A Good Life

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

(Born April 30, 1945)

Seeking the Best is a Trap

We have this sense that there is an objective best, and in virtually no area of life is that true. It’s not even that, “Well, there’s the best for me, and then there’s the best for you.” It isn’t even clear that there is a best for me. There’s a whole set of things that are probably more or less equivalent.

If you have this mindset that says, “I have to get the best,” it’s so hard to figure out what that is that you end up looking in panic around you at what other people are choosing as a way to help you figure out what is the best. I think it’s partly because they are struggling to define the best, and they can’t do it on their own, so they’re madly checking out other people’s decisions as a way of figuring out what really is the best. It’s extremely destructive.  

Barry Schwartz quoted in Vox

Our Kids are Watching Us

I do a lot of surveys with people between the ages of 20 and 40, and I ask them to describe who they are now and to reflect on their childhood. Now, we have to be very clear that this is a very imperfect method of getting data about people’s childhoods, because there are all kinds of memory biases. But one of the most consistent findings is the association between the person’s current level of materialism and how they perceived their parents using things when they were growing up.

So in other words, parents who act in ways that value things, parents who make a lot of sacrifices to get a lot of things, parents who get a lot of joy from buying things, parents who talk a lot about things—they tend to have adult children who act the same way. Now, part of this is probably some bias as people recall their childhoods, but I don’t think that’s all of it. The helpful thing for parents here—and also the harmful—is yes, peers are really important, but our kids are watching us. Our kids are learning from us. A lot of what kids take to be normal comes from what they see us doing. Kids are going to learn what their relationship with products should be by looking at our relationship with products.  

Marsha Richin quoted in The Atlantic

How to create materialistic children

Children who recall that their parents just bought them stuff when they wanted it, or who paid them money or bought them things when they got good grades, there’s a very consistent association that when these things happen in childhood, when that person is an adult, they’re more likely to be materialistic.

And I’m looking now at what parents do when their kid’s unhappy, or upset, or they have a big disappointment—how do parents deal with that? And my preliminary evidence suggests that it’s something that’s learned in childhood. The parents might say, “Oh, you didn’t make it on to the team—let’s go out and have something to eat,” or, “Let’s go out and get you a new video game—that’ll take your mind off it.” Well, if the parents do that with their kids, we find that as adults, people are more likely to deal with distress in the same way, by giving themselves a little gift.

I never thought it was a good idea to reward children tangibly for the things that they do, because I don’t think life works that way—there are a lot of things you have to do and you don’t get any reward for them. 

Marsha Richin quoted in The Atlantic