"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Are You Happy Where You Live?

      There are several lists of U. S. states where people are the happiest . . . and the unhappiest. According to one list, the most miserable people live in California and New Jersey. But another survey cites Alaska and Maine.

     Some of the happiest people live in states like Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington and Idaho. Everyone else, presumably, is normal -- not depressed but not euphoric either.

     Of course, this assumes that where we live can make us happy. Do you think it does?

     Surely, people who hate the cold shouldn't retire to Michigan or Minnesota. People who hate the heat should avoid Florida and Arizona. I wonder if these days another climate -- the political climate -- can make us happy or miserable. We do typically end up sorting ourselves into like-minded groups, don't we?

     I have several liberal friends who live in liberal New York. Residing among their fellow liberals may make them feel comfortable. But I don't know if that by itself makes them happy. But the reverse can be true. I have a liberal friend who moved to Florida. He lasted a couple of years, then moved back to New York. He got fed up with all the people who, in his opinion, were conservative, Trump-supporting cretins.

     I have a brother-in-law who is a religious conservative living in conservative central Pennsylvania. He seems very happy with his situation, with lots of friends through his church, his community, his family. He would be a fish out of water if he lived in a liberal mecca like Boston or Washington, DC.

     Of course, not all of us identify so closely as liberals or conservatives. Politics is not that important to everyone. I belong to a golf group. There are conservatives and liberals in the group and some independents as well. But it doesn't matter. Everyone is happy to be outside playing golf and joking around with friends instead of sitting at home alone watching TV or doing chores.

     But I'm thinking that there's a lot more to happiness than where we live or even who we hang out with . . . as outlined by my friend Jeremy Kisner in a post I did last year. It helps to be healthy, to have a circle of friends, to have something to do. Wealthier people are happier than poor people -- but only up to a point. I've read that even something as simple as owning a pet can make us happier. And it may not be a coincidence that the things making us happy can also help us live longer.

     I've also read that each of us has our happiness "set point." How happy we are depends more on how we look at things rather than what happens to us, or where we live. If something bad happens to a happy person -- even the loss of a spouse -- they grieve for a while, feel depressed, but eventually their happiness returns to their own natural level. Similarly, the curmudgeons among us might experience a burst of happiness if they win the lottery. But a year or two later? They're still curmudgeons.

     What makes me happy? Having a nice home, a beautiful spouse (both inside and out), some friends to hang out with, a few activities that I find interesting. I do sometimes wonder about the actual purpose of my retired life. Is it bringing me real satisfaction? Am I making a difference?

     I don't know. I used to have the same doubts when I was working, too. For the most part I enjoyed my job. I certainly liked getting paid. But was I really doing anything to improve the world?

     Maybe when we're retired we have a smaller world, bounded by family and neighbors and limited activities. But we can still make a difference to our community, and to the people we love.

     So who are the absolute happiest people? You can check out the list at Digg.com. But according to them, it's the people from Utah. I guess the clean-living Mormons have it all figured out. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I'm Giving Away My Fortune!

     I just found out that I have some surprisingly valuable art hanging on the walls of my house. I am also in possession of a remarkably prized collection of rare, antique shoes. But more on those in a minute.

     I live a modest lifestyle, but you should know that many of America's wealthiest people live fairly modest lifestyles as well. Investor Warren Buffett famously lives in a house in Omaha, NE, that he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Now it's worth a little over $1 million, but that's pocket change for someone worth more than $100 billion.

     I paid much more than $31,000 for my house. So I must be even wealthier than Warren Buffett, right? The fact that I drive an eight-year-old Subaru shouldn't fool you into thinking that I can't make a substantial charitable donation. And so today I am making a major announcement.

     I was inspired to make my pledge by the news last week that Jeff Bezos announced plans to give away most of his $124 billion fortune -- all except a few billion or so. So now, like Bezos, I am "establishing a framework to determine how to donate my wealth."

     Warren Buffett has founded an organization called The Giving Pledge. This is a campaign to encourage wealthy people to contribute a majority of their money to philanthropic causes. Bill Gates has signed onto this pledge. So have Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Carl Icahn and others. If they follow through, they will each be left with less than $50 billion. And some of the lesser lights, who aren't even worth $10 billion, may have to scrape by with only $1 billion or so!

     So I am now personally and publicly making the promise:  like Jeff Bezos and the others, before I die I will donate every single cent that I own above the level of $1 billion.

One of our priceless paintings
     Of course, I did not found a major internet company. So my fortune is a little less than $124 billion. Also, part of the Bezos fortune is supported by armies of Amazon workers, making $15 to $18 an hour, who contribute mightily to the Bezos bank account. I do not employ any minimum-wage workers who can fatten up my fortune.

     Also, I can't bolster my personal Fort Knox by firing thousands of employees in the name of "rightsizing," the way Zuckerberg and Musk are doing. And unlike some billionaires, I actually do pay my taxes. Every month the government grabs 10% tax, as well as the charge for Medicare, even before my Social Security benefit lands in the bank account.

     However, I do save a lot of money compared to Jeff Bezos and the others. For example, however Bezos avoids income tax, he does have to pay real-estate tax, property insurance and general upkeep on his 27,000-square-foot home in Washington, DC, as well as his 15-bedroom apartment in New York City and his $165 million mansion in L.A. 

     Meanwhile, I just pay for a Buffett-level home on a standard suburban street. Also, think how much I save by not own my own private jet. And just this past summer I saved $28 million by not buying a ticket for a 15-minute Bezos Blue Origin trip into space.

     Already I'm saving $100 million, making me $100 million richer than I otherwise would be.

     Also, I did inherit a substantial amount of money. When I was a kid my Aunt Alice gave me $2 for my birthday . . . every year! The dollars were slipped into an envelope, and when I saw George Washington's face peering out at me through the little hole, I felt like a million dollars . . . back when a million dollars meant something. If I had only held onto that money and invested it in Amazon stock when it went public in 1997, or Apple when it . . . no, no, we won't go there.

At $218,000 per pair they add up
     I am not at liberty to reveal how large my fortune is. However, just last week I not only started "establishing a framework to determine how to donate my wealth," but I began executing the plan. I sent one check to our local food bank for $25, and another for the school clothing drive. 

     Maybe that doesn't sound like much. But, for me, it takes a bite out of my account. And there's more to come, since it's just the start of the giving season. Meanwhile, I wonder what causes you support.

     But back to that art. Just last week a Cezanne was auctioned for $138 million. A Seurat went for $149 million. Look at that painting. I've got lots just like it. Just think how much I'll get for my collection!

     Also last week, one pair of Steve Jobs' Birkenstock sandals sold for $218,000. Well, B has a closet full of old shoes . . . not to mention the boots and sneakers in the back of the garage. What'd'ya think we'll get for them? The Giving Pledge . . . get ready. It's all going to charity. Thank you very much!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Games People Play

      I just finished doing today's Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. Later, I'll do the New York Times crossword. I do it online. I started doing crossword puzzles during Covid as a way to pass the time. But somehow I've become addicted, and I've continued doing them pretty much every day, long after our lives have returned to some semblance of normal.

     My wife turned to jigsaw puzzles during Covid. She started with a few 500-piece puzzles, then graduated to 1000-piece puzzles. When she completed one it sat on the dining room table for a few weeks to show off her accomplishment. However, unlike me, once Covid was over she stopped doing the puzzles. She had better things to do.

     She also spent more time playing the piano during Covid. I think she regrets not having used more of the extra time Covid gave her to really improve her piano skills -- to accomplish something constructive during Covid. However, now she's been going out more, spending less time at home and less time at the piano as well.

     I wonder what games people started to play during Covid -- and if they're still playing them or if they've stopped. I also wonder how much people have returned to pre-Covid normal. Do you do all the things you were doing in 2019?

     The other weekend, my wife hosted a party. She and a group of neighbors -- eight women altogether -- drank wine, ate pie, and played Apples to Apples, a game where people draw cards and a judge decides who has the best match. It's a perfect party game that produces lots of laughter -- I know because I was upstairs in my office and had to put on headphones to hear the Netflix program I was watching.

     We'd played Apples to Apples a few times in the past. But never during Covid. Now people are comfortable gathering indoors, without masks, to laugh and have a good time. At least the weather was warm, so B could keep the windows open.

     I wonder what else people have been doing post-Covid -- or have not been doing. B and I like to dance. When we moved in 2017, we joined a local dance club that held social dances once a month at our community center. The club closed down during Covid. Now it's back holding Saturday night dances. But we have not been going. The thought of spending two or three hours on a dance floor crowded with unmasked people -- that just seems a bridge too far.

     I did go back to my table tennis club for a while, when Covid numbers were very low in our area. But I stopped when the numbers went back up. I've been thinking of going back again. But every time I think of sharing a room with 20 - 25 people who are running around and sweating and breathing heavily, I decide . . . well, maybe later.

     We have done some traveling -- mostly by car, not by train or bus or airplane. I am playing golf, because it's all outside. We've been to the movies a couple of times -- the theater has not been crowded at all. We have been going out to restaurants because it's been warm enough to sit outside.

     I'm not sure what we'll do now that the weather is getting colder. I don't mind popping into a store or the post office for a couple of minutes without a mask. I get my haircut. Can't wear a mask when you're getting your hair cut. But I'm just not sure I'd enjoy myself inside at a restaurant, sitting there for an hour or more, breathing in air recirculated through dozens of other people's respiratory tracts.

     Many people are more casual about Covid than I am. They think: heck, we're vaccinated, there are treatments now, it's no worse than getting a cold -- and besides cases are way down, we probably won't get it anyway.

     For us, Covid is over. But it's not over. Anyway . . . I'd better get to that New York Times crossword puzzle.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Oh Man, I Don't Feel So Well

     Yesterday I got my second shingles shot. And today I don't feel very good.

     The same thing happened after my first shot, back in May. I didn't get a cough or a sore throat; didn't have a headache. Well, maybe today I have a little headache. I also have a low-grade temperature. But mostly I just feel tired. I slept in this morning until 8:30, got up for a while, thought I was okay, then found myself flopping onto the couch and napping from 9:45 to 10:30. Now I'm awake again. Had a bite to eat. Feeling a bit better.

     Last May. the symptoms lasted throughout the day. Then the next day, I was fine.

     For those of you who don't know, the shingles vaccine is yet another shot, recommended for people over age 50. I got the original shingles shot back in 2015. That was the old vaccine called Zostavax, which was used in the early 2000s, up until 2020. It required just one dose.

     The new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, requires two doses, given a few months apart. Presumably it is more effective; plus, the preventative effects of that original vaccine do wear off over time. So we should get the two Shingrix shots even if we've previously gotten the Zostavax vaccine.

     I don't know if any of you have gotten shingles. But it's a nasty disease that comes from reactivated chicken pox.
     My dad got it the last year of his life in 2001-2002. He suffered a painful red rash up and down his abdomen, with blisters that broke open and leaked puss. He described it as a severe burning sensation. It never went away. He suffered with it until the end.

     My brother-in-law has shingles now. He was going to get the vaccine, but he put it off, didn't get around to it, and then he got shingles on his face. This was about two years ago, and it still plagues him, even affecting the vision in one eye. He's gotten some treatments, which he says have alleviated the pain to some extent, but it still hurts enough to sometimes keep him up at night.

     So the Shingrix vaccine is another shot to add to your regimen. It's a pain, I know, getting all these jabs. But it's better than the alternative.

     This fall I already got the regular flu shot, on Oct. 24. Now I'm scheduled to get the Covid vaccine booster in a couple of weeks. I got the last one at the beginning of June. I think we're supposed to wait six months until the next booster. But meantime, I got Covid itself at the beginning of September -- and I credit the vaccine for keeping it to a mild case. 

     Now I'm supposed to wait two months after Covid to get the vaccine. So the timing works out. I want to get the booster before the holidays when, undoubtedly, I'll be more at risk for exposure.

     I have a friend in my golf group who's an anti-vaccer. The Covid vaccine wasn't thoroughly tested, he says. It doesn't work anyway. You still get Covid. The vaccine can cause heart problems. It's all a scam by the drug companies to make more money.

     Look, I know there are no guarantees. But I took statistics in college. Perhaps more to the point, I play poker. I know a little bit about odds. I bet when the numbers are in my favor, and I'm betting on the vaccines -- even if my arm does look like a pin cushion.

     Now . . . I think it's time for another nap!