Friday, August 28, 2015


A key to good perspective is gratitude.  Instead of looking at and yearning for what we don’t have, we take time to appreciate the things we have.  This is not difficult at all in a country with so much to offer.  It is easy to identify these advantages with hindsight of 50 or 60 years, but our economy is introducing new innovations at such a rapid pace that it has reached a point a person need not be very old to remember “the old days when we didn’t have ….”

It has been only about 15 years since the smartphone, as we know it today, was introduced.  It could function like a cellphone but also had e-mail capability as well as browsing (if you could find some place to get access to the Internet).  By contrast, I remember the first time I saw a handheld calculator.  It could add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I think it could even do a square root.  The year was 1972 and it cost $250.  That would be the equivalent buying power of over $1400 today and all it could do were basic functions, but it was sure a lot more convenient than doing the work by hand and more precise than using a slide rule.  I was very impressed.  Now something with the same functionality would be a free promotional item that nobody really wants.  

Going back a little further, my grandparents called a refrigerator an “ice box” remembering a time when the ice man would deliver a large block, which would keep the food cold until it melted and had to be replaced.  Now refrigerators are standard and over 90% of residences are air-conditioned.  That’s a lot of progress in a few generations.  Imagine trying to explain streaming video to Abe Lincoln – not only how it works, but why so many people are willing to pay for it!

The problem is boredom, complacency and taking things for granted.  This article points out that this is not just an American problem; it’s a human problem.  They found that providing poor families in Central and South America with improved housing had only a temporary increase in happiness.  When they were interviewed 16 months later, the researchers found a substantial initial increase in happiness but “eight months after that -- two years after moving to the new housing -- about 60 percent of the increase in happiness goes away.”  This is why after thousands of years of technological innovations, from the printing press to indoor plumbing to smart phones (with an app telling where to get the best deal on your favorite wine), “evidence indicates…that happiness has not really increased over time."

The remedy for this human condition is gratitude.  We have more than our ancestors could have possibly imagined.  That’s something to consider the next time you are driving to the grocery store or a restaurant or a concert in your climate-controlled car and the phone starts playing your favorite ringtone.

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