2017 World Happiness Survey – Thoughts on Happiness

There are a lot of very short news stories about the Global Happiness Survey – most of them read something like “Norway is the happiest country in the world” – and then they talk about the top ten countries and the places and the place of the USA and the bottom two or three countries … Continue reading “2017 World Happiness Survey – Thoughts on Happiness”

There are a lot of very short news stories about the Global Happiness Survey – most of them read something like “Norway is the happiest country in the world” – and then they talk about the top ten countries and the places and the place of the USA and the bottom two or three countries and maybe how countries shifted from the last survey. When you read the actual report, there is a lot more to it. Here is the link to the full report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/sdsn-whr2017/HR17_3-20-17.pdf

On page 122 of the report (yes, it is nearly 200 hundred pages long) what I consider to be the most revealing chapter begins – it is titled “The Key Determinants of Happiness and Misery” – it begins with this:

This chapter is directed at policy-makers of all kinds—both in government and in NGOs. We assume, like Thomas Jefferson, that “the care of human life and happiness … is the only legitimate object of good government.”1 And we assume that NGOs would have similar objectives. In other words, all policy-makers want to create the conditions for the greatest possible happiness in the population and, especially, the least possible misery.

Which sounds great but which is obviously not true. Policy makers in 2017 want money and power for their financial backers. The problems with the world are well known and easily solved – if that were what those in control wanted to do. They do not. And to prove that point the last paragraph of the chapter:

To conclude, within any country, mental health explains more of the variance of happiness in Western countries than income does. In Indonesia mental illness also matters, but less than income. Nowhere is physical illness a bigger source of misery than mental illness. Equally, if we go back to childhood, the key factors for the future adult are the mental health of the mother and the social ambiance of primary and secondary school. The implications for policy are momentous.

If we wanted to have a better world filled with happier people, we would be focused on taking care of mental health, ensuring that mothers (and fathers) had the support they need to be good parents, and that schools were creating the type of atmosphere which brings about psychologically healthy and confident individuals – instead of factories that create workers filled with fear, anxiety, and depression. Simple. Business does not create happiness, nor does war/defense, nor do jobs, nor do any of the other things we spend trillions of dollars on. Security in childhood, healthcare, and education. That’s it.

This report is a treasure trove of information about creating a happier planet like this:

The effect from the increase in the numbers of people having someone to count on in times of trouble is by itself equal to the happiness effects from the 16-fold increase in average per capita annual incomes required to shift the three poorest countries up to the world average (from about $600 to about $10,000).

From my point of view – this fact alone shows why the two working parents, dog-eat-dog, get out when you are 18, take care of yourself, ‘sorry, I can’t help you’ society of capitalism in the USA is leading to unhappiness, stress, anxiety, overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse/overdose. We can’t count on each other here. People give lip service to being there for their families, but in my experience (in my awful family) when it comes time to put their actions where their mouth is, Americans turn selfish. My wife’s family in Morocco mean it when they say you can stay as long as you want or need to, they mean it when they tell you that their home is your home, they are there for you in whatever capacity they can be – without excuses. They are not rich – they work hard to survive – but I know for certain that they would never turn away a dear friend or family member even if it meant they had to work harder. When I think of them in comparison with myself or my family, I feel ashamed – and I should. They are poor and they suffer in their poverty, but they are happier than most Americans I’ve met.

And…one last quote just to drive home a point

Overall, the chapter concludes that falling American happiness is due primarily to social rather than to economic causes.

The Joy of Teaching

One of the great joys of my life is being Sophia’s primary teacher. From the time she was born, I’ve tried to never overlook an opportunity to open her eyes to the way the world works – from pointing out the science and math in everyday objects to letting her know about the vast amounts of information she can find in books and libraries. Sophia is a kindergartner who reads at a high level and now has a firm understanding of addition and subtraction and a basic level of multiplication – she can tell you about planets, elements, and a huge array of other things. She has (I think) a decent understanding of birth, life, death, and how the body works. All of this wasn’t learned from someone standing in front of a classroom or from hearing a lecture – it was learned because I saw her interest and helped to guide it to the things I think it is important that she learns. This idea didn’t come from a vacuum either. In the 1990s, I read a lot about un-schooling and different ideas about how education could be reformed – changed from an industrial model. In the early 2000’s I was introduced to the work of Tsunebaro Makiguci and his philosophy of education (Makiguci was not only an educator but the founder of one of the schools of Buddhism I follow – SGI) Makiguci was persecuted by the Imperial Japanese government for his pursuit of non-traditional education methods – in particular – the idea that a child should be encouraged to follow their passion and it is the educator’s job to guide that enthusiasm into the subjects the child needs to learn…that is what I have been doing with Sophia. I wish I had been given that kind of education, I wish we all had. I can only imagine how different the world would be. Not a world where money is the driving force, but a world where knowledge is. I hope that this reaches someone and allows them to find the sort of joy I am finding in helping my daughter to become the person she is meant to be.

A Year in the United States of America

Hard to believe but it’s already been a year since I brought my family to the United States. I wasn’t sure we would make it but a year seems like a pretty good indicator that we are and will.

Of course, it’s been a struggle – but we’re making it. Major Ab Adversis – through struggle comes strength. My work with travel blogs has mostly carried us – by the time we were set up in a house and went through the expenses of moving, buying a car, paying utility deposits, and finding where to live – our savings was pretty well exhausted. Through a combination of picking, garage sales, eBay, and selling advertisements on travel blogs – we’ve made it. We’ve managed to pay all of our bills on time (or in the case of student loans, defer one more time) and somehow we navigated through Obamacare and got the three of us covered with health insurance.

We didn’t make it in California’s Bay Area – which was what my initial plan was. A weird combination of circumstances skewed that and put us in Sacramento for a few months while I tried to arrange interviews and land a start up job in travel and social media – unsuccessfully. Even when we considered staying in Sacramento, I found that since we’d been living outside of the USA and we were living on a self-employed income that landlords were unwilling to rent to us without paying an impossible deposit and first and last.

I knew we had to leave and go where the income I was certain I could earn, would pay for a decent place for us to live. We could have gotten a low income apartment in California but I’ve never wanted my family to live in that kind of situation – so I found a dying town on the Oregon coast where rents were dirt cheap and the quality of life was much higher. For the same amount a scummy California apartment would have cost us – I rented a 3 bedroom house with a big front and back yard and a leaky garage.

Reedsport is a dying town filled with geriatrics and people on disability. There is no industry here and more than 3/4 of the jobs that were here when we arrived have disappeared – but we’re making it. Our little family has a nice garden, a pleasant house, and a wonderful environment all around us including the Pacific Ocean, four major rivers, dozens of lakes, plenty of streams, and beautiful forests and sand dunes. Environmentally it’s heaven. Culturally – it’s not even on the map.

For the past few years, my main income stream has been advertising on my websites and doing SEO for small clients. Changes in Google policies and updates have been drying that stream up and the writing is definitely on the wall as to whether or not it will survive at all – so we have diversified – I’ve discovered that I can usually support us using eBay and we’ve begun experimenting with antique malls and the flea market. We are now vendors in two locations and have a permanent table at the flea market – only time will tell if that works for us or not.

I was planning on having a garage sale today, but the weather turned grey and rainy – so I ditched the plan. Maybe tomorrow – Oregon is like that. Twelve days of sunshine while you expect it to rain but when you count on sunshine the rain comes – if the garage weren’t so leaky, I would have the sale anyway, but we aren’t starving and the bills are paid – so it can wait.

We’ve tried a few other jobs. My wife worked at a hotel as a cleaner for a few months and that wasn’t good at all. The pay was almost as awful as the work and she was repeatedly solicited for sex by weirdos travelling through. I took my insurance license and tried my hand at selling life insurance but the company was such a crock of shit filled with liars and cheats that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror – and the money was a lie – at least here on the Oregon Coast – maybe it would be a good job in a big city somewhere or anywhere that people have more than the bare minimum they need to survive.

The highlight of our year here has been to reconnect with old friends and family. Being able to see my daughter and wife with my mom, my aunt, my uncle, my sister, my cousins, my brother, and my neices and nephews has been awesome. Seeing those relationships grow has been so good.

One would think that my wife would have learned crafts like knitting and sewing in her native Morocco but it turns out that instead, being in boring Reedsport has given her the time and impetus to learn many new crafts. I am hopeful she can turn her crafting and jewelry making into a business – again time will tell.

The hardest part of being here in the USA is that we just don’t have any money left over to travel or do the things we used to do – even when there is a surplus, we are living so month to month that we need to save it in case the car breaks down, the ebay biz fails, or the antique mall spots don’t earn enough to cover their rent. All of that means that there is very little time for relaxation or enjoyment and almost no money for it – it’s taken a toll on our health and on our marriage – but what can we do? It’s not different for most Americans – although when we watch the $100k fifth wheels and RVs towing dune buggies and motorbikes start to roll through our town, it’s hard not to wonder where they get all this disposable income….

But what the hell – maybe they’ll stop and buy some antiques and collectibles from us tomorrow…

Chinese New Year Coming Up – Where will you celebrate?

Chinese New Year in Hawaii is always an incredibly big deal. In fact, the smell of gunpowder from fire crackers and fire works goes on for days after. If you head down to Hawaii’s chinatown on the night of Chinese New Year, you will be assaulted by colors and sounds as you are caught up in lion dances. There is mochi pounding and other annual celebrations that take place around the Chinese New Year as well.

I’m not sure why the Chinese New Year has always been a big deal to me, but I blame it primarily on my grand-mother. We used to call her the dragon lady and despite being mostly Scottish, she was easily mistaken for a Chinese lady in her later years. Maybe it was the Tiger Balm, maybe it was the years of living in Singapore, and maybe it was some inner Chinese woman coming out. In any event, she passed on that aesthetic and love of the far East to me.

I remember we used to go to Chinese food to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which was a pretty big deal to a kid from small mountain towns in California and Oregon. The fortune cookies, the hot and sour soup, and of course the waving kitties that always sit on the counter. I watched a comedian, Tom Papa, the other day and he had a very funnny bit of stand up about how the cats are the ones running a Chinese grocery. If my grandmother was there, people would probably ask her to help them – she would look like the ancient woman running the place with her big glasses, silk blouses, and tiny stature. Sadly, she is long gone now, but well remembered and loved in our family.

In any event, she has me thinking about the Chinese New Year again – even years after her death. I remember celebrating it in Hawaii and also in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sadly, I missed it by just a few weeks when I went to China – but I don’t think that would be my first place to go celebrate it. I’d like to go to either Sydney or London – I’ve heard that Chinese New Year in Trafalgar Square is the most extensive celebration in the West. With more than 300,000 people, I can’t imagine how crazy it must be!

London’s Chinese New Year from LondonTown.com

This year is special. It is the year of the wood horse.The Chinese New Year is January 31st and will be celebrated on February 2nd in London. If I were there, I would most likely grab a hotel room at the High Kensington and eat eat eat the delicious Chinese fare available from street food vendors and enjoy the music, cultural demonstrations, and general feeling of excitement that seems to come with the Chinese New Year.

The Horse in Chinese Astrology is an auspicious sign. China was built by Genghis Khan using horses and thus it is a sign of speedy success and favorable outcomes. Of course, if you want to really know what is in store for you, you need to find your Chinese Horoscope sign and look further into the murky depths of the future. You can find plenty of places online but my suggestion is that you get into the spirit of things and head to a Chinese New Year celebration, find a Chinese astrologer, and learn what challenges and victories await you.

Good luck, my friends. Do you have a Chinese New Year Tradition? What is it?

Junk in the Trunk

Life is never as simple as it should be.  Life in Reedsport is very nice. We’ve had a steady stream of guests since we moved in – which is a very nice change – to be able to host friends and catch up on old times in our own home.  The junking has been fairly dismal in coastal Oregon – there are several reasons for that, but the biggest seems to be that there are a huge number of retirees supplementing their income by doing what I do, people here are generally savvy to looking up items on ebay before pricing them at garage sales, and at least where we are – these are people who have already downsized and moved here from somewhere else. Also, there just aren’t as many people here – so there aren’t as many estate sales – i.e. there aren’t as many children of deceased parents trying to get rid of as much junk as they can in the shortest possible time so they can go home.

Here’s an example of the difficulty – books – in Sacramento, it was fairly easy to buy a big box of books for $5 or less and then to take it to a bookstore and pull $25-$30 out of it. At the bookstore, you could find books for ten cents to a dollar and sometimes even pull out a first edition that could be resold on eBay for $100. Not so, here. The books tend to be priced $1 and up at the sales. The local bookstore no longer buys books. When I asked about old books and first editions, the owner told me he combs through and pulls them all but won’t sell them. A closed loop.

So, that’s the junking here – still, as I mentioned before – I’ve got a huge amount of very sellable stuff – the hard part is selling it. I’ve used ebay for a long time but never on the scale I am using it now – I’m learning a lot.  First of all – just because an item has sold for a price doesn’t mean that it will sell for that price again – there might have been one person looking for that glass net float who was willing to pay that price – but they already have one. In general, everything I list has sold before for higher prices than I’ve listed it – but at the moment, I’m selling about 15% of what I list and usually at 50% or less of what it sold for before. I’m not sure if that is because there are so many thousands of new listings every second or if people just aren’t buying as much as before.

Baseball cards are a great example. I’ve listed hundreds of baseball cards at less than 50% of book value – I haven’t sold a single one. It’s a great time to buy baseball cards, but there is no guarantee you will ever be able to sell them. Books have also become much harder to sell on ebay – perhaps it’s because everyone goes to Amazon for books – but since I tend to focus on funky, collectible books – I really want the auction format – but, hey, it’s not working.

What am I selling? Most of my sales are of old models of airplanes and 35mm camera equipment and vintage shaving gear along with the random chotskies or dishes. The camera gear is sold mostly to people in other countries. Ebay is fairly saturated and as you drive up and down Highway 101 you see a couple of types of businesses over and over – junk/antique shops, low end restaurants, and low end motels.

I haven’t given up, but I am a bit discouraged. At the end of the day – this is working – I can support us with it – but it’s not as much fun as it used to be. Perhaps a part of all that is that Hanane’s job has become a bit of a pain in my ass – initially, we had agreed that a part time job was a great idea for her to earn a little extra – after we were settled in – but her job came up and she jumped at it.  Almost immediately, her boss began to move her to full time – and – while she is willing to help with expenses – it’s my work that pays the bills – but now I find myself as a full time baby-always-with-me Dad who loves it but still has to be able to do my work of web development, finding new junk by digging through boxes at sales, and listing, packaging, selling, and shipping items. I can do it – but I feel a bit as if every responsibility has been dumped on me and there is no one offering any support. I pay the bills, I do the shopping, I earn our living, I take care of our daughter, I do my work, I do everything – including help my wife navigate her new working life – and now she has been promoted to Assistant Manager which probably means I have even less hours to enjoy being on the Oregon coast with my family and no time at all for myself – I’m with the baby all day trying to do my work and my wife gets home and doesn’t feel like it’s her job to take responsibility and give me a break – same goes for her days off.  And – she still feels it’s my responsibility to pay for everything. One would think that on her days off, I would be free to work or take some me time – but that’s not really the case – now those are family days or her rest days.  I’m proud of her for working so hard – but I’m beginning to feel a bit like a heel. If she were paying the rent, for groceries, the utility bills, gas, or giving me spending money – I would be quite happy to be a full time Dad – but that’s not how it goes. There will have to be some readjustment at some point.

On the positive side – spending so much time with my daughter is a total delight and I’m so honored and proud to see her development and growth. I know that I am largely responsible for who she is becoming. I don’t want to turn that over to strangers in daycare or preschool until she reaches the point that she can talk with us.

This is the most writing I’ve been able to do in weeks but now the baby has woke up. In the meantime – I’ve got junk in the trunk.

The Relief of a Home

I’ve secretly been carrying the weight of the world around on my shoulders but wasn’t able to tell anyone about it. Finally, I can relax.

Deciding to bring my wife and daughter to the USA was a huge decision and not one that I made lightly, the visa process to get my wife permanent residency was a struggle that took everything I had, especially doing it from Morocco, not having a residence in the USA, and not having a traditional source of income – at times, while we were going through the process it nearly ended things. We had some stupendous donnybrooks and when we finally got to the USA, I thought we could finally move forward.

I’m an extremely goal oriented person and even though I don’t talk about it much, most of my life and my accomplishments are mapped out and scheduled – for example – a year ago, without the visa, without the money to come to the USA, one of my goals was to have my family in the USA by May 1, 2013. We arrived on April 17th. As I said, I thought that I would be able to move forward easily – and, not surprisingly, I had a plan.

Over the past five years, I’ve supported my family and our adventures with the business I built from scratch, Vagobond Travel Media, LLC. Granted, we haven’t earned a six figure income, but it was enough to support us in Morocco, pay for some great trips, bring us to the USA, and put about $10k in our savings by the time we got here.  It’s fair to say that I am one of the world’s top experts on travel blogging, web development in the tourism sector, travel public relations, and most certainly in travel social media. I am one of the pioneers in these fields. In addition, I have a degree in anthropology that focused on how the world uses the internet to make connections in real life and a strong background in hotel management, project management, and mass media.

My plan was to use these assets to land a job in the tech capital of the world, San Francisco. I figured that in the modern tech world, my work would speak for me and that I would be able to find a decent position with a travel or social media start up, find a house in the bay area for my family to move into, and then, to move forward gangbusters and take the world by storm. Longer term plan was to use my start-up experience (and capital) to create a ground breaking travel social network.

All of that plan fell to shit.  Here was the plan:

Arrive and recover from jetlag for two days in a hotel. April 17-19

Stay with my sister for 1-2 weeks while job hunting. April 20- May 4

Visit my mother in Redding in late May, introduce my family to my family. Road trip to Washington, Oregon to see friends and more family.

Begin job. Locate a house in San Mateo area. June 15.

Have a garden in my backyard by July 1 and be growing vegetables and doing worm composting.

For a variety of reasons, I failed almost all of that. Things changed and didn’t happen the way I had planned. I adapted, but man, I hate it when that happens.  Our hotel recovery was interrupted and I accepted an offer to take us to Redding before I really had time to think about what I was doing, while in Redding my mother had an accident and we found ourselves feeling like we needed to scrap all of our plans and stay to help her but then we were made to feel less than comfortable with that decision and I grabbed my family and took us away as soon as I was able. The first opportunity after we knew my mom was okay and I had a car, we split. A friend offered us a two week house sitting gig in Sacramento in early May and I figured that was close enough to San Francisco that I could follow my original plan.

That’s when I was slapped in the face with an ugly reality. Tech start-ups don’t want to hire a guy in his 40s who has been calling his own shots for the past five years. My accomplishments didn’t count for enough with the start-ups to get past the fact that they could hire a fresh college grad with a social media or advertising degree for far less than I could support my family on in the Bay Area. I made the two hour trip from Sacramento to SF for multiple interviews but every time, the interviews ended with slightly apologetic/slightly arrogant remarks about how it was an entry level position and I was over qualified – i.e. my resume didn’t have a tech giant on it they could list on the company website as they sought funding and I wasn’t willing to accept less than I could support my family on. Fail.

But, adapt and overcome. I decided we could stay in Sacramento. Our friends returned from their trip and offered to let us stay in their house rent free for as long as we wanted – or until the courts evicted them – whichever came first. For the past three years, they have been fighting to overturn a foreclosure – and, aside from all the work they put into learning how to manipulate the courts, filing motions, and sending out documents – they have been living rent free. The house belonged to my friend’s cousin and was foreclosed on by the bank, she wrote a quit claim deed to him, and he and his partner began their fight to say that the house was really theirs and so it couldn’t be foreclosed. Three years of free rent, but the threat of eviction hanging over their heads every day.  That’s no situation to have a two year old and a new immigrant wife in, so I agreed to stay but only for as long as it took me to find a place to live.

I liked our neighborhood in Sacramento and the rents were modest for the area at about $900-$1200 per month for a house with yard, 2 bedrooms, etc. I found a couple of likely houses and filled out applications – now here is the thing, I had money in the bank, I could show my income from writing/blogging/book sales and I was willing to pay first/last/deposit which came to about $3600 up front, my credit is not stellar, but the only flaw on it is that I don’t have any credit cards but do have $40k in student debt – the landlords, however, were so scared of renting to someone without an outside (not self-employed) source of income and not one of them agreed to rent to me even after we met and I showed them my paypal payments from clients, records, etc. One jack-off slum lord met solely for the purpose of getting a business consult on his website and had someone moving in the next day…FAIL.

Also, living in someone else’s house isn’t an ideal situation for me to write, maintain websites, or even buy and sell estate and garage sale items since all of our possessions were in boxes and needed to be put back in boxes, kept tidy, and stored. My wife and two year old spent lots of time in our temporary bedroom and I tried to work in the living room, but since both of our friends also worked at home, I didn’t really get anything done in the almost 3 months we were there. Yes, we were there for 3 months while I tried to find work, tried to find a house, and tried to figure out how to take care of my family the best way. I am deeply grateful to our friends for letting us squat with them while I figured out that California just wasn’t going to work for us.  We made frequent trips to the Bay Area and Redding and I took us on a road trip up the West Coast so we could scout other locations, so my wife could meet my friends, and so we could be away from the squat and give our friends space.

By the end of July, I knew we had to leave. The women had begun to squabble over toilet paper and tampons and anything else, our two year old needed more structure for her development, and I needed to have a dedicated space to work.  For Sophia’s 2nd birthday we went to Redding to see my mom and so I could help my friends Matt and Amber with a garage estate sale and then I got in the car and drove to Reedsport, Oregon – which I’d picked out as the perfect spot for my family to live.

What makes Reedsport perfect? Violent crime is zero. There are no registered sex offenders. The town sits slightly inland on the Umpqua River and is safe from tsunami, the coastal region is wet and safe from forest fires, the town is a completely undeveloped tourist mecca which has the  Oregon dunes, the Oregon coast, the Smith River, the Umpqua River, and Winchester Bay all within a stone throw. Coos Bay is 20 miles south and Florence is 20 miles north. Because it is inland it doesn’t have the wind you find along the rest of the Oregon coast. The climate is mild with lows in the winter around 37 degrees and highs in the summer around 80 degrees. It has good schools, good fishing, crabbing, and a health food store.

So, I came up here and went to a property management company. I filled out the forms, checked into a hotel, and began my search. Here’s the thing – there aren’t all that many houses in Reedsport and most of them are owned by the residents – there were no 3 bedroom single family homes available – but there was one coming up mid-month. I looked at the outside, filled out the application, and gave the agent deposit and first months rent. She couldn’t get in contact with the owner. For three days we tried and I searched for other houses…I didn’t find any. This was my only option.

It was time to go anyway. I went back to Redding and picked up my family and we went back to the squat in Sacramento where we packed our things. I’d bought an $800 jeep a few weeks before and had a hitch and ball put on it so I could tow a U-Haul trailer. I rented the trailer, we packed our things, we said goodbye to our friends, and we set off. The trailer was too big and too heavy for the jeep but we made it anyway after reversing the ball so the hitch didn’t drag. I reserved a hotel for a week in Reedsport and up we came not sure if we had a place or not.

A week in a hotel room with a two year old is a long time. Long story short, we got the house and yesterday we  moved in. I signed the lease, set up my office, transferred the utilities (deposits on utilities are a big moving expense you don’t think of but should), and here we are! Last night was our first night in the house. We barbecued steaks in the back  yard and slept in our own bed in our own room in our own house filled with our own things.

Not having a home for my family and not having a job were a heavy load to be carrying – missing that June 15th deadline was a challenging blow. Now I can rest and get to work building my business again – my family has a home, I have an office, we have a life. It took me two months longer than I expected, but the funny thing is that during that two months – we managed to gather everything we needed (except couches and some other furniture) to make this house into our home.

I have a job – taking care of my family, writing, and continuing to develop Vagobond Travel Media, LLC – and here’s a bonus – my wife got a job at the hotel we stayed at – when things like this happen, you have to know that you are in the flow and the flow is good.

Our hometown is now Reedsport and it just might be the coolest undiscovered place in the USA.