my attempts to relive our past bored her. Since it had been so long since we last spoke, however, the past was the only thing we had in common. It frustrated her. She found a way to make this conversation relevant, or enjoyable to her, by asking me how the characters of our shared past would’ve reacted to her drastic change … if they had lived long enough to see it.

The question that I would’ve loved to ask her –as if I didn’t already know the answer– is did any of these fundamental changes do anything to help her achieve greater fundamental happiness. An inevitable ‘yes’ would follow, for change is good, change is always good, but more change is better. Once she accomplished these drastic changes, was she able to wipe those memories of a rough upbringing off the slate? Yes she was. Did these changes accomplish everything she hoped they would? Yes they did. These questions would go to the very heart of why she decided she needed change, and very few would admit they were an utter waste of time, but the greater question would be was this change so complete that she would no longer need further, drastic changes in future? I’m quite sure that the next time I run into her, she will have undergone a number of other, drastic changes, now that she’s married a man that can afford them for her.

“Could you achieve the same amount of happiness without those drastic changes?” I would’ve loved to ask her.

“Yes,” I’m sure she would say, “And I did try them. Nothing happened. I needed change.” Fair enough, but how much effort did you put into taking inventory of everything you have that should make you happy, versus everything you could have that could make you happy, and how much have you lost in the pursuit of these total transformations?

If we run across the rare individual who admits that their transformational changes didn’t accomplish what they thought they should, they will have their remedy all ready for us. They will tell us that they need more changes, other changes, and a metamorphosis into something no one considered before. The point of all these changes is to save them from what they were, or to prevent them from becoming what they might become if they don’t change. At some point in this process, they invest so much in change that they cannot turn back.

Are we ever happy? I mean happy! Or, is happiness a state of mind that can achieve internal activation after a series of events occur in a very specific way that we define? We’ve suffered damages that leave us damaged, and we can’t fix them on our own. We have flaws, but there is hope. There is always hope. We can change, and changes can change us. We have the money. We have the technology. We can rebuild it. Better than we were before. Better…stronger…faster…happier. We can make more money, with a different job, a better job. We can have more love … more sex … better sex if we can find a way to change. We might consider having an affair on our spouse, as that could shake things up, cause some turmoil, and lead to couple’s therapy and renewal of sorts that could lead to makeup sex. An affair could also lead to a divorce, but what is divorce? Divorce can be messy and awful, but it can also lead to change, drastic change. We might need pharmaceuticals, and alcohol to help us through it, but it could lead us to refocus on our beauty and losing divorce weight, as we become more concerned with our appearance. We might buy better products and supplements that could lead to more gym time that will lead us to be thinner and happier, until it dawns on us that tummy tucks, collagen injections, and more colonics could change us quicker and better. We’ll need more boob, or better boobs, at some point that will lead us to feel younger, better, and thinner. We’ll have more definition, we’ll be more feminine, or less feminine, and more masculine, and who cares about gender specifics anyway? We could live the rock and roll lifestyle. We’ll have more “me” time, but that could lead to more alone time that could lead to more introspection and some depression. It always does. It will also lead us to focus on the fact that we need better appliances, more extravagant vacations, and more “me” time and greater self-indulgence, until we get what we deserve. Something different. Hey, I’ll try anything once. Changehappinesschange…repeat if necessary.

Rilalities


Dad and sonTo buy or to buy not.  When I was younger my dad did not buy me everything I wanted, and I hated him for it (hated being the harmless, preteen definition of hate). A part of me still believes that of part of him enjoyed saying no to me. A part of me also thinks that the constant “No’s” I received from him coagulated into the psychosis that plagued me through my teens and twenties. Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he gave me everything I wanted. Would I be a spoiled brat? Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to buy everything I wanted —to have everything I deserved— regardless if I had to go into debt to get it? Would I be one of these ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate our culture? Another part of me knows that no matter who our parents are, and whatever psychosis they inflict on us, we’ll have to work through it, and we’ll probably end up in the exact same place we’re at now.

Under-Estimate Children! It might be better for our society if we take a collective step back and start under-estimating children again. Rather than express the joy we should that this young mind is able to use their collective knowledge to state something relatively profound, we now say, “We can learn a lot from our children.” If they say something about chemistry, we think they should pursue a career as a chemist. If they say something about the geography of Salina, Kansas, we think they might have a career as a geographer. How about, it’s a kid who had a serendipitous thought in an opportune moment. Some of the people I know re-characterize these moments with the suggestion that they might be smarter than us. To retain my sanity, I choose to believe this is nothing more than a grandiose compliment, for I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that they think children are smarter than adults. It is a neat thing to say that we can learn a lot from their unfiltered view, but I don’t think I’m going to turn to a kid as a life coach any time soon. Therefore, when they say, “Kids say the most amazing things, kids are so innocent, and kids see things without the heavily tinted sunglasses we do,” I take it with a grain of salt. I have had friends further these cliches and leave me with the idea that some part of them believes it (as a result, this humble observer, believes can only arrive after all the other parts have lost so many wars over the years that they’ve simply given up). Kids are sponges and balls of clay. They see things we don’t on occasion, and they’re unflinchingly honest about what they see, but they have very few original thoughts, and the few original thoughts they have are usually gibberish. They know nothing, except what they’re taught, and when they’re caught, and every kid I know now is just as malformed and uninformed as every kid I knew when I was a kid.

Freaks are people too ya’ know. There was a daily parade of freaks that worked with me on an overnight shift. When I watched this parade exit the building one day, it dawned on me that each of these freaks had a story that was aching to be told. Most of them did not want those stories told though. Most of them didn’t think they had stories, or the kind of stories I tell. Most of them suffered from the Pinocchio syndrome, a desire to be normal boys and girls. The further away from normal these people of varying ages were, the more convinced they were of their normalcy. Most people won’t hear their stories, however, because there’s a fear that you’re too normal, and you will judge them harshly from your vantage point. They only tell their stories to their own. Call it a gift, a curse, or a truth that I am as yet unaware of, but I convinced them that I am one of them.

Psychology fills the gap. How do politicians and writers manipulate their audience? They know their psychology, or they hire someone who does. I cannot imagine a writer, or a politician, succeeding in their craft without first knowing a lot about psychology. Maybe a politician can, due to the fact that they’re usually figureheads among an enormous staff that has a finger on who you are and what makes you tick, and they feed that information into the politician’s Tele-Prompter. A big town writer, writing small-time blogs, can’t get away with that though. They have to have an insatiable hunger for what makes humans tock, and tick, and a progression to psychology is a natural one, for in most cases the science of writing, and the science of psychology are much the same science.       

idealisticIrrational Idealism. I was irrationally idealistic. “I agree that America is the best country in the world, but who’s to say that we can’t all make it better?” was one of my favorite replies. Those currently of an idealistic mind approach me in a manner I used to approach traditional thinkers, with the mindset that this is the first, idealistic thought I’ve ever encountered. Most idealistic thinkers believe that their individualistic twist on an issue is one that has never been considered before. Most idealistic thinkers cannot conceive of the idea that they’re wrong, for they’ve conceived of the idea on their own, based upon their relative influences. Most idealistic thinkers believe that the only reason traditional thinkers stubbornly cling to traditional thinking is that they have never truly considered the idealistic thinkers open-minded ideals before. Most idealistic thinkers cannot fathom the idea that you’ve “been there, done that”, and that you don’t believe their ideas and ideals are effective based on your experiences in life.

Money can Buy some Happiness. A 2010 study suggests that $75,000 a year is enough to make a person happy? Why? To be truly happy, the study suggests, a person needs only enough money to be able to afford certain products, a certain amount of freedom, and the ability to avoid worrying about bills. A person that makes $100,000 a year doesn’t necessarily have greater emotional well-being, and they have no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person that makes $80,000 when all of the individual variables are taken out to achieve a general rule. $75,000 appears to be the leveling off point, or what the researchers call a financiohappiness ceiling, at which an individual can afford all of the luxuries of life without worrying about bills. Or, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”{1} Does this mean that a man should cease striving to be better, with more money in his pocket as a product of that increased stature, no, but the study suggests that his happiness will probably not increase in relation to his pocket book. While that is a provocative idea, some would suggest that contrary to everything Hollywood has ever told you, it is the striving to be better that makes one happy, and money is simply a happy byproduct that defines better. If your driving force in life is attaining more money, and buying certain products, you’ll probably not be happier with more.

The Pursuit of Happiness.  Hollywood movies teach us to never settle, and that we deserve better. Sports teach us to never be satisfied, and that we deserve more. The pursuit of happiness may break down to focusing on what we currently earn versus what we think we deserve. When asked if he felt he deserved a National Championship after all those years of near-misses, Nebraska Conhuskers coach, Dr. Tom Osborne, said: “There’s no such thing as deserve in college football. If a coach wins a National Championship, he has earned it in that particular year.” When one earns a dollar, there is often little question of its worth. The recipient may believe that they deserve more, but as the old saying goes, “You are only worth what someone is willing to pay.” With that in mind, we have a concretized grasp on that which we’re worth in life, but some part of us believes that we deserve more. Earned is something one works for and is rewarded upon receipt, and deserve is some existential definition of something we feel we should have based on the fact that we’re alive and trying. Controlling for variables in institutions of higher learning, and most union work, it is found that most institutions don’t pay one more for being alive another year. Most raises, given to those in the real world, are meritorious (i.e. earned).

When we see neighbors who don’t work as hard as we do, and we realize that they’re happier, we think we deserve to be happier too. We don’t know what it is that will make us happier, but we’re in a perpetual pursuit of it.  We’re usually unsatisfied with the result, because the relative definition of deserve is relative to that which we seek, which we don’t know and never will.  If a spouse questions this psychosis, we let them know that we aren’t the type to settle.  We also tell them that we deserve better, and we move onto those greener pastures.  In this selfish pursuit of a definition of happiness that we deserve, a definition usually steeped in stupid, self-serving decisions, we incidentally affect the ancillary victims (our kids) of our lives, so that they are perpetually unhappy in pursuit of this definition of happiness that we’ve passed onto them.

The Constraints of Monogamy. I used to claim that I would not conform to the constraints of monogamy, until I began defining myself within “my monogamy”. My monogamy is not your monogamy, and no one else can define it for me. Once I began defining my monogamy, I realized a degree of fulfillment that the single life could never achieve. Once I realized the inner core to my monogamy, I also realized something that couldn’t be defined by anyone else. That cliché that when you fall in love, you think you’re the only person that has ever been in love, is so true, because you get to define it month by month, day by day.

Why does this girl love me? I have no idea, but the inquiry challenges me. I, like most people my age, think of myself as a little, unruly child unworthy of love that will eventually be discovered once she unzips the zipper in the back of my neck to realize the monster that I really am. The truth is that she has defined me in certain ways, and I have evolved myself to meet a new standard. She has deprived me of that sense of emptiness I used to feel every day, that angst that drove me to write beautiful, provocative prose, but in its place is this sense of completion that only I can define.

I used to abhor holidays too, and though I didn’t go so far as to not participate in them, I saw all of them as false and conformist. I wanted something out of holidays and relationships that no one could give me … until I started giving to them. As they say, “It is far more rewarding to give than to receive.” Therein lies the key, once you start giving to a relationship, you start down the road to completion. Once you sacrifice that portion of yourself that used to define you as a strong, single, and rebellious person, you start to realize who you really are, and what you can be. The single life seems so rewarding in the rock star, Hollywood light, until that light begins to expose the underbelly of your empty existence.

I would never claim that my solutions are for everyone, but I can say that you’ll never know yourself completely until you are involved with another person long term. The “constraints” of monogamy actually freed me up more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Trying to get another person to love me, every day, changed me in ways I couldn’t understand, until I began to experience them for myself. I realized that my definition of the constraints of monogamy were wrong once I began defining my monogamy with “the right person” to assist me through a life of consistency and normalcy.

The Search for Something Shocking. As our culture moves to a more permissive state, I can’t help but wonder if creativity will eventually become a casualty. Television programming is better now than it has ever been. I realize that every person believes in their own superlatives, but it’s my contention that there are numerous mid-level programs on the air now, that are superior in all ways to the top programs of the past generation. Is this a result of more competition, from internet programming and cable, or does it have something to do with the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has loosened the standards on TV? Most TV watchers, of a given age, don’t think it’s even debatable that the FTC has allowed for more coarse language and more violence than they did in the 70’s. The question is if these shows are allowed to be more provocative in these ways, does that provide for more creative writing, or cover for the fact that the writing is not of the quality that existed at one time does it make the writing appear more creative, or is creativity not as necessary as it used to be when the FTC was more constrictive?

This leads us to the question the effect of something shocking. Is something shocking better? I don’t think many would debate that it is. As long as that something is not gratuitous, and it fits the frame of the story, something shocking can capture our attention better than the most creative writing in any venue, and it has us talking about the show the next day at work.  As provocateurs like George Carlin basically said, however, “Be careful what you wish for,” when it comes to tearing down all walls of constriction and small forms of censorship.  “Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll be left with nothing to rebel against.”  In other words, as the FTC allows for more and more shocking subject matter to be aired in the airwaves, something shocking may not be as shocking as it once was, and we find ourselves playing king of the mountain, until nothing seems as shocking as it once did.

Sprucing and Fluffing.  I got lucky, I say to those that wonder how I met my wife in an online dating forum. I would not say that my approach to her was any more skilled than anyone else’s. I would not say that I used my creative writing talents to appeal to her in anyway.  I would just say I got lucky.

“Just about every guy claims to be as adventurous as Bear Grylls, with Brad Pitt looks, and has a workout regimen that would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to blanch,” says a friend of mine regarding some of online dating site profiles she’s viewed. She then goes onto provide hilarious examples of the attempts some guys have made to “spruce” up their profile. The import of her message was we’re all onto you fellas, and we think that you’re absolutely ridiculous. The jig is up, she basically says, so why are you continuing to make utter jackasses of yourselves? The answer: it works.

Why do politicians run negative ads every election cycle when everyone and their brother knows that negative ads don’t work. How many politicians say that one of the goals of their campaign is to avoid negative ads? How many polls state that “People don’t care for negative ads,” yet just about every political campaign runs them. How does the notion that “negative ads don’t work” persist? Perhaps it’s because losing politicians run negative ads too. Perhaps it’s because most election analysts don’t focus on the fact that our current leaders ran negative ads in their elections too, and perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we don’t like to be reminded about what that says about us. Some may say that this is a simplistic explanation of modern politics in America today, and it may be, but I would counterpoint with the question: “Which part of you are negative ads trained to appeal to? The complex??”

How many of us would tell a pollster that we want more infighting, more partisanship? What kind of person would say, “I love negative ads! I think that the polarization clarifies matters for me.” No, we prefer that that pollster consider us a wonderful person by saying, “I wish that we could end all this partisan bickering, and get back to creating jobs for the American people.”

How many of us have scrolled through Yelp postings to find what that one negative comment had to say? How many of us have read through positive reviews of products on Amazon.com with the mindset that all of the positive reviews seem to run together after a while, until we find that one negative one that seems to stand out? We all know that one negative comment is far more effective than one hundred positive ones, but when that pollster comes up to us and asks us what we think of one particular negative ad, we respond that we need to get them out of politics.

The point is that we want politicians to appeal to our better half, but other than the politician’s research team knowing that this is not a fundamental truth of human nature, they also know that positive ads can only take them so far, that they all begin to run together after a while, and negative ads about an opponent do provide an excellent distraction away from their politician’s limitations. Negative ads also feed into notion in the zeitgeist that going negative is being real and being more honest with the voters.

So, online dating girl, you go on believing that you know more about these unemployed, overweight guys that live in their mother’s basement posting positive ads about themselves that make them sound like Bear Grylls, and look like Brad Pitt, and they’ll go on posting these ads, because they work, and you will continue to fall for them. And the fact that you keep falling for them, and falling prey to the subject matter in negative ads, says more about you than it does them. The jig is not up, and as David McCraney said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are.”

If I Could Just Have a Moment


I was sitting at an ice cream parlor having a moment with my Brother and his two boys. I remembered how my Brother and I sat at this very ice cream shop with our Dad when we were the boys’ age.  I remembered how special those moments were to me at the time. My Dad had just passed at that point, so my memory may have been a little romanticized, but I didn’t care at that moment. I just enjoyed the tranquil moment for what it was, and what it used to be for us. I wanted this to be a moment for me and my Brother, but I also wanted this to be a moment that the boys would look back on with the same fondness I had. I wanted this moment to be as beautiful as the moments I had in the past, so they could be moments we looked back on in the future.

If we were all in a science fiction movie, and I had the ability to transport in time, I may have shut down the system with all of the simultaneous time leaps I was working through. The rapid leaps through time may have combined with all of the memories to cause a foreign substance to congeal in my brain until an embolism set off warning signals in the programmers’ algorithm, and forced them take me off the grid for my well-being.

false memoryWe are always manufacturing memories for good and evil in the past, present and future. We recall a time when Missy McNasty said something awful to us.  We remember how that comment ruined a future moment we had with Patty Pleasantpants, and how that could’ve been a beautiful moment the two of us shared, frolicking through the aftermath of used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match. Missy wouldn’t allow us to enjoy that moment with her previous comment. It just ruined the mood for us, and it ruined that moment. We wish we could go back in the past and tell Missy what an equally awful person she was, so the next time we frolic with Patty we can laugh, and be happy, and have a great and memorable moment. Plus, we think if we could start confronting Missy types more often, we could be happier people in general.

The idea that we consult our memory for mood is a construct that we devise for ourselves in the present. We normally love frolicking through used cups and popcorn boxes of a minor league hockey match, but for some reason we can’t enjoy that moment in time. We know that we shouldn’t let Missy’s comments get to us like we do, but we can’t help it. We can’t enjoy happy moments when we decide that we’re going to be miserable.

You read that correctly, we decide to be miserable and happy based upon the memories we decide to construct at the time.  If we decide were going to be happy today, we will construct good memories that allow us to be happy. If we decide that we’re going to be in a bad mood today, regardless how much fun we’re having, we’ll construct the bad memories that we need to create to support the bad mood we’ve decided to be in.  We select memories that we’re going to construct. It’s a tough concept to grasp, and we normally use the term “selective memory” as a pejorative to describe someone that puts everyone else in a bad light while casting themselves in a favorable light, but if recent findings in psychology are correct, we all have selective memory.

In the paragraph above, I originally used the word ‘consult’ more often than I should’ve when writing about how we select memories, for it’s an incorrect term to describe how we remember. When we remember we don’t consult a memory bank, so much as we construct one…on the fly…regardless of the moment we’re in. We’re in total control of what we think, regardless what we think.

The incorrect word ‘consult’ also gives the image of one going to a video vault to find a specific memory, or going to a file on a hard drive. Memory is selective in a sense, but it is a selective in the sense that we reconstruct memory rather than reproduce it.  At the hockey match, we see someone who is wearing a David Bowie T-shirt, this reminds us of Missy McNasty, the David Bowie fan.  We can’t help but think about the awful thing she said to us, and we’re in a bad mood.  You were not in control of that memory, because it was right there in front of us.  To this degree, you’re not in charge of what triggers memory, but you are in total control of the construction team of your brain that puts the memory together.

In the book, You are Not so Smart David McRaney gives the analogy that memories are equivalent to a bucket full of Legos. We select the individual pieces from the bucket to create the product that we want to create at any given moment. We decide to locate the individual Lego pieces we want to create a memory that provides us either satisfaction or sorrow, depending on the mood we want to be in at any given moment.

This isn’t to say that all memories are incorrect, but they can be influenced. If memories were files from a hard drive that we simply had to locate, we would never be incorrect once we located them. If memories were videos from a video vault, we couldn’t enhance a memory to be happy and undress a memory to be sad. When we construct the same memory two different ways, depending on our mood, it should be obvious to us that we’re constructing these memories on the fly, but we usually qualify our minor errors by saying, “Well, that’s just how I remember it.”

How many of us have heard a friend recount a moment we’ve shared with them, and those memories run contrary to how we remember them? How many of us have believed that that friend was lying? “He knows how it happened,” we tell a third party. “He just knows that how it really happened makes him look like a fool.” How many of us have confronted that friend, only to find that they were genuinely shocked at the manner in which we remember things? It happens all the time, and some of the times they’re not purposely lying. They’ve just constructed their memory to keep them happy in their world. It may be delusional, but it happens to us more often than we might think.

Talking heads often speak of a narrative that a politician creates for the voters. The narrative that the politician creates is the story of what happened as they see it, or as they want you to see it.  The narrative usually contains a grain of truth to it, for if it didn’t we would locate all the Lego pieces in our bucket that refutes everything the politician said. A smart politician, with a smart team of advisers and speech writers, will assemble a narrative, that has just enough truth to get us nodding our heads in agreement with what they’ve done in the past. They will then add a wrinkle to the narrative that enhances our memory and in doing so they add a memory to our Lego bucket when it comes time to vote. They will then repeat that enhanced narrative so often that it creates a construct in our brain that is almost impossible to defeat by those who remember things differently. With politicians, and their narratives, we all have selective memories. If it is a politician that we favor, we decide to remember the past in the light the politician provides, but if don’t favor them we may construct a memory that runs counter to everything the politician tries to tell us. As McRaney says throughout his book, we’re not as smart as we think we are when it comes to our memory.  Memories can be influenced, manipulated, refuted, and changed entirely.

I couldn’t get over what a pleasant day I was having at that ice cream parlor with my Brother and his boys. I had all my memory constructs lined up in a fashion that made me happy.  If I had died right then and there, it would’ve taken a coroner a week to pry the smile off my face. I remembered laughing with my Brother and my Dad, as I laughed with my Brother and his boys. I remembered a sense of being rewarded for being good when I was eating ice cream as a boy. I remembered how long it took my Brother to finish his ice cream cone and how that started a cavalcade of jokes about how long it took my Brother to complete anything. The day was shaping up to be a memorable one that I thought I could call upon if I was ever feeling down, when one of the kids started to act up.

He started screaming for no reason. He started rough housing with his younger brother, he started disobeying his Dad and talking back.  He started screaming for more ice cream, and he did anything and everything he could to be unruly. I would’ve never done such a thing. My Dad would’ve tanned my hide. Especially in public, I thought. I would’ve been more respectful to those around me, I thought. How dare he ruin this perfect moment was my first thought.  He’s ruined our moment, my moment, and I was angry at him for that.

Until, I started taking a more realistic look at my past. I started to remember that I was just as unruly as my nephew at his age, in this very same ice cream parlor. I remembered being bored, just sitting there, while the adults tried enjoy a moment of tranquility. My juvenile mind had been racing at a hundred miles an hour trying to create excitement for myself, and I wanted more ice cream, and I started rough housing with my younger brother just to make something happen. When I got in trouble for doing it, I started to mouth off, until a screaming match ensued, and my Dad marched us out of the place angrily. I ruined that moment, just like my nephew ruined this moment.

I was no different than him at his age. We both suffered from the oldest boy syndrome of seeking attention by selfishly trying to entertain ourselves by being naughty and unruly during the slow moments, with no respect for the others around us who are trying to enjoy a moment of tranquility at an ice cream parlor. Prior to my nephew’s outburst, I had been constructing a narrative of the pleasant moments of my life that were, in retrospect, not as pleasant as I wanted to remember them being.