Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Geography of Bliss

I was given this book on loan from a friend quite awhile ago, and I just got around to reading it. The Geography of Bliss; One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner was surprisingly funny and very entertaining. I think many of the observations he made about happiness were things that I sort of already knew, but, that being said, the fact that he observed happiness around the world made me think about how culture affects happiness. He notes that America has happiness written into it's founding documents, and yet, we do not rank all that high on the list of happy countries (I think we come in 23rd). Why is that? I would venture a guess that greed has a lot to do with it. Eric makes a point of saying that envy leads to unhappiness. I think Americans spend a lot of time being envious of people who have more than them, thus the resulting unhappiness. In the end, the author questions whether happiness is the ultimate state to achieve. I think happiness is achieved by devoting time to other emotions - love being one of them. And really, over-thinking your own happiness may just lead to unhappiness. Below are a few quotes that I thought were particularly outstanding:

"In 1984, a psychologist named Roger Ulrich studied patients recuperating from gallbladder surgery at a Pennsylvania hospital. Some patients were assigned to a room overlooking a small strand of deciduous trees. Others were assigned to rooms that overlooked a brick wall. Ulrich describes the results: 'Patients with the natural window view had shorter post-operative hospital stays, had fewer negative comments in nurses' notes . . . and tended to have lower scores for minor post-surgical complications . . .'
    The implications of this obscure study are enormous. Proximity to nature doesn't just give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. It affects our physiology in real, measurable ways. It's not a giant leap to conclude that proximity to nature makes us happier."

"But what exactly is Gross National Happiness? What does it look like? The best explanation I heard came from a potbellied Bhutanese hotel owner . . . 'means knowing your limitations; knowing how much is enough.' Free-market economics has brought much good to the world, but it goes mute when the concept of "enough" is raised. As the renegade economist E.F. Schumacher put it: 'There are poor societies which have too little. But where is the rich society that says 'Halt! We have enough!' There is none."

"Adventure, in the good sense of the word, is a modern concept. For most of history, adventure was something inflicted upon you, not something you sought out and certainly not something you paid for. That old Chinese saying 'May you live in interesting times' was actually meant as a curse."
(This last quote I just love because to me adventure can contribute to happiness! Too bad it wasn't always that way . . . )

Sunday, September 25, 2011


RARE from Joel Sartore on Vimeo.

I discovered this amazing video through National Geographic. The video is basically a promotion for the book Rare: Portraits of America's Endangered Species, that Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer, has created. I can't wait to find the book in a bookstore soon! I think the video speaks volumes about the natural world. Looking into the eyes of these creatures, I don't see a bird or a bug, I see just another species, like one of us, trying to make its way in the world. Who are we, almighty man, to decide the fate of all other species we think "beneath" us in intelligence and capability? I recently came across a quote which I think can explain why so many species are becoming extinct at such an alarming rate:

When the last tree is cut,
When the last river is emptied,
When the last fish is caught,
Only then will Man realize that he can not eat money.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Reading Device

I swear this is not going to become a blog about books. It's just that working in the publishing industry makes me hyper aware of the giant shift that is happening in how people consume the written word right now. Of course, I chose publishing because I love books. I love reading, but I especially love the book as an object. I am constantly reading articles about how books are changing and the effect of the ebook on the written word. However, when I read "From Scroll to Screen" by Lev Grossman this past weekend in the New York Times Book Review I was struck by his approach to understanding the ebook. It is truly astounding that a new format for reading is developing right before my eyes, however, I think Grossman's point that "Indeed, the codex isn’t just another format, it’s the one for which the novel is optimized. The contemporary novel’s dense, layered language took root and grew in the codex, and it demands the kind of navigation that only the codex provides." is poignant. The fact that I can't just pick up and ebook and flip through it is just one of many reasons I will not be buying and e-reader at any time in the near future.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Predictably Irrational

I just finished reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. All around I'd say it was a pretty good book, and yes, I do believe that humans are predictably irrational. We say one thing and do another and everything is relative. This book is basically about behavioral economics, which is a pretty interesting field. The studies that the author explains throughout the book I thought were for the most part intriguing, but not all together surprising. Ariely argues that by understanding our own behaviors we can then anticipate what will happen in an irrational moment, and then avoid it. In some cases I think this might be true, but in others I think it's more important just to recognize the fact that people can be irrational, and when those times are. My take-away from this book is not that I should really change my life to make room for irrationality, but rather to recognize that nobody is perfect even if they say they are, and it gave me more insight into the human physchi. I wanted to share a few quotes that I thought were particularly poignant:

" . . . the more we have, the more we want. And the only cure is to break the cycle of relativity."

"In 1941 the philosopher Erich Fromm wrote a book called Escape from Freedom. In a modern democracy, he said, people are beset not by a lack of opportunity, but by a dizzying abundance of it. In our modern society this is emphatically so. We are continually reminded that we can do anything and be anything we want to be. The problem is in living up to this dream."

"As it turns out, positive expectations allow us to enjoy things more and improve our perception of the world around us. The danger of expecting nothing is that, in the end, it might be all we'll get."