Will Americans Ever Be United?

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, July 30, 2020

We might be the United States, but we’re hardly a united people. Hasn’t the melting pot of the world produced a particularly unhomogenized population?

If you pick any year in our history and study it, divisiveness is the norm. This has got me to wondering, are there topics of agreement that we mostly share?

For example, if we pass a law that means we want 100% of the people to abide by the law. Yet, a law can be passed by only a fraction of the population. Does it really make sense for 50% of the people to say how 100% of the people should act? But we’ll probably never get 100% agreement on anything. So, shouldn’t we think harder about what percentage of the vote equals a proper majority?

Would it be fair to require an 80% majority? That would still mean 20% of the population would oppose the law and would probably be unhappy. But it would also mean 80% of the population would be happy.

What we have is a happiness v. unhappiness ratio. Right now, we have a 50/50 ratio, which explains why our society is so polarized. Wouldn’t America be somewhat happier with a 60/40 ratio? And even happier with a 75/25 ratio?

We’re never going to have a 100% happy society. But shouldn’t we try to reduce the unhappy portion of the equation? My guess if we agreed to make 60% the required majority to win any vote, we’d see a shift in the contentment of the nation.

Ideally though, we’d eventually need to increase that to 75%, but right now that would be an impossibility. Just developing a 60% consensus would take a tremendous effort, mainly in learning how to make compromises.

621 Ways To Be Happier

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, April 29, 2017

Each day, the Internet now offers me more lists on how-to-be-happier than funny-cat-videos. That’s ironic since funny-cat-videos make me happy.

In recent years it seems that “12 Ways To …” is the lowest common denominator of journalistic seduction, whether its for newspaper, magazine, webpage, blog, or social networking readers. Evidently the quickest way to grab someone’s attention is to entice them with a list.

Life is Good

I wish I had a computer program that would collect advice lists on various topics and statistically analyze them for the most popular pieces of wisdom. Then I could ignore this whole category of journalism. I’ve theorized that if I stopped reading about Donald Trump and self-improvement lists I’d have time to read two quality novels each week instead.

How many people actually follow self-improvement advice? And if we did, would that advice work? I use a program called Instapaper to track what I read online and have collected 35 essays with 621 pieces of advice. It’s fascinating how many recommendations overlap. You’d think everyone would be 100% happy by now, and very productive.

I’m naturally a happy person, but I have several friends that suffer from depression. I sometimes forward these articles, but I’m not sure if they are helpful. Can willpower overcome genes and hormones? As I read more of them I realized some of the advice did apply to me. I never feel depressed, but I do feel regrets. Emotionally, I’m as happy as a drooling pug reading, writing, listening to music and watching TV. However, I have lingering regrets about not doing more. That’s why I tell people I’m a Puritanical Atheist – I feel guilty if I don’t spend a portion of each day accomplishing something, no matter how small.

Many of these lists appear to equate success, productivity, and creativity with happiness. I’ve often thought my natural state of contentedness keeps me from working harder at my ambitions. So I started reading these lists for tips on improving my productivity. I assume I’d be happier if I got more done, and regret less about not finishing all the projects I fantasize about doing. However, some advice is geared towards unhappy productive people. They are told to relax and do less. That makes me wonder if I did more would I be unhappier?

I could have gathered lists for any area of self-help that I wanted. Such lists are overly abundant on the net. I wonder when the trend will collapse? At some point I think everyone will get tired reading about Donald Trump and numbered advice lists.

I realize that by gathering this meta-list of lists I’m only playing into the trend. Gotcha! Well, I hope you find some good advice. My takeaway is I need to go to sleep earlier, get up earlier, focus, avoid distractions, and reduce my goals to as few as possible. I’m not sure, but I did’t Benjamin Franklin make that list over 200 years ago?

The Wisdom of Happiness