Games of August II: Authentic Happiness

vitruvian_man-001I love taking surveys, personality tests and opinion polls. So when I discovered the website for authentic happiness, www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, I felt happy even before I dove into the site’s multiple questionnaires. There are nineteen in all, divided into categories that measure my emotions, engagement, life satisfaction, flourishing and meaning. The questionnaires measure how happy I am, and my results become part of the growing data base that informs University of Pennsylvania’s emerging work in Positive Psychology. So while I am measuring my own happiness, I am doing good, which made me happier. I anticipated scores rocketing off the charts.

Completing nineteen questionnaires in one sitting would be like gorging an entire chocolate cake or spooning a half gallon of ice cream straight from the carton – too much of a good thing. So I limited myself to the first category: Emotions. I inventoried my authentic happiness, determined my general happiness scale, and delved into academic sounding stuff like PANAS (positive and negative affect), CES-D (depression symptoms), and Fordyce Emotions (current happiness). My emotions verged on giddy at the prospect of such fun questionnaires.

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So, how did I do? Is my happiness euphoric?

The results of the questionnaires landed me in a more realistic place: happy enough but hardly dizzy. I am overall 3.5 out of 5 happy, 7 out of 10 happy in the moment, 5 out of 7 over the long haul, with a 76% positive affect and 22% disposition toward depression. Turning happiness into hard data deflated me, but outlined a fair presentation of a generally happy person who grapples with depression for statically significant, though not overwhelming, periods of time.

What’s interesting is how I stack up against other people. Isn’t that the dirt we all want to know? Authentic Happiness reported my results in comparison to others my age, gender, and profession. Although I may be happy enough, I’m not so happy when compared with my peers. I tip the 50th percentile happy compared to other men and middle-aged people, but am less happy than the average retired person. It’s nice to know that people get happier when they retire. Since I am new at it, maybe the longer I’m retired the happier I will become. One must always strive.

The website also compared me with other computer users. Perhaps this is because I took the tests online. I scored much happier than most computer users. I don’t know how the correlation works. Does being on the computer makes people less happy or do less happy people spend more time on the computer? Either way, the takeaway of this game for me is: the key to happiness lies in being retired without spending too much time online.

Take the test yourself and see if you are as happy as you seem.

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300 Breaths

awkward_pose_3-001Hot Power Fusion (HPF) is the CorePower Yoga version of the Bikram series. The class contains the same 26 postures, though holds most only once whereas Bikram repeats. Instead, HPF adds a few sun salutations, flows, a balance inversion, and core work. It maintains 104-degree heat and 40% humidity, though it never feels as hot to me as Bikram does. Still, it is potent yoga.

Bikram begins with a long series of pranyama breathing, which HPF omits. Pranyama is a great warm-up that stills and controls my breath, so I do it before class begins. The objective is to create even six-second inhales and even six-second exhales that establish a regular breathing pattern to continue throughout class.

imagesFor me, the entire HPF sequence is one long flow with measured breath. A complete class of pranyama-paced breath includes 300 cycles of six-second inhale and exhales. I never achieve that. At some point in every class I lose my focus and my breath quickens, or I breathe faster to support my exertion. Oftentimes moments pass before I realize that my breath has strayed and I have to refocus my energy to align breath and movement again.

The HPF teachers can facilitate this seamless breath, but not all of them tech the class as one continuous flow. Some consider each pose or series distinct and take too-long breaks between them to maintain the balance of breath and movement. I am learning to simply continue at my own pace, sometimes moving ahead of their direction, other times lagging. Since I don’t want to disrupt students who follow the teacher more literally, I have taken to practicing in a corner of the hot room, which also helps my focus.

Perhaps the day will come when I complete a class in 300 even breath cycles. When that time comes, new ways of focusing my yoga will emerge to spur my practice. The journey of breath will not end with 300 perfectly executed cycles. It continues until all breath stops.

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Games of August – Measure Your Brow

vitruvian_man-001August is hot and humid and not conducive to deep thought. Any thought, really. So, I’ve decided to find some simple games to play and share. Maybe they will shed some light on our place in the world. Probably not.

The first game, Measure Your Brow, is inspired by the August 3, 2014 NY Times Article, “The Squeeze on the Middlebrow”. The article features Russell Lyons famous chart of 1949 that defines four intellectual classifications of Americans (high-brow, upper middle-brow, lower middle-brow, and low-brow) and describes them in terms of their creature comforts.

imgresAs a person born to the lower middle class who’s enjoyed many advantages and been tagged an intellectual by people who make me squirm, I wondered how Mr. Russell’s classifications applied to me. Here is how I fared:

 

ClothesHigh-brow. Eggheads don’t care about clothes and I only buy new when friends pick at my tatters in public.

FurnitureLow-brow. Half of the furnishings in my house came from the curb.

Useful Objects – Lower Middle-brow. My housemate and I don’t have his and her towels, but we are strict about having a matching set on designated racks.

EntertainmentUpper Middle-Brow. My love of theater transcends classification. I try to keep drama at proscenium distance.

SaladsLow-brow. Cole Slaw is my ultimate salad. But is it still low-brow if I replace the mayo with vinaigrette and enliven the cabbage with broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, and sliced cherries?

DrinksLow-brow. Beer. No other alcohol passes my lips.

ReadingUpper Middle-Brow. This is a no brainer. My main source of information is the NY Times. You can’t get any more Upper Middle-Brow than that.

SculptureN/A. I fall off the chart here. I have no sculpture. I want no sculpture. I am happy to relegate sculpture to public parks and museums.

RecordsLower Middle-Brow. I’ve been painting my bedroom this week and listened to Ragtime, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, and Les Miserables in rotation.

GamesLower- Middle-Brow. Bridge is my nearest match. But my real passion is Risk. Where is the category for Angry-Brow?

CausesUpper-Middle-Brow. Pleas for social justice flap open my wallet.

UntitledMy results? Three each for Low-Brow, Lower Middle-brow and Upper Middle-brow. Only one High-brow, and for a slacker reason. Proof positive that a person can go to fancy colleges and claim a prize corner in scholarly Cambridge but never escape his roots. I simply like eating slaw and drinking beer at the table I hauled off the curb too much to raise my cultural classification.

How prominent is your forehead in this game?

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Our Due – Attitude Makes all the Difference

vitruvian_man-001One of my tenants moved out. He gave notice in June and had paid rent through the end of July. I told him that if I rented the place before the end of the month I would refund him whatever partial month rent the new tenant paid. I did and sent him a check. He replied by email asking about the interest on his last month’s rent.

I’ve been a landlord of over thirty years and get legal guidance from a reputable source. I’ve never paid interest on last months rent, only on security deposits. When I explained this to the former tenant he sent me an email laced with legalese, quoting state law line and verse and the threat of filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. It took me some time for the sting to subside from my neighbor of four years. We always had good relations and he’d been to my house socially. Did he think I was trying to stiff him $160?

I slept on the matter to cool my head and found out the next day that the law had changed. I was responsible to pay interest on last month’s rent paid in advance. I sent a check to my departed tenant, glad that he was gone. Then I figured what I owed my other two tenants in last month’s rent interest, sent them an email explaining the new requirement, and quantifying how much they could deduct from their next rent check.

One couple got a $180 credit. They sent me a thank you email with an exclamation point for their unexpected gain.

I owed my longest-term tenant over $600. He sent me a reduced rent check and an unexpected note. “I know that the law stipulates this, but it really feels like a great gift. How about if you provided me the name of a favorite charity of yours and I will donate an amount to it? I’ll also donate an amount to my favorite charity – just as an act of appreciation.”

The note made me realize that, although we many not be able to control the events of our lives, we have the power to control how we respond to them. I felt sorry for my departed tenant, who cast a shadow over years of good feeling by being confrontational. Yet so glad for my remaining tenant, who chose to view his right as a gift he could share with others.

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Extreme Sports

0009997_Haiti_Diagram_Paul_Fallon_101103Last weekend I bicycled 200 miles as part of the Courage Classic, a fund raising event for the Colorado Children’s Hospital. It was my fourth year participating in the three-day ride that traverses four major passes, crosses the Continental Divide, and includes over two miles of vertical climb. Riding the Courage Classic makes me feel fit. But as feats of strength and endurance go these days, 200 miles through the Rocky Mountains on paved trails with aid stations every 12 miles is, well, for charity cases.

At one aid station I met a volunteer who was insanely jacked. His arms were as big as my legs; his legs were thunderous. “Why do you volunteer instead of riding?” This guy could ace the course. “Volunteering is a good way for me to help at this gig.” His answer was over-polite.

The next day I ran into him again. He mentioned doing a 100-mile off-road mountain bike ride after his shift. The subtext of his story was clear – he went too far and too fast to bother with the middle-aged dawdlers who ride the Courage Classic.

There are a few hot dogs in the Courage Classic. They start each day at 6 a. m. and finish just after 9 a.m., when some of us are just shipping out of the first rest stop. They are the ones who wear the Double Triple Bypass jerseys (240 miles in two days with 20,000 elevation climb). They never drop to their lowest gear and descend, brake-free, in excess of fifty miles per hour. I ride with the same steadiness I exercise in life. I average about 10 miles per hour, inclusive of breaks and lunch, which through mountains means 6 mph up and no more than 25 mph down.

But just as the Double Triple guys keep me from swelling my head, bigger guns of extreme fitness eclipse them. Iron Men leave marathoners in the dust. Riding on pavement, running on tracks, and swimming in pools is eclipsed by grueling off-road run/bike/swims where the athletes carry all their gear with them the entire way, (NY Times: It’s Entirely Natural: Off Road Races Grow).

What propels this desire to push ourselves in ever more demanding ways? Articles point out our need to counteract sedentary lives, connect with nature, and exorcise primal drives to run from danger and swim to safety. No doubt that’s all true.

I believe there is another motivator in the ceaseless quest to go further, higher, faster: the desire to set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. We want to do something that puts us in a group of 700 rather than seven billion, or 7 rather than 700, or ultimately, to do something so unique we are the only one. Being in an extreme race makes us part of an elite group, a natural human aspiration. Winning the extreme race makes us special within that group, fulfilling the ultimate human goal of both belonging and triumphing. Trouble is, what it takes to be set apart keeps getting more and more difficult. The races get more extreme; the winning times get faster. We compete against every other individual on the planet as well as the personal bests of everyone who ever competed. What it takes to be number one grows harder every day.

The Courage Classic has no winners; the ribbon I get for finishing about 3 p.m. is the same one as the guys who finish at 9 a.m. I will never compete in an Iron Man or any off-road madness; simply reading about them exhausts me. I will never be the best at any one thing in life. But I am good enough to be content with my lot, and grateful I have the strength and endurance to cycle over the Rocky Mountains at my own pokey pace.

After all, what’s the rush? The landscape is breathtaking.

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Stop by a brook.

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Smell the flowers.

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Enjoy the vista.

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My Handyman

vitruvian_man-001My handyman is coming over tomorrow to check out some rickety windows.  I won’t tell you his name because if you knew it, you would call him to be your handyman.  He hates getting phone calls, and I want to keep first dibs on him.

My handyman does (many of) those little things that are too small for a real contractor.  He reinstalled my deck lights when their wooden bases rotted out.  He fixed a minor dormer leak that persisted after $3000 in roof repairs.  He replaced the crank on a persnickety awning window in my tenant’s bathroom. Replacing the crank required at least three visits plus a special order for an out-of-manufacture part.  The total job took three weeks to complete. His bill was $140.

My handyman is a middle-aged guy who fiddles for fun.  He’s lived in Cambridge forever and remembers the days when we actually made stuff like soap and candy in this city and didn’t just sit around thinking all day. He owns couple of houses that he keeps in shape and works on other folks’ places when the mood suits.

imgresMy handyman has an unpredictable attitude. He turns away every friend I refer to him and often decides my own need is unworthy.  We have a cup of coffee and he explains that I can rewire the light switch and replace the dimmer in my den myself.  He’s right, of course; I can replace them myself.  I only wanted him to do it to free my time for other things – like thinking.  He suffers no patience with such nonsense.  My handyman is a stern teacher. If I can do something myself, I should.  If I can’t, he might.  If he doesn’t want to, I’m stuck and have to search elsewhere.

I always start with him because when he takes on a job he is does it very well, though he’s amusing even when he refuses. I hope my handyman will take on my window repairs. Their condition seems beyond me. But if he refuses, well have a good chat and he’ll give me enough pointers for me to tackle the job.  Or not.

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The True Test of Being Passé – Launching my Middle-initialed Website

vitruvian_man-001No one would call me trendy.  Anti-trendy overstates my level of trend awareness. Trend-ignorant is more like it.  All I know is that for the past fifty plus years, when I begin to favor a restaurant, it’s on its way out; if I like a dance club, its doors are soon to close, and by the time I’ve seen a movie, the rest of the world has already videotaped the sequel. Videotape?  See what I mean.

So with great, irrelevant, fanfare, I am launching a website.  I know, I know, the world has moved on.  There’s Pinterest and Tumblr and Instagram and more obscure, infinitely trendy modes of communication. But I’m branching out with something that complements my grey hair and aging Toyota – an old fashioned website.

imgresEven worse, my site has an archaic name: www.paulefallon.com.  The day before NY Times writer Bruce Feiler officially pronounced the middle initial dead, I bought a domain that inserted the oddball letter ‘e’ into my moniker.

 

imagesI have a rationale for the middle initial; the world has many Paul Fallon’s but I seem to own the Paul E. Fallon market.  A few years ago I started inserting the ‘E’ everywhere, so it makes sense it is now passé. I could have used my entire middle name – Eric. But let’s face it; an Irish guy named Eric is nothing more than the lifelong burden tacked on a baby by an exhausted woman who had too many children too close together. The simple ‘E’ might induce someone to think my middle name is Eamon or Emmet, which are respectively Irish enough.

So, if you want to expose yourself to last century’s cutting edge technology, visit www.paulefallon.com.  It’s simple: a few pull-downs; some links; tidbits about my upcoming book; my yoga teaching; my projects in Haiti.  Nothing flashy. Nothing trendy.  Just me.

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