What Is It About Kids?

It’s not uncommon for people in the area to ask me why we moved to Carmel (Indianapolis). Especially when they learn we had lived in Colorado. Most people think Colorado is a great place to live. And it is. It’s then I tell them we moved here because of you, Vera. I add that I never thought we’d be trailing grandparents but that, despite your small statute (you’re only 2-3/4 years old), it turned out you had tremendous power. Enough power to cause me to move 1,100 miles.

Your parents came to pick you up at our house Sunday upon their return from a European vacation. You had been staying with us for nine days. It was wonderful having you here. It was so wonderful that when it came time to leave, I could have cried. (I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that. It’s kind of sappy I suppose.)

Children have that effect on some of us. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because you’re a free comedy show. You make me laugh. When I mentioned to you that you were funny, you replied, “Yes, I’m funny.” But I doubt you understand. Really. I doubt you appreciate just how precious it is having someone in your life who makes you laugh. Who brings a smile to your face just by being. Who makes your heart dance.

Of course, it’s more than that. It has to be. It’s the love, too. The unconditionality of it. The purity.

You actually don’t know much about me. What I’ve done in my life. How much stuff or money I have. You can’t judge me on any basis other than whether I treat you well. Whether I love you. Whether you want to be with me.

And the same goes for me. You’re not old enough to have done anything other than to play and live. You’ve earned no degrees or medals. Landed no prestigious job. Earned nothing. You just are.

And so we play. You test us, and we provide some parameters (lovingly, of course). Self-discipline is part of living well. It’s fun to watch you grow up and learn how to live well.

Curiosity is key, too. It’s fun to watch yours in action and to nurture it. It’s gratifying to help you discover new things. To experience new things. It’s exhilarating to witness your enthusiasm. The wonder.

You remind me that curiosity, discovery, and wonder are not the sole province of small children. You make me want to spend more of my time following my curiosity and discovering new things.

That’s the beauty of relationships with small children: it’s mutual. Each can learn from the other.

I’m glad you stayed with us while your parents were away. It gave us the chance to become even closer. The hugs are firmer. The kisses more frequent. The smiles more revealing.

I look forward to helping you discover new things in the world. And to being reminded by you to do the same in my life.

Everything is new and exciting in your life. Thanks for sharing your excitement and innocence. Thank you for being you.

Is Your Connectivity Making Your Life Better?

A memo written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in the summer of 2016 contained the following controversial passage:

“[Connecting people] can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

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Why Is America So Glum?

Ponder this:

You might want to read this WaPo (WonkBlog) story for possible answers: The unhappy states of America: Despite an improving economy, Americans are glum.

Or perhaps you have your own theories.

Life is such that there’s always some reason to be glum I suppose. But there’s also always some reason to be grateful, too.

Politically, the U.S. is in a very bad place presently. Economically, things are not as good as some people think nor as bad as some people fear. Financially, things are great for some people, O.K. for quite a few other people, and downright awful and bleak for many people.

Overall, things have been worse and they’ve been better.

You can make the case that our prospects are bleak or that they’re bright. The reality is, no one knows what the future holds.

While you’re pondering all of this, don’t forget to live. Time is running out. For each of us. Being glum is no way to spend it.

Find a path to something that can bring joy into your life. Kick some a** if necessary (not literally). Hug someone who’s lonely and forgotten. Find someone who wants to hug you. Extend a helping hand. Change jobs. Work harder. Stop whining and complaining. Act. Confront a politician. Demand solutions. Move. Meditate. Think. Reject the false stories and promises of ideologues and charlatans and others intent on deceit. Stop watching TV. Read. Get off social media. Spend less time online. Cut up the credit cards. Stop spending. Take a hike. Get in shape. Pursue freedom. Be grateful. Embrace simplicity. Make room for hope in your life.

But whatever you do, don’t succumb to the power of glumness. Time is simply too precious.

America’s Healthiest Communities

U.S. News, in collaboration with Aetna, compiles a list of the 500 healthiest communities in the U.S. Here are the top 15. You can follow the link if you’re interested in seeing whether your community made the list. My current one did (# 7). Several other places I’ve lived made the list, too (Boulder and Larimer Counties, Colorado and Centre, Cumberland, and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania).

One thing I noticed is that Colorado is overrepresented. I’m not surprised. The state attracts health-conscious and active people, and the culture supports it.

Lists like this one are a reminder of a point I’ve frequently made: place matters. Frankly, it’s easier to live a healthy lifestyle when the climate and culture support healthy living. And where the economy supports infrastructure investments (e.g., trails, parks, etc.).

I didn’t check, but I suspect most if not all of these communities on the list of 500 are wealthy — relative to the average county, that is. Frankly, a healthy lifestyle can be seen as a luxury. There’s something about that that doesn’t seem right.

Is It the Beginning of the End?

Could this be the beginning of the end for Facebook?

I don’t know, but I do know that I won’t be buying any Facebook stock anytime soon. No one can dismiss the heightened risk profile –the distinct possibility that it will be downhill from here.

On the one hand, I could care less. I deactivated my FB account a few weeks ago, but I’m agnostic about anyone else’s participation.

On the other hand, I have a sense we’d be better off without it — that it’s done more harm than good.

In any case, I’m out. And will be out. I’m also reading about other people opting out recently. But they tend to get the press. People joining are less conspicuous. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see the numbers when FB next reports.

Keys to Happiness

“Happy places are highly correlated with healthy food, walkability and lower rates of obesity.” (What Can We Learn from the World’s Happiest People?)

This helps explain why Boulder, Colorado is such a great place to live. Of all the places we’ve lived, Boulder was far and away the leader in healthy eating, fitness (including the nearly complete lack of obesity), and walkability (we walked just about everywhere and could access hiking trails at the edge of town).

Dan Buettner, in his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, identified six areas of influence within your control to positively affect happiness and contentment. Interestingly, Buettner found that where you live is a significant factor. In other words, if you’re not happy, move!

Happy locations include Denmark, Singapore, and Costa Rica. Some of the top places in the U.S. are San Luis Obispo, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon.

Of course, as we know, social networks are key, too. If you want to be happier, bring happy, caring people into your lives.

Well-Being Is Stagnant or Falling

Gallup reports that “for the first time in nine years of tracking changes in state well-being, no state saw statistically significant improvement from the year before.” And “nearly half of U.S. states saw their well-being scores decline.”

Given where we are in the economic cycle, this shouldn’t be happening. Well-being should be resurgent across the board. But it’s not.

For various reasons I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I worry about the next recession or financial crisis (whichever comes first). Survey results like this show my worry is not misplaced.

Anti-Social Media

There’s a lot of talk about the harmful effects of social media these days. Even some people who have been instrumental in developing and promoting the sites have been speaking out. Loudly and often. As I earlier mentioned, I’ve also witnessed, up close, the insidious, addictive power of Facebook and other so-called social media sites. It’s caused me to take a fresh look at the phenomenon.

I’ve concluded we’ve got the term wrong. There’s nothing social about social media sites. In fact, they tend to be anti-social. So let’s frame the issue right and start calling it what it is: anti-social.

All the mental health statistics in our country indicate my conclusions are sound. They’re all going in the wrong direction. If you don’t believe me, it’s not hard to find the data; look for yourself. Or talk to a counselor at any school. Or a nurse at a college. I guarantee you’ll be shocked by the amount of anxiety, depression and other psychological symptoms our young people are experiencing (as well as adults). In short, the degree of alienation and anxiety felt within the populace is unprecedented.

Check out our suicide rates, too. And ask yourself why there’s a positive correlation between Facebook use and depression.

And then check out any Starbucks or restaurant the next time you’re out. Observe how many people have their faces glued to their smart phone and how little face-to-face conversation is taking place.

I also can’t help think how we used to not have mass shootings like we do now. It seems to me that it’s connected to a national psychic pain, a condition that seems to be aggravated by our disconnectedness which, in turn, is exacerbated by our technology (as well as other factors, such as our obsession with money and things and our disregard for the weakest and suffering among us).

I could go on with one example after another that supports my thesis — that these supposedly social devices and programs are actually having an anti-social impact. But my purpose isn’t to convince. Rather, it’s to share my decision and perhaps spur parents to question whether their kids are being helped or hurt by all the new technology that dominate many lives.

That’s not to say technology is inherently bad. It isn’t. But it is to say it’s important not to lose sight of our real goal: happiness and fulfillment. If we assume the unfettered use of technology will make our lives (or the lives of our kids) better, then we may be making a grave mistake.

I confess I’m glued to my iPhone and computer too much. I’ve recently taken one step to help rectify that, by deactivating my Facebook account. Today, I deactivated my LinkedIn account, too.

It’s not that I’m going to swear off digital technology. I’m not. I’m not trading in my iPhone for a flip phone and I’m not swearing off Twitter (at least not yet). But I’m going to focus more on the things that lead to happiness and a sense of fulfillment and purpose and less on the distractions.

Dude, Nobody’s Normal

Recently, I watched a Netflix show called Atypical. The main character is a teenage autistic boy. There was a scene where he was commiserating with his sister. Some kids at school had been making fun of him. In frustration, he said, “I wish I was normal.”

His sister’s boyfriend, who was present too, immediately piped up. “Dude, nobody’s normal,” he said.

I thought how much better off we’d be if we learned that lesson early in life.

It seems we’re constantly comparing ourselves. To others. To our sense of the ideal person. To someone we’re told we should be. To the kind of person our culture values.

We think there is a normal. That other people have it together. That we’re the only imperfect ones. The only ones who feel broken. The only ones wrestling with certain demons or struggling to hold it together.

But, in reality, the boyfriend was right: Nobody’s normal. When it comes to people, there is no such thing as normal.

We are whom we are. Genetics are part of it. Parenting is a part. Other outside influences, over which we had little or no control, are a part of it. Luck plays a role, too.

When we feel tension between whom we are and the person we think the world is expecting us to be — or the type of person the world rewards or values the most — we might think we’re not normal. Or think life would be so much easier if we could be different — more in line with what people expect or our culture values.

But we are whom we are. Perfection has nothing to do with it. And neither does someone’s expectations (or our own).

Rather, we must live the life that is unique to us —  our life. It might seem harder than the life others have to live and, indeed, it might be harder. But there is nothing to be gained by such comparisons.

We can’t live someone else’s life. We can’t be someone else. We only can live our life.

Normal has nothing to do with it.