Friday, January 30, 2009

Selfish acts

I am no big fan of self-help books or of self-help columns, although the existence of this blog suggests it may be otherwise. Now and then I do read the insights of others and apply them to myself. Today I read an article on the Huffington Post by Susan Smalley, on "the biology of selfishness". She uses an instance of line-cutting as an example. And at the end she asks us to watch ourselves and the times we are tempted to cut in front of others in line, for our own advantage.

Most of the time I am well-behaved. I treat others with respect.

There are exceptions. When I am overly tired I might react uncharacteristically and pigheadedly deny any advantage I have rudely taken. And when I am flat-broke and wondering where the next meal is coming from I am more likely to seize upon opportunities to take money that are not honorable. If I found a wallet with money and identification in it I could not take that money and I would try to contact that owner or would turn it into the police department. But there are other ways when I will easily give in to temptation, with nary a backward glance at the sad eyes of my conscience.

If I am worrying about money and am in some big retail store and the clerk either charges me too little or gives me too much change I will walk away with the extra. I justify it by figuring the company is ripping off its employees and me anyway.

Sure, there are times I tell the clerk, "Did you ring this up?" More likely, I think, when the clerk has been nice to me, but on the other hand I often actually bring it up to the careless, rude clerk, as an example to him or her, perhaps to show that I am the better person?

There is no question that doing the right thing makes me feel good. That's the prime motivator and it's extremely selfish.

Monday, June 30, 2008

How happy are we now?

A few weeks ago my non-paying tenant finally moved out. He's living in a homeless shelter, is working with social services and the Veterans' administration, and is slowly getting his life in order again. His truck is still in my driveway because it is not yet registered.

His life had taken quite a fall before he left, before he finally got the message that he had to leave. He was no longer in touch with his family (they sent him emails and he did not answer, they presumably tried to call but nobody answered or returned calls). He had no money. He no longer had his drivers license and his car and truck were both out of registration and there was a ticket for out-of-date registration on one. All of his worldly possessions were in his bedroom or in my storage building, because he also lost the storage building he was renting. Clearly he was in the kind of depression that is difficult to get out of for most of us. For him it was near-impossible because of a condition that appears to be something like Asperger's Syndrome. No initiative, no sense of how to do ordinary things, a mind that takes things very literally and that does not read others well.

It was because of all of these things that I let him stay as long as I did. It was also because of these things that I knew I had to get him out, for his sake as well as mine. The trick that finally did it was a note I scribbled hastily when I was on my way out the door on another trip. Whatever I said in that note finally got through to him. I tried to be kind but also tried to get through to him that his staying on was a stress for me as well as for him.

So now things are looking up. P comes over to change clothes in his truck every day or so and we have started weekly dinners. He comes over for dinner Saturday night. I use him as a guinea pig to sample recipes I am trying out and he has an obligation, a "date" every week, which I think is good for someone without much in the way of friends. He lets me know his progress, shares what he has discovered in his homeless state (it isn't as bad as he imagined, the shelter or the people in it) and I get the sense he's proud of his accomplishments so far.

I am relieved. More, I have my house back and I am loving it in the way a newlywed might love a first house, except it is all mine, all mine. I have converted P's room to a guest bedroom, complete with bookshelves, DVDs and a DVD player (portable), a luggage rack, and a guest book. I keep fiddling with it to make it more pleasant and complete. The bathroom across the hall is always clean and ready for guests (and for me when I need it) and I even took a bath in there recently.

I have hired a new housecleaner, a "green" cleaner, whom I like very much. She is a vegan and we can talk about a lot of interests in common while she shines away. She is detail-oriented, cleans things the last one did not, and I think this is a good match. She comes only once a month and I manage in between. Having her scheduled keeps me from panicking about the state of my house, and having P over once a week also helps me keep things tidy.

I played music yesterday afternoon, as loud as I wanted, and let it flow through the house. First I played the piano myself, then I played favorite CDs.

I am very fortunate. I have a nice small house with two bedrooms and an office and two bathrooms and a nice kitchen and dining room, all to myself. When my children visit they can have a private room to themselves. I am cooking more because nobody is hanging around asking about this or that and I can think. I watch whatever television I like, during the day sometimes.

There is no doubt I have made a major happiness leap.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stumbling on Happiness

A delightful book that defies easy categorization. Most of this book is devoted to answering questions about the future: how will we feel when we have attained a certain goal? when we have lost a loved one? when we have reached a certain age? How will we feel if we develop a severe permanent disability? All of these questions, centering on how we feel, are answered: not as good as we expect, not as bad as we expect.

All of it hinges on our imagination and memory and how they work. And it is a fascinating tale. Our brains operate not at all like a computer when it comes to imagining the future. Or remembering the past. We leave more and more out the farther we are away from either, and what we remember is not an even-handed report; our imagining of the future tends toward a fuzzy glow while our memories of the past focus on the last part of an experience.

This and much more is revealed in this little book. I place the book with others that take a different look at a subject: The Tipping Point, Blink, The Paradox of Choice. These are all little books, and they all take a look at how we see things differently than we thought we did. And how we act differently than we might think we would. If you are interested in the human mind these little guys provide a lot of bang for the buck, and it's so easy to get it.

Friday, January 4, 2008

When I was in the hospital about seven years ago, with an ulcer, I was not allowed to eat anything. When my little hole had started to heal and I could have some clear liquids I requested a vegetable broth. The nurse who brought me the broth said "Doesn't that smell awful?" I, on the other hand, thought it smelled and tasted wonderful.

I don't necessarily have that same perception of clear vegetable broth at other times. What made me happy then doesn't necessarily make me happy now. And what made me happy then would not have made that nurse happy then.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Saying "no more"

When I wrote here of knowing that I need to tell my non-rent-paying tenant to leave that this was the biggest step I could take toward my own vision of happiness. I knew that I had to stand up for my own needs and desires. I felt that until I took this step I couldn't keep on posting in this journal.

Over the past several weeks I have had visions of my house without any tenants or roommates, of having it all to myself. These visions remind me, of course, that I had gotten into "when X is taken care of I will be happy" mode. I have been here before. "When I lose weight I will be happy." "When I pay off my IRS debt I will be happy". I have learned that it isn't that simple, that happiness is not a state you attain and then stay there. Instead, I get a momentary rush and then the thrill fades.

Even so, some of these things are important and get in the way of finding peace. In my case, having a tenant who takes recyclables to a nearby center to pay for tobacco was a concern, but more than that having a tenant at all was weighing on me. I am by nature a loner. I get along with others but am not a social animal. It tires me. It drains me. The only reason I managed to accept a tenant for so long (other than my unwillingness to tell him to leave) was that he was not particularly social either! So we tend to go about our business separately and don't spend a lot of time together.

The upshot is that I knew I had to tell him goodby. I had to give him a date. Day after day passed and I resisted. I talked about it with friends. One understanding friend suggested that I make the date January 31, 2008, making it a full year that he has not paid rent, and telling him I am happy to be able to give him the gift of that rent. That sounded like a good plan and a generous one, yet I still held off saying anything.

Until yesterday. I put together a holiday card with some cash and a pizza gift card and told him I had good news and bad news. I handed him the card, said I thought it would be useful, an early Christmas present, and then I said I need my house back and I would like him to be out by January 31. He was taken aback and stumbled a bit but recovered gracefully. He said that was more than fair but that it might take him a little longer to be able to get out. I mumbled a bit about some flexibility (am I in for it here?) because I realize he has to 1) get a job, 2) get paid, and 3) have enough to pay first month's rent plus a security deposit, not a small amount in these parts even when just renting a room in a house.

I didn't feel a great sense of relief, frankly. I didn't feel a weight lift off me. Will that happen when he actually moves out? I doubt it. Right now I am feeling like I'm some kind of heel for doing this, even while I believe I did it in the gentlest way possible. I mean, I actually said "It's not you, it's me". I said that. And it's true, for the most part. It is hard for me to imagine being able to live with a tenant, any tenant, for long before I am not liking it. The exceptions are people I love. If one of those people moved in it would mostly be a pleasure for me.

I feel that I can now continue writing here! I have done what I needed to do. The followup will be tough, probably, but the bricks have been laid. I have done something I needed to do. By itself it won't make me happy. But it's one of those steps I had to take.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stumbling on Happiness

I just discovered that I have Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert) on my bookshelf. I know I bought it recently but do not remember from where or why. Nevertheless, it looks like a good one. I will read it and report on it here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We are in this together!

The creator of Joesgoals recently posted about how his cute little goal tracker is being used. The top ten goals:

Goal Users Checks
Exercise 3973 48112
Drink Water 529 17584
Eat Out 1201 14391 (negative goal)
Brush Teeth 357 11814
Meditate 661 11026
Take Vitamins 367 10204
Floss 514 9502
Read 489 8573
Workout 637 7935
Eat Breakfast 401 7373

I didn't keep the formatting but you can get the idea. So many of us are striving for the same goals! It just warms my little heart. I have a few of those on my list: exercise, drink water. I don't need any goal for "reading" because if anything I read too much. And I'm good on the teeth brushing and taking vitamins. I can celebrate the fact that I have actually made habits of some good things.