Wednesday, July 18, 2018

If We're So Rich, How Come We're Not Happy?

     We are better off in almost every way than at any time in history. Yet to read the headlines -- even to talk to your friends -- you'd think the world is coming to an end.

     Jeremy Kisner, an investment adviser with Surevest Wealth Management of Phoenix, AZ, recently addressed this phenomenon, and, I think, put the world in better perspective. I am summarizing (another word for stealing . . . but with his permission) his thunder here, but for more wisdom direct from him, you can go to

     Kisner reminds us that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you can consider. But it doesn't always feel this way because negative headlines attract eyeballs and sell advertising. Granted, there are tons of very real problems. Nevertheless, Bill Gates nailed it when he said, "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not."

     Human progress occurs because every day a few billion people go to work and figure out ways to improve living standards. Individuals do not always recognize the gradual improvements. But one place you can see the progress is in the stock market which has been going up for most of our lives (with, granted, a few bumps in the road) and is near all-time highs.

     People get scared reading the news -- North Korea, Iran, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, refugees, economic disparities, global warming -- and then they get even more scared thinking about the things that might go wrong. But meanwhile, people buy more things, companies grow, wealth is created, and billions of people live longer and better lives.

     Here are a few of Kisner's examples of human progress,:

     Life expectancy: Consider this: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.

     Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.

     Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.

     Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016 that figure was under 9.5 million.

     Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.

     Housework: The average family spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry in 1920. That has fallen to 1.5 hours a week as of 2014.

     Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.

     Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles for modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children.

     Food. Between 1961 and  2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.

     Kisner maintains that people who think the best days for America, and for our economy, are behind us are essentially saying that human innovation is going to slow down or stagnate. He says that doesn't seem likely, at least over the next 20 to 30 years. Don't you agree?

     But that begs the question: With all this good fortune, why is everyone so disconsolate?

     We live in a society with the freedom to make our own decisions -- and our fundamental belief is that freedom to choose makes people happy. The more affluent we become, the more choices we have and, in theory, the happier we should be. The problem is that the average American in less satisfied with their lives, and clinical depression has exploded in the past 30 years, while our economy and standard of living has grown.

     Why? Kisner points us to the paradox of plenty. Now, there's no question, there are some benefits to more freedom of choice. But there are negative effects as well.

     Paralysis. The more options we have, the more difficult it is to choose, and we end up procrastinating, or just freezing up. For example, an analysis of over 600 corporate retirement plans showed that the more mutual fund choices a company offered in its 401k, the fewer people participated in the plan. This is because the task of selecting the right funds became overwhelming. There's more choice, but people actually end up poorer.

     Second guessing. The more options we have, the less likely we are to end up satisfied with our choice. For example, assume there are three salad dressings. You know you don't like bleu cheese or honey mustard, so you pick Italian, and you're happy. What if there are 24 salad dressings? You are likely to be filled with doubt that you picked the best one, regardless of which one you pick.

     Escalation of expectations. With all our options, we expect to find the "perfect" choice. When our choice is less than perfect, we are less satisfied. And then, instead of blaming someone else for the shortfall -- the producer, the provider, whoever -- we blame ourselves, because we somehow failed to make the right choice.

     For more on this paradox, you can go to a TED Talk by Barry Schwartz, who explains the theory further. But the bottom line is this: Material affluence enables more choice, but it frequently makes people less happy.

     This doesn't mean we should all take a vow of poverty. It means that we will all be better off if we keep the following in mind: Most of us are better off than we think. But less can be more. Don't be paralyzed by the pressure to make perfect decisions. Don't blame yourself when the solution you choose is not perfect. Don't feel bad if there's some "new thing" that you either don't want or can't afford. And share more with other people.

     As with most things in life, good can be good enough, and acceptance of that can lead to greater life satisfaction. And . . . don't pay too much attention to those negative headlines.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

With Our Thoughts We Make Our World

     It's the middle of the summer doldrums, yet this week seems to have brought out a positive attitude among Baby Boomer bloggers.

     Kathy Gottberg is at the beach right now. But that does not keep her from thinking about her blog, SmartLiving 365, and how she inspires people to face and then overcome their challenges. So she offers a selection of you-can-make-it quotes that will help us through the summer. My favorite? Well, perhaps you can guess, but my favorite doesn't matter. Check out her post and decide what's your favorite.

     Along the same lines, Sue Loncaric from Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond shares thoughts on why It's Never Too Late to Embrace Life. The topic should resonate, if you just challenge yourself to finish this sentence for your own life: "It's never too late to . . . "

     And while Gottberg and Loncaric inspire us by word, Meryl Baer inspires us by action. She admits to not being a computer geek, or even particularly computer literate. However, at times she tries to help her 93-year-old mom troubleshoot her computer issues. The latest problem was easy to figure out, but not so easy to fix. Read about the dilemma, and how they handled it, in 69,000 and Counting.

     And speaking of challenges, Laura Lee Carter got evacuated from her home for a week while an outrageous wildfire terrorized her small, rural Colorado county. In case you've never been evacuated with 1800 government personnel invading a county of only 5000 people, she decided to share her experience in Home Again: All's Right with my World!

     In If You Could Save Someone's Life, Wouldn't You? Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit interviews Elaine Schock, the wife of a man who received a diagnosis of Stage IV HPV-related cancer. But not all was lost, and Schock's participation in his treatment proved hugely significant in his remission.

     On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison might inspire us to use less energy ... and save the planet. She cites the states that are the most expensive, and least expensive, for energy, including electricity, gasoline, home heating. FYI: Wyoming, Connecticut and Georgia are at one end of the spectrum, while Oregon, Washington and Colorado are at the other. Click on What Are the Most and Least Expensive Energy States? to find out where your state stands.

     And finally, lest we forget the most inspiring story of all, Rebecca Olkowski turns to the rescue of the 12 boys from a Thailand cave by a group of courageous divers facing almost insurmountable odds. Her post is about How to Overcome Tough Challenges in Life, and she draws lessons from the harrowing Thailand experience that we can all use in our own lives.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Listen In ...

     Here's an interview I recently did with Vanessa Peng of Retirement News Today, a new series from Sequence Media News out of Scottsdale, AZ. I guess it's pretty self-explanatory. Just . . . if you decide to comment, please take it easy on me. I'm an amateur, not a professional!

     So take a listen, as they say . . .

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Time Goes By ...

     The other day I was in the kitchen and B was doing something in the living room. I heard her whistling, although I wasn't paying attention to what it was. Suddenly I heard her screech: "Oh My God, I've become my mother!" There was a pause, and in a much lower voice I heard, "I can't believe it, I'm singing her song."

     I don't think I've become my father -- although every once in a while I see a ghost of him when I look in the mirror. What I see mostly, when I look in the mirror, is the gray hair, and how it's thinning, especially on top. And I think: Hmmm, maybe I don't have brown hair anymore, after all.

     So do we become our parents? I don't know about that. But, to me anyway, it does seem that in recent years, time has taken on a different quality.

     When I think back to when I was growing up . . . that does seem like a long time ago, I have to admit. It was over 50 years ago when I was in high school. That's as long as an historic era -- as long as the period between the Civil War and World War I.

     But it doesn't seem that long ago when my kids were in high school, and Bill Clinton was president. And yet, my daughter has been out of high school for half her life. And my son almost so.

     More recently, I recall our trip retracing the Oregon Trail. We spent several months planning the vacation -- deciding where we wanted to go, setting out the route, figuring where we wanted to stop, making reservations, contacting people. And then, suddenly, we were on the trip. The planning was over, and we were actually doing it. And now we're back. Did we really even ever do it? It is just a memory . . . or was it a dream?

     On a smaller scale, I got the same feeling about my colonoscopy. It seemed like I had just had a colonoscopy. But, sure enough, five years had gone by. So I found myself making the appointment, doing the preparation (which seemed to take forever while I was doing it); then suddenly I'm there in the medical pavilion ... and it's over. I had two small polyps; they're gone; I'm good for another five years.

     Of course, I'm glad that one's over. But . . . everything these days seems to slip by so quickly.

     And now we're planning our summer trip to Cape Cod. Will it be over before I know it?

     Pink Floyd isn't making exactly the same point -- and it's sure not the song B was whistling -- but if you're a Pink Floyd fan like I am, you'll appreciate what they're saying. For they remind us, "Every year is getting shorter ..."

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Bottom Line on Colon Cancer

     There's no way to dress it up, no way to paper it over. I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy next week. I've already started my preparation -- no aspirin or Advil for a week ahead, no raw fruits or vegetables for five days. But I've yet to start in on the heavy stuff.

     B and I have both had a colonoscopies. B is blessed with good genes and a clean alimentary tract, and only has to get tested once every ten years. But I always seem to have a few bits and bumps that the doctor has to remove. I'm on the five-year rotation.

     Now my time is up. (I actually have a close-up photo of my colon from my last test. But don't worry, in the interest of retaining my PG rating, I am not including that photo . . . just a picture of an innocent-looking box).

     So in other preparation for my test  -- getting ready for it emotionally, rather than physically -- I've done a little research into this disease, which according to my gastroenterologist is the second most common cancer killer in America today.

     Colon cancer and cancer of the rectum -- sometimes lumped together as colorectal cancer -- typically begin with the growth of a polyp, small abnormal tissue that can appear on mucus membranes. You can get polyps in your stomach, sinus, uterus, bladder or vocal chords. Or in your colon. Most are benign. Some can eventually progress to cancer, but it's a slow process that usually takes five to ten years.

     The symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, bleeding, anemia, bloating or unexplained fatigue. But the sneaky thing about colon cancer, as in many forms of cancer, is that the symptoms often don't show up until it's too late. There is one test -- for fecal occult blood -- that can detect bleeding in the colon long before it becomes visible to the naked eye. But the test is not particularly accurate -- the bleeding may not show up, or it could be due to something as simple as hemorrhoids.

     If you test positive for occult blood, or for those of us over age 50, especially if there's any family history of colon cancer, doctors typically recommend going on to the next step, which is a colonoscopy. There are variations on the procedure -- for example, one option is the virtual colonoscopy, done with computer imaging -- but the usual method involves a doctor snaking a thin tube equipped with a camera and cutting instrument up the length of your colon. If there's a polyp . . . snip, snip, and it's gone, long before it turns into cancer. The procedure is done with minimal risk and usually no adverse effects.

     I have undergone four previous colonoscopies. They were always covered by my old insurance, after a $50 copay. Now I'm on Medicare. Honestly, I haven't checked. But I believe Medicare will cover most of the cost. But even if I end up getting billed for a few hundred dollars, I figure it's worth it if it, literally, saves my ass (oops, there goes my PG rating).

     I first heard of this test back when I was 50 years old and went for my usual physical checkup. The doctor asked me if I had a family history of polyps. I didn't know. We didn't talk about such things in my family. When he explained the procedure, I was horrified. I really couldn't believe he'd do that to me!

     I drove home in a panic and called my parents. Did they ever hear of this? Did they ever have polyps? "Oh yeah, sure," they told me offhandedly. "We go in every few years. The doctor usually finds something, but he takes it out, cleans us up, and we're good to go. No problem."

     My parents were never very good at talking about the facts of life. These were the real facts of life.

     I managed to put this indignity off for a while, but eventually I went for the procedure. And now -- proving that human beings can get used to almost anything -- it no longer seems quite so shocking to me. It's become almost routine, like it did for my now dearly departed parents. Okay, the preparation is a little nasty. You do, after all, have to clean out your colon so the doctor can see what he's doing. But, hey, let's be mature about this.

     If you want to know more about colon cancer, the WebMD page on colorectal cancer is a good place to start.

     In the meantime, about ten years ago, I gave up eating red meat, in part because the consumption of red meat, especially processed meats like bacon or lunch meats, supposedly increases your risk of contracting colon cancer. I gave up smoking long ago, and I try to get a decent amount of exercise and keep my weight at close to normal levels (with limited success) -- all of which is supposed to help you avoid the perils of colon cancer, as well as any other kind of cancer.

     If I sound flip about what is really a serious disease, I just don't know how else to approach it. And beyond taking the usual precautions, I guess there's nothing else to do but hope for the best. Wish me luck!