Answering the age-old question

May 30, 2012 – While driving through a not so terrific neighborhood on Monday, we came upon a Target store and made a quick pit stop. Exiting parking lot after we got what we needed, my shopping companion asked me if I thought money could buy happiness, because as he pointed out, there were a lot of miserable-looking people in the store that day.

Of course, he was assuming that these particular shoppers didn’t have much money because of the neighborhood, but that isn’t always the case, and the heat and humidity were pretty severe that day, which can put anyone in a less than stellar mood.

Still, the question provided for a few interesting theories that kept us occupied for the next several miles. We came to the conclusion that money probably won’t lead to happiness, especially if you are unhappy to begin with, but having enough to meet your monthly bills with a little to spare – and not just living paycheck to paycheck – certainly makes life less stressful, which probably make you happier.

This topic has been well-debated and researched, so there’s certainly nothing earth shattering in our conclusion. But here are a few interesting facts you may not have known: Research from a 2006 national happiness survey found that if you compare two people with the same income, the one living in a richer area than the other reports being less happy. Apparently, keeping up with the Joneses is more difficult than it looks.

And while money doesn’t necessarily buy happiness, being happy can often lead to more money. That same study found people who considered themselves happy earn higher incomes than those who are unhappy. Feeling happy tends to make one more productive, which often leads to promotions and higher paychecks.

The study also suggested that the people of Denmark are among the happiest people on earth. They also pay the highest tax rate in the world, up to 72 percent of their incomes, which could mean the actually have less money than many other world citizens, which really throws a wrench in the money/happiness theory.

So, if money isn’t what matters, what makes us happy? The simple answer is good health and people (family and friends), both of which rank much higher on the happiness scale than money, and cannot be bought.

According to world-renowned mind-body healing pioneer Deepak Chopra, happiness boils down to a formula: Happiness = how you look at a situation + conditions of living + voluntary choices.

How you look at a situation depends on whether you are a glass half full or empty kind of person, which is typically established, according to Dr. Chopra, by the time you are three. Money, of course, comes into play with the conditions of living, but Dr. Chopra insists that the only money that will make you happy is the amount that will grant you just the basic needs in life, such as shelter and food.

So, there is an answer to this age-old question, after all. While money in excess may not exactly make us happier per se, a livable amount is necessary to give us the foundation for happiness.

The big 5-0-0

May 28, 2012 – Aside from honoring the service men and women who protect our way of life here in the United States, Memorial Day weekend has always been synonymous two other big events: the unofficial start of summer and the Indy 500.

It’s not my thing to watch fast cars drive around in a circle for 500 miles, but it certainly holds wide appeal to many people across the country. And I’ve never seen the movie “500 Days of Summer” but perhaps I’ll put it on my list just because it may be relevant.

You see, this year Memorial Day will be remembered for another special 500, at least in my small world. Today marks my 500th post, a milestone I’d never thought I’d reach when I started this blog 19 months ago, yet it seemed to arrive much quicker than I expected.

Life is like that sometimes.

I’ve adored the amusing and sometimes-chaotic journey to number 500, and I hope I’ve improved, informed and entertained a little on the way.

To those of you who read my trivial piece of the World Wide Web, thank you for your support. You’ve made me legitimate and given me what every writer desires … an audience. I hope you continue along with me to number 1,000 and beyond.

Happy Memorial Day!

Just words

May 25, 2012 – I’m about to reveal a big secret.

I am a writer who is terrible at crossword puzzles.

I love playing Scrabble, which is sort of like crosswords if you use your imagination, and I can do cryptograms with the greatest of ease, but when it comes to vocabulary and those five-dollar words often associated with crosswords, I panic. Then I appease myself with the fact that I was taught to write clearly and simply, on a level that everyone can understand.

Of course, you could argue that a writer with a limited vocabulary is like a painter who is colorblind. But I’m not that limited, and I’d rather you didn’t.

When I read “11 word games writers love” I wondered if the author considered writers who are crossword challenged. Even though she refers to the relationship between the writer and crossword puzzles as iconic, we must exist. Surely I can’t be the only one. I’ll give her a pass this time because she compiled a nice list of games aside from crosswords that will please even the mightiest of literary snobs.

And I’ll add a few suggestions of my own:

If you’re mad about cryptograms, you can play to your heart’s content at www.cryptograms.org, and if you’re crossword challenged, try Strike A Match, the classic word matching game that requires only basic vocabulary skills over at www.boxerjam.com.

Television review: Did “Mad Men” miss the mark this season?

May 23, 2012 – Ready for the season finale of “Mad Men”?

It’s closer than I thought. I gasped when the AMC announcer shared the news Sunday night that there are only three episodes left this season.

Season five seemed to pass quicker than previous seasons, perhaps because we anticipated its arrival for more than a year, and feel like I’m still waiting for it to begin. I can’t argue that the show declined this year — the writing and acting continue to be top-notch – but it has been my least favorite season by far. To be fair, there are three episodes left that may knock my socks off, but aside from the episode that had Roger Sterling tripping on LSD, this season has been a bit of a yawn.

All storylines are heavily wrapped in the mid 1960’s, when the times they were a changin’, and as much as I am fascinated by this part of our history I don’t think it’s playing out well for the characters. Dare I say there are times when they almost seem cliché?

Take Sunday night, for example. It’s been a long time since we’ve caught up with former ad executive Paul Kinsey. When we do, we discover he has a shaved head and is following Hare Krishna. That’s might not seem too far-fetched considering the times, but I have a hard time buying it. Besides, the beatnik friends of the graphic artist who was one of Don’s earliest conquests were much more interesting than a bunch of people in robes chanting, “Jai Sri Krishna” for two minutes. It seems the creative team is tying too hard to get their point across that this is the wild 1960s. We get it, we really do.

When the series started, the era played wonderfully to the storyline. It usually made me laugh because so many things were inappropriate in the early 1960s, at least by today’s standards. But those subtle references, as important as they seemed, were perfectly content in the background, and not thrown boldly in your face like they are now. Visually, it used to be beautiful. Now it looks like something straight from “The Brady Bunch.”

Sure, the hippie generation has taken over, but the costumes and sets seem almost too cartoonish. Factual or not, it’s overkill. They have me wishing for the softer, darkly lit home that once belonged to Don and Betty instead of the mod, funky Manhattan pad that belongs to Don and Megan. And this isn’t a statement about which wife is better suited to Don; it’s about what set is better suited to him.

This entire season is playing out like a set-up to show how America is changing and how insignificant Don Draper is becoming. OK, we get that too. He’s getting older and he’s “out of touch” with the changing times. He’s working less and enjoying it less now that wife number two has quit the agency to return to acting. I only hope this season is taking us somewhere, and it will soon make sense. Maybe I just need a little more patience, but I can’t help but think I used to feel like I was watching people’s lives unfold, and now I’m aware that I’m watching a television show.

I don’t want to be too negative because I still consider “Mad Men” must see TV. Perhaps that’s the reality because there were many who didn’t fare the 1960s well, just like these characters. My father always says that the 1960’s were the beginning of the end for this country. Who knows, we could be destined to hear that same philosophy from Don Draper; they’d be about the same age. One thing is certain, those pesky mid 1960s have definitely taken some of the fun out of “Mad Men”.

Still, with only three episodes left, I’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Today, do one thing for diversity and inclusion

May 21, 2012 – Did you know that three-quarters of the world’s major conflicts are related to cultural differences?

Following the September 11th attacks, the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity was adopted by the United Nations to promote international collaboration through education, science, and culture with respect to human rights and the fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter.

In honor of cultural diversity, today and each year on May 21 we celebrate the addition to the charter by joining the worldwide campaign to “do one thing for diversity and inclusion”.

Every one of us can join in the cause, as even one small thing can become a global action if we all take part in it. For example, you can:

1. Visit an exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures.
2. Invite family or friends from another culture to share a meal and discuss the various holidays and celebrations embraced by that culture.
3. Listen to music, rent a movie, or read a book from another country or religion other than your own.
4. Read about the great philosophers of other countries, such as Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, etc.
5. Attend a place of worship different from your own next weekend and participate in the celebration.

These are just a few ideas, but you can see how easy it is to show your support. I plan to visit the National Museum of Jewish History at lunch, which is only two blocks from my office.

Happy World Diversity Day!

The sounds of the season

May 18, 2012 – Once the temperature begins to rise, it’s a sure sign that the sounds of the Mister Softee jingle will be coming soon in a neighborhood near you.

You hear the familiar jingle in the distance at first, causing your heart to beat a faster as it gets closer and a little louder. You can’t help but smile because, aside from the crack of a baseball bat, it’s one of the sweetest sounds of summer.

That simple jingle summons heartwarming childhood memories for many of us, and those fond memories are the very reason I don’t know whether to applaud the ice cream truck driver in my neighborhood for thinking outside the box, or wonder what the heck he is thinking.

My local driver rolls through the streets slowly, calling to children with such classics as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World”. Those cherished holiday hits seem mighty odd as they filter through window screens when the temperature reaches 80 degrees.

Instead of the Mister Softee or Good Humor truck that I’m used to, the driver operates a vehicle that looks like the Mr. Whippy truck from the Beatles’ movie “Help” complete with the turban and everything. Not that I mind how he dresses, but his choices suggest that perhaps he is new to the U.S. He may not realize that although he’s playing seasonal tunes, it’s the wrong season.

Maybe I’m the last to be let in on the joke. The church around the corner, whose bells I often enjoy as they peal through the air at dusk, decided to think a little outside of the box as well and treated the neighborhood to a lovely version of the song “Tea for Two”. Not exactly what you expect to hear from church bells, but entertaining just the same.

Who knew my tiny hamlet of Fox Chase, a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia, has such a sense a humor?

When stars align, and the message is clear you have to accept the challenge

May 16, 2012 – When I was a kid, I remember attending one particular Phillies game on a Saturday night in June.

It was June 22, 1974 to be exact, and the reason I remember it so vividly is because I was sitting in right field along the foul line, Phillies right fielder Mike Anderson was wearing #22, and I had just read in the Phillies Yearbook that it was his birthday.

Those three factors, along with the gorgeous weather made my child brain believe it was a sign of an absolutely perfect moment, and from that moment on June 22 became my favorite day. Funny how I don’t remember if the Phillies won or lost that night, or who they were playing, but a quick Google provided that information easily; the Phillies beat the New York Mets 5-2, which makes it even better.

Flash forward to present day. While I can’t say that June 22 remained special for me over the years, I still think about my childhood perfect day now and then and it makes me smile.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw a commercial for the new Disney Pixar movie “Brave”. The tag line jumped out at me in big bright gold letters: “If you could change your fate, would you – June 22”.

The adult side of me knows very well that June 22 is simply the day “Brave” hits theaters, and it’s a clever way to market the film. But the kid inside of me jumped for joy again. Could the universe be sending me another message? Perhaps I should have stood my ground and celebrated each June 22nd. Instead, like many childhood thrills, I let it go like it didn’t matter anymore.

Now June 22 is tempting me to change my fate, and I’d be crazy not to accept the challenge. I’m overdue anyway, so game on, Universe.

Oh, where to begin? There’s so much I want to work on.

I suppose I have until June 22 to decide.