I think modern technology is mostly AMAZING — after all, I just received a new iPhone from T-mobile that I can use to text for free internationally! But I also know technology can suck away your time and your life if you don’t follow the 4 Commandments.
MAKING SENSE OF INTERNET COMMENTARY
You wrote your happiness report before July 14th (also French independence day, as it were), and I’m wondering how that day impacted your happiness level. It was the day your guest post aired on the widely read Making Sense Of Cents blog. You detailed your journey, which you’ve done before on this blog: in your origin story as well as in your posts on giving to charity and receiving food support. The Making Sense article was an amalgamation.
Some of the comments were nice and some were … well … pas sympathique. Not nice.
Mon dieu. I enjoy interacting with comments most of the time, but I don’t think anyone would say that the internet comment sections are a shining example of technology benefiting humanity.
I was thinking about why some commenters were unhappy with your article. Here are the two main charges, simplified:
- They think it’s unfair that you receive government assistance, based on how you are spending your money.
- They don’t like the way that you think about it: Thoreau and the Art of Asking and all that.
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MAKING SENSE OF MY DEFENSE OF MY COUSIN’S CONTROVERSIAL BLOG POST
I find it funny that some commenters questioned me for defending you. Was I supposed to turn on my own cousin?? I felt like Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy, ready to start kicking butt!
Here were my basic responses to their unhappiness.
Response to Charge #1: People get riled up about taxes. As you know, I pay LOADS of taxes. And the idea is that we want our tax money to go to exactly what we think are the highest priorities and best programs. When they see that you, Penny, receive government money, well then there’s anger. Unfair! You’re a regular ol’ blogger! You need to spend less and work harder!
Now I’m not an expert on taxes, but I can comfortably say that food assistance is not the big national tax scandal to be worried about. It’s peanuts (perhaps literally!) compared to the national debt and other such obligations that have little social benefit.
The fact is that you receive food support because you qualify for food support. We can argue about the system and how fair it is, but it makes no sense for you to turn down this support. It’s for food, and it’s completely separate from how you spend the rest of your money. It wouldn’t do an ounce of good to anyone for you to turn it down, which you’ve said you’re eager to do as your income grows.
People don’t normally consider the idea of rejecting government benefits when they do their own taxes. I’d venture that most people who receive the standard deduction are not refusing their refund checks for the good of the system, because they can afford to. I’d love to hear from someone who has done this.
As for how you spend your money …
This part is ironic for me to defend because, as you know, we don’t agree on how to spend money at all. You’re way TOO FRUGAL and TOO GENEROUS! One of your biggest line items every month is charity! Also, you are paying back your student loans at a ridiculously fast rate considering your income.
So, I wasn’t actually trying to defend every specific choice. Mostly I defended you because the attacks got personal, which leads me to the second complaint from commenters.
Response to Charge #2: People want you to think and feel differently about receiving food support.
You wrote that at first you felt embarrassed about receiving food support. And then you talked about how your outlook has changed, how you want people to understand this process, and how in the future you’d like to give more and take less.
This is just my observation, but I don’t think some people want you to come to terms with receiving support. They would like you to keep feeling embarrassed for as long as it takes to support yourself. They want you to feel a certain way.
This, I thought, was rather unfair. People’s feelings are complex, and as we’ve discussed a lot on this blog, there isn’t a straight line between money and feelings.
I’ve experienced this in reverse as a high income earner in an age of income inequality. A RICH GUY! HOARDING THE AMERICAN DREAM! Based on my income, some would say I should continually feel lucky, grateful, and humble, or else I’m just a greedy materialistic a-hole.
This is just not how people work. We don’t have static emotions based on our income levels. Some days I feel incredibly lucky — I love my job and I’m healthy. Some days I’m irritated about traffic or annoying errands. Other days I’m overjoyed because I’m going on vacation. And this week I’ve been anxious about my kids’ behavior at summer camp.
The fact is, I don’t walk around thinking, “Wow, I’m so grateful to be earning six figures, I guess I shouldn’t worry about my boys starting a fight with other kids at camp.” Life doesn’t work that way.
MAKING SENSE OF KIDS, HAPPINESS, AND THE GOOD LIFE
All of this made me consider my happiness level for the past month. Initially I thought I’d rate it low, like 3.5 smileys out of 5, which is not good for me. The main reason: It’s summer camp season.
My twin boys are high energy. That’s an understatement. They make other high energy kids seem mild mannered. As twins, they don’t take many breaks because they always have a willing partner to egg them on. They run around and talk and yell and laugh and fight and play from 6am to 8pm every single day. Their favorite game, besides Uno, is to be chased. That’s the game — we chase them. There’s my cardio regimen right there.
Anyway, this amount of energy doesn’t always translate well to structured settings like school and camp. Through sheer routine and excellent teaching, they ended up doing great in preschool, but it took time. When summer camp started, it was a new routine with new teachers and new kids.
To a new teacher, the energy can be shocking! When we drop them off, the teacher says, “No problem.” When we pick them up, the teacher — sweating and tired — says, “How do you handle them?”
Mrs. Rich and I get concerned every time the boys start a new activity because we know we’ll be getting some sort of phone call or feedback about our kids’ behavior. Honestly, they’ve earned reputations for being difficult around the world. Their notoriety reaches from the kids club at a hotel in Cyprus (kicked out) to the dining room in a hotel in France (shushed) to last year’s summer camp (“can you please pick them up early?”).
So, we’ve been anxious. And you know what? They’ve been absolutely normal — their normal, high energy, difficult selves. For a few days, it impacted my happiness.
Then I realized I was falling back into the way of thinking that happiness is a singular feeling, a reaction to life and to the world. I forgot that true happiness, to me, is more about “the good life,” Which encompasses happiness as well as virtue, love, authenticity, dignity, well-being, morality and so on.
When I look at it from that perspective, I’m right where I want to be. Would I rather have listless, boring kids? Heck no! (Well, maybe just for an hour). My kids are healthy and happy and funny boys. I’m working through this great challenge of parenting, and becoming a better person in the process. And the rest of life — personal growth, freedom, and health — is going well.
4.5 Smileys out of 5 is right in line with my usual, happy self. I don’t take it for granted.
I’ll leave you with my longer term average, and for all my previous Happiness Reports, click here. –Rich