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I am about half way through this really amazing book called Stumbling on Happiness which discusses how the human brain predicts the future and more specifically how terrible a job it does causing us to wrongly predict what will make our future selves happy. The book discusses perception, imagination, and memory in a very engaging way using psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and several other disciplines. Half way through I’ve already learned a lot of new things about the mind. Below is a quote I came across while reading this afternoon and wanted to share. It clearly illustrates one of the most interesting things I’ve learned from this book (so far).

To give you some context, the paragraphs leading up to this example discuss how people are really bad at predicting their own emotional responses because when predicting the future its difficult to consider and factor in those things we don’t consider. Meaning, there are always factors we fail to consider when predicting/imagining future responses and these ignored factors are those which will fundamentally impact our future emotional response.

[M]ost Americans can be classified as one of two types: those who live in California and are happy they do, and those who don’t live in California but believe they’d be happy if they did. Yet, research shows that Californians are actually no happier than anyone else – so why does everyone (including Californians) seem to believe they are? California has some of the most beautiful scenery and some of the best weather in the continental United States, and when non – Californians hear that magic word their imaginations instantly produce mental images of sunny beaches and giant redwood trees. But while Los Angeles has a better climate than Columbus, climate is just one of many things that determine a person’s happiness – and yet all those other things are missing from the mental image. If we were to add some of these missing details to our mental images of beaches and palm trees – say traffic, supermarkets, airports, sports teams, cable rates, housing costs, earthquakes, landslides, and so on – then we might recognize that L.A. beats Columbus in some ways (better weather) and Columbus beats L.A. in others (less traffic). We think that Californians are happier than Ohioans because we imagine California with so few details – and we make no allowance for the fact that the details we are failing to imagine could drastically alter the conclusions we draw.

What I had yet to learn, though, is that things are seldom as neat and tidy as that starry – eyed anecdote you share documentary style on a couch. What I figured out over time is that almost always, when you hear those stories from married couples, there is a little poetic license going on, a romantic spin, polished to a high shine over time. And unless you marry your high school sweetheart (and even sometimes then), there is usually a not-so-glorious back story. There are people and places and events that lead you to your final relationship, people and places and events you’d prefer to forget or at least gloss over. In the end, you can slap a pretty label on it – like serendipity or fate. Or you can believe that it’s jus the random way life unfolds.

Love the One You’re With By Emily Giffin

WORD.

I read this book for one reason – Nora Ephron wrote it. You know, Nora Ephron. She wrote You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally which are two of my absolute FAVORITE movies. I mean who does not love Meg Ryan in those roles? I mean she obviously didn’t create Meg Ryan but you get what I’m saying.

Anyway, while this book had some of the wit that made me love those movies, I left with the feeling that this book is schizophrenic. There were about fifteen essays total and several of them focused on getting older. I knew to expect this going in but I guess I expected something different. So much of what she talked about were vain attempts to look younger. Vain attempts characterized by the use of procedures, salon visits, and creams that are essentially a luxury of those with money. She came off as shallow and vain during a lot of these essays. At first I couldn’t tell whether she was intentionally being tongue in cheek or if she was serious. I somehow ended up with the impression that she was more on the serious side and this bothers me… A LOT. Granted I’m not even middle-aged yet, I like to think I’d be more accepting of what time will start to do to my body rather than attempting to dye and primp  my way to looking younger. I’m not particularly looks obsessed now and hope to stay this way.

The parts of the book I really liked were those that recounted stories from here life sans the pitfalls of aging. There was more wit and less whining. My recommendation – pick up this book and then call me so I can tell you which essays to read.

Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after of day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.

***

Whenever you give up an apartment in New York and move to another city, New York turns into the worst version of itself. Someone I know once wisely said that the expression “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” is completely wrong where New York is concerned; the opposite is true. New York is a very livable city. But when you move away and become a visitor, the city seems to turn against you. It’s much more expensive (because you need to eat all your meals out and pay for a place to sleep) and much more unfriendly. Things change in New York; things change all the time. You don’t mind this when you live here; when you live here, it’s part of the caffeinated romance to this city that never sleeps. But when you move away, your experience change as a betrayal. You walk up Third Avenue planning to buy a brownie at a bakery you’ve always been loyal to, and the bakery’s gone. Your dry cleaner move to Florida; your dentist retires; the lady who made the pies on West Fourth Street vanishes; the maitre d’ at P.J. Clarke’s quits, and you realize you’re going to have to start from scratch tipping your way into the heart of the cold, chic young woman now at the down. You’ve turned your back from only a moment, and suddenly everything’s different. You were an insider, a native, a subway traveler, a purveyor of inside tips into the good stuff, and now you’re just another frequent flyer, stuck in a taxi on Grand Central Parkway as you wing in and out of La Guardia. Meanwhile, you rad that Manhattan rents are going up, they’re climbing higher, they’re reached the stratosphere. It seems that the moment you left town, they put a wall around the place, and you will never manage to vault over it and get back into the city again.

***

“Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievable delicious? And what about chocolate?”

***

I live in New York City. I could never live anywhere else. The events of September 11 forced me to confront the fact that no matter what, I live here and always will. One of my favorite things about New York is that you can pick up the phone and order anything and someone will deliver it to you. Once I lived for a year in another city, and almost every waking hour of my life was spent going to stores, buying things, loading them into the car, bringing them home, unloading them, and carrying them into the house. How anyone gets anything done in these places is a mystery to me.

Cleopatra: A Life

Since Cleopatra’s death her fortunes have waxed and waned as dramatically as they did in her lifetime. Her power has been made to derive from her sexuality, for obvious reason; as one of Caesar’s murderers had noted, “How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!” It has always been preferable to attribute a woman’s success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life. Against a powerful enchantress there is no contest. Against a woman who ensnares a man in the coils of her serpentine intelligence – in her ropes of pearls – there should, at least be some kind of antidote. Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent.

***

She elicited scorn and envy in equal and equally distorting measure, her story is constructed as much of male fear as fantasy. From Plutarch descends history’s greatest love story, though Cleopatra’s life was neither as lurid nor as romantic as had been made out. And she became a femme fatale twice over . . . it is difficult to say where vengeance ends and homage begins. Her power was immediately enhanced because – for one man’s historical purposes – she needed to have reduced another to abject slavery. It is true that she was a dutiful, father loving daughter, a patriot and protector, an early nationalist, a symbol of courage, a wise ruler with nerves of steel, a master at self presentation. It is not true that she built the lighthouse of Alexandria, could manufacture gold, was the ideal woman, a martyr to love, “a silly little girl,” the mother of Christ . . . On a good day Cleopatra is said to have died for love, which is not exactly true either . . . She sent even Shakespeare over the top, eliciting from him his greatest female role, his richest poetry, a full, Antony – less act, and in the estimations of one critic, a rollicking tribute to guilt-free middle-aged adultery. Shakespeare may be as much to blame for out having lost sight of Cleopatra VII as the Alexandrian humidity, Roman propaganda, and Elizabeth Taylor’s limpid lilac eyes.

 

Whoever the clueless bastard was who thought up the Cabbage Patch Kid better hope I never see him face to face. The invention of this bizarrely appealing doll that came with a birth certificate covered in cabages and whose muscles had completely atrophied pretty much marked the end of my fitting in with anyone but my cleaning lady.

***

When you roll over in bed in the morning and hit a plate with the side of your head, you know things have gotten carried away. When you toss that plate on the floor, roll back over, and falls asleep again, you’ve hit another dimension. when you look at the clock and realize it’s not morning but still the day before, you’re either in Australia or you’ve gone into another dimension that isn’t easy to get out of.

***

Flying Southwest Airlines is analogous to being the last one picked for kickball in the third grade. Initially, an’A’ boarding pass feels like you’ve bypassed some system flaw and managed to come out one step ahead of the game. Getting your preference of any row and then, on top of that, having your choice of window, aisle, or middle seat feels borderline aristocratic. When that ‘A’ boarding pass comes flying out of the ticket kiosk into your palm, the whole airport experience shifts from Dora the Explorer to Princess Grace of Monaco.

I looked up at the ceiling. ‘Are you there, vodka. It’s me, Chelsea. Please get me out of jail and I promise I will never drink again. Drink and drive. I will never drink and drive again. I may even start my own group fashioned after MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but I’ll call it AWLTDASH, Alcoholics Who Like to Drink and Stay Home.

***

‘Uptight’ isn’t a word I think anyone would use to describe a girl who wrote a book documenting all of her one night stands, but maybe my self awareness needed a little sharpening.

I just finished this book and while nothing earth shattering or ground breaking was presented it was still interesting. Well, I only found it interesting in so far as it provided me with a string of random facts. Actually, this book is kind of just that – random facts strung together somewhat chronologically to give you an idea of how the institution of marriage has changed over time.

I really only gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. It deserved more like 2 1/2 but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend it (kind of). I have a lot of criticisms of this book (the biggest being the history is cursory, most discussions are treated as anecdotes, the analysis can be described with the following “well, duh!!!” and the statistics on modern marriage weren’t broken down enough by race or class for my liking).

Anyway, I wanted to share the following passage because I read it last night and laughed out loud. Not because it is funny but because its true and sad.

“College graduates and women with higher earnings are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower wages, although they generally marry at an older age. The legal profession is one big exception to this generalization. Female attorneys are less likely to ever marry, to have children, or to remarry after divorce than women in other professions. But an even higher proportion of male attorneys are childless, suggesting there might be something about this career that is unfriendly to everyone’s family life, not just women’s.” page 285

There were quite a few points made in this book that made me stop and think. I am sure you won’t be surprised to know those points dealt primarily with the division of labor in modern households, the evolving gender norms and the role of women in marriage, and the impact of children on marriage and female identity. Actually, on that last point I wish the book had offered something more. Granted, that isn’t what the book was meant to discuss but it got me thinking and made me curious. As I hunt for books my public library over the next few weeks I’m going to try and explore books on that very topic. For those of you who are interested, I will keep you posted on what I find!

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