Saturday, March 26, 2005

Learning the Pursuit of Happiness

The title of this post popped into my head as a possible unifying concept for my thesis. Each of the key words is loaded with meaning, and the intersection between them is where my interests lie. Some preliminary questions I need answers to:

  • How are kids currently learning about which possibilities for their future are likely to make them happy?
  • Is this learning effectively helping them make good decisions? Do they have the information and skills?
  • How might these skills and information be learned better? Technology, social software, planning portfolios, mentoring, overhauling career development and guidance programs, etc?
  • How could a more holistic focus on lifestylism (or entire future lifestyles, as opposed to just family or career goals in isolation) help us make better decisions?
  • How would rich visualization, simulation and reflection help kids understand the implications and interdependencies of their future choices?
  • What differences exist in how kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds learn about their future options (career, education, lifestyle)?

  • How are young people currently setting goals or directions for their futures? What are the ecological and social consequences of an entire generation of people pursuing those goals? Are they sustainable goals for individuals and society?
  • Are the goals or directions generally meaningful, realistic, and aligned with their personal values? Are they pursuing what they actually care about? Do they know how to identify and take the best steps to achieving those goals?
  • How could the process of helping kids set and achieve lifestyle goals be improved so that they'd have better tools and motivation to succeed by their own measures of success?
  • How does fear motivate and paralyze young people when they think about their future options?
  • How much of the goals and dreams of young people are borrowed or absorbed from society and the American Dream as opposed to being authentic and personal?
  • Do young people believe that they can create their own futures, or that they must choose from existing options? How much desire is there to create future ways of living that are more satisfying and sustainable?
  • How are differences in socioeconomic status manifested in the types of lifestyles kids pursue? How could those differences be minimized? Is class mobility a myth?

  • How likely are the most common or popular goals to make young people happy, both in the process of pursuing them and in their attainment? How happy is the American Dream making adults right now?
  • How might lifestylism as an orientation or approach to the future help us better enjoy the journey and the destination?
  • How could people better understand the connections between their personal happiness and the collective or common good of their communities and planet?
  • How do kids define and pursue happiness in the present? What needs and wants do they believe will make them happy in their futures?
  • What do young people believe about the relationships between work and happiness? Is work mostly viewed as the means for generating income to fuel consumption (which should equal happiness)? How well is this model working now? What should replace it if it's not making most people happy?
As I said in a previous post about my thesis topic, it's not a problem of not being interested in enough things -- it's a matter of organizing these questions into some kind of coherent approach or conceptual model. I'm glad I took a few months off from my program to ponder some of this stuff, because I feel like I'm at least identifying the questions I care about. The comments to my last thesis post were extremely helpful, even the abusive ones. Please feel free to comment on the questions I've included here -- even though I'm mostly just thinking out loud, it's great to have others bounce off of them as well. Which ones are most interesting to you (they're all interesting to me)? Which might be combined or expanded to yield the most interesting explorations?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mac Truck

Jory has been reflecting on the tension between forging ahead on work vs stepping back to consider at the bigger picture:
"There have been times when all I've done is overdo, push to an unhealthy limit, make things that were perfect imperfect because I was bored, or afraid of sinking. I took a project management class once, thinking it would enhance my skills of making things happen. At the time I was very successful knocking off the tasks on my to-do list, and on everyone else's, but the big-picture projects, the ones that were truly revolutionary, didn't ever come to fruition. A few weeks into the course I was given a pet name, Mac Truck, to describe my management style; I don't think it was a good thing."
I suspect she's being too hard on herself, and it sounds like she might be getting a bit tired of all this reflection...but thank goodness for the rest of us that she's writing this stuff.


My beautiful and brainy wife doesn't post very often, but I'm always glad when she does. Her recent post about permaculture is sticking in my brain this week. She found some excellent points about approaches to life that promote permaculture that tie directly into lifestylism, at least as I'm seeing it now...especially these:
  • Evoke whole system sensitivity: pay attention to whole cycles, not reduce everything to parts
  • Model ecologically-appropriate lifestyles for others to learn and mimic
  • Most importantly--have fun: life is too short for boredom, burn-out, tedium, and the like -- be sure to enjoy all of what you learn and do -- a healthy mind, body, and spirit (and relationships) can then be enjoyed as well. Help to design and grow healthy organizations, communities, and institutions accordingly.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I'm not sure how exactly this relates to Lifestylism, but I wanted to save Pat Kane's post about Creative Crass for the initial argument, later comments, and a few excellent interviews about counterculture.

Talking About Work

Esther's got a great new job and is thinking about how we talk about work:
"Before, I wanted to escape the discussion about work because I was unhappy about my work. In fact, isn't it true that when you ask another person about what it is that they do, then they ask you the same question? Before, that very question would get my mind rolling around about something that I would be happier to forget because my next day was bound to be frustrating and, over time it was becoming less and less a reflection of me."
Doug was just over at my desk and we were talking about how we've both stopped asking people "what do you do?" at parties. He now asks, "what do you like to do?" and I've been using "what do you do for fun?"...after a moment of confusion because of the subtle difference, people's faces light up as they realize that you've just asked them a much more interesting question.

Here and There

Doug wrote a fabulous post this week about the darker side of our dreams and aspirations. I'm fascinated by this tension between optimizing our current lifestyles and projecting ourselves into other possible futures. The process drives growth, but can also lead to a sense of restlessness or general dissatisfaction with our lives that precludes our enjoyment of the present. A quote from Doug's piece:
"In truth, there is no 'there'. We will not find happiness, fulfillment, and/or some sense of inner peace somewhere else. Those things are more likely discovered 'here', as we make present-day life more fabulous, or pursue today those things we dream of tomorrow. The answers people seek are most often discovered inside than out, more often realized in present-day experience than in some future place."

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Blue Collar to White Collar Limbo

Betzi e-mailed me an excerpt from a book about social mobility that looks to be worth reading. This topic fascinates me -- it bundles up aspirations, abilities, beliefs about the value of education, socioeconomic factors and the American Dream itself:
"After bricklaying for 30 years, my father promised himself I’d never pile bricks and blocks into walls for a living. He and my mother figured that an education—genie-like and benevolent—would somehow rocket me into the rarefied trajectory of the upwardly mobile and load some serious loot into my pockets. My desire to work at something interesting to me rather than merely profitable was hard to fathom. Here I was breaking blue-collar rule number one: Make as much money as you can, to pay for as good a life as you can get. My father would try to teach me what my goals should be when I was 19, my collar already fading to white. I was the college boy who handed him the wrong wrench on help-around-thehouse Saturdays."
She also sent along an NPR radio interview with the author, including calls from listeners -- thanks, Betzi.

Paradox of Choice

Are too many choices a bad thing? In an another excellent post about options, Jory pulls out a few choice quotes from The Paradox of Choice:
"When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable .... But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize."