The Value of Value

I’ve owned a 1988 Toyota Camry now for over 2 years.  It leaks oil and breaks down from time to time, but it’s been terribly reliable.  I simply check the oil roughly once a week, add a quart or so, and then go on my way.

When it does fail, it’s usually a minor part that my Dad and I can put in with a few parts in about an hour.  Older cars aren’t made like newer cars- I’m convinced cars are designed today to make it more difficult for the shadetree mechanic to do his own work, in a ploy to give the professional mechanics more work.  With a repair manual and some time, anybody could learn to replace just about anything they needed to on a 1988 Camry, with the exception of major engine or transmission work.

Lately, I’ve been in the market for another second or third generation Camry, but it appears that everyone else knows what I know.  As a result, they are priced well above blue book value.  (I also surmise that this is a result of a recessionary economy, as people are starting to realize their value.)  In other words, they are worth more than they are actually worth.

For example, I paid $600 for my car two years ago.  It’s official blue book value is $795, which is patently preposterous.  If someone were to hit my car tomorrow, the insurance company would write me a check for $800 and walk away.  However, the car is worth more- it would be near impossible to find a car that was that dependable for $800.  And I can’t hop on top of eight one hundred dollar bills and ride them to work.

Often things are worth much more than what the face value would have us believe.  This is just as true of cars as it is of emotions.  A stray word here or a caustic comment there can have far greater repercussions than mere sound waves would suggest.  A smile- literally the orchestrated contracting of facial muscles- can be priceless. 

Likewise, words have an amazing tendency to hurt but often seem woefully unable to heal.  This is because we often underestimate the value of the words we speak until it is too late.  The lesson is clearly this- whether valuing a car, a relationship or a choice of words, weigh the irreplaceability factor high on the list- it’s often quite determinative. 

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Relevant Article on Happiness #4

In my exhaustive quest to cover all things “happy,” I use several cutting edge research techniques.

In other words, I usually just type the word “happy” into Google.com and see what’s there.  Tonight my search led me to this article called “Deceptive Happiness,” part of the aptly named site called findhappiness.org.  It appears to be a website that promotes Buddhism, but the articles usually end with a book sale at the end.  Commercialism is generally a red flag on the trustworthy scale- which is one of the reasons I took down my own advertisements after flirting with it for a few days.

Regardless, I’m merely pontificating and cataloguing here, so it doesn’t take much to warrant archiving something.  I did find this quote from the article an interesting subject for discussion, however:

Everyone wants to be happy, but no one in samsara experiences true happiness. In comparison with the amount of suffering they endure, the happiness of living beings is rare and fleeting, and even this is only a contaminated happiness that is in reality the nature of suffering. Buddha called the pleasurable feelings that result from worldly enjoyments ‘changing suffering’ because they are simply the experience of a temporary reduction of manifest suffering. In other words, we experience pleasure due to the relief of our previous pain. For example, the pleasure we derive from eating is really just a temporary reduction of our hunger, the pleasure we derive from drinking is merely a temporary reduction of our thirst, and the pleasure we derive from ordinary relationships is for the most part merely a temporary reduction of our underlying loneliness.

Besides being an incredibly depressing way to look at the world, I also think that perhaps this is backwards.  Darkness is the absence of light, not the other way around.  Notwithstanding the fact that a “darklight” would be an incredibly cool invention, it’s just not possible.  The quote above makes unhappiness seem like a never-ending zombie invasion, and our pathetic attempts to stem it simply delay the inevitable slaughter…

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Politicking (Or, the Obama Factor)

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I have no desire to discuss the nuts and bolts of the Presidential Race on this site- several other pundits and bloggers are currently busy covering every tiny detail they can find and then opining about it at length.

What I do want to explore, however, is the Obama Factor in the current nomination process- specifically how candidates who increase enthusiasm in the electorate can do surprisingly well.

I don’t know if Obama will win the nomination or not, but he has shown how inspiring voters for something different can turn what pundits were calling a landslide four months ago for Clinton into an all out dogfight.  Look at it this way- Hillary is the former first lady of a President that many modern day Democrats consider the standard bearer of their party.  Name recognition is off the charts- the only other Democrat that could rely on such an advantage in the primary race is Al Gore, and he decided not to run.

Enter Barack Obama, a junior senator from Illinois who dared to enter the race against Clinton, who many considered to already be the presumptive nominee.  If I remember correctly, the thought was that the Republicans were in disarray (I think they had about 7 candidates at one stretch) and that Clinton would wrap up the nomination early, giving her ample time to consolidate her base…

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Future Value in Practice

Last night, I decided to try again to quit smoking.  I have tried countless times with little success.  This time, however, I’m going to approach it from more of a happiness viewpoint than at prior times, using the future value of happiness theory I advanced below. 

Not smoking a cigarette will not give me much happiness at the moment- sure, they’ll be a small sense of accomplishment, but that will be about it.  However, the future value of that happiness could grow quite large.  If, a year from now, I can be nicotine free and exercising regularly, the small act I’m doing now will reap astronomical returns.  The future value is both huge and incalculable.

If their were a financial equivalent, I would throw every penny I had into it and wait to become rich a year later.  It seems absurd that I won’t do it with something like happiness.

This goes back to something I posted about earlier- sometimes in our lives we have to be sadder for a while before we can reach a higher level of happiness.  The first week I quit smoking is not going to be a pleasant experience.  But that’s okay, because the happiness the activity will cause in the long-term more than tips that balance.  Likewise, the first week I go jogging is the worst- I’m always sore and I feel like a failure when I stop after half a mile- but it leads to achievements that I couldn’t reach otherwise.  The dip in happiness is worth it, due to the fact that the happiness returns are so high.

What I have to focus on is the image a year from now- running effortlessly through the streets of my hometown, lungs greedily and efficiently sucking up air and legs pumping like pistons as I cover miles and miles.  This is possible- but only if I try for it.

So today I’m going to start stop smoking.  It’s been long enough.

Emotional Compounding

Being somewhat of a nerd, I sometimes like to play with investment calculators and figure out what one dollar invested today would be worth after about three decades in the stock market. 

The growth of the dollar is quite slow at first, but then the power of compound interest causes it to accelerate quite quickly. 

I’m starting to think that perhaps human emotions work the same way.  The little things we do each day at first seem to not matter much.  But they run together and build up steam, and the once trivial acts of our lives become the overall theme. 

I think that this is just as true of happiness as it is sadness or anger or fear.  Getting frustrated several times a day leads to a pattern of frustration that may one day pervade our entire life.  The future in this sense is much greater than the present.

So, the happiness we find today has multiple values- the joy of anticipation, the extemporaneous pleasure found in the moment, the tranquil recollection a few days afterward and the future value of that happiness down the road.  By viewing happiness and human emotion as a multi-dimensional object, it gives us a greater urge to chase it.  We do things not just to be happy for today- but to paint our lives with a wide and joyful brush.

This is even more important when the nature of the act appears quite trivial.  We might question whether or not it’s worth it to even do, compared to the small amount of happiness the task will give us.  But when we look to the future value, and the effect of emotional compounding, the answer becomes clear. 

Every rivet, though it may be unnoticed, is important when it comes to building a ship.  Leaving out one rivet may be forgivable; forgetting one or two here and there is probably okay, as well.  But if two many rivets are cast aside, the future value of the ship begins to suffer.  At that time it won’t matter if the fancy cannon or steam engine is in perfect working order.  The die is cast- the ship is going down. 

This is perhaps why I see so many people who have a lot of stuff but never seem happy- they forgot the rivets, and all of their grand things have no safe foundation of happiness to rest upon.  The objects, incapable of giving happiness in and of themselves, simply end up slipping silently into the forlorn sea.

Sore

 Yesterday was a fairly productive and fun day.  My wife left on errands for a few hours, so I decided to spend the day raking the front yard.  I hitched my dog to a tie in the front yard and she sat and watched while I worked. 

About halfway throught, a guy I know came walking down the street and asked if I wanted to play football.  I said sure- raking leaves can wait- and followed him down to a vacant field on the edge of the neighborhood.

Six guys in total showed up, counting myself.  We played three on three two-hand touch football for about an hour and a half.  I am proud to report that I scored three touchdowns and never dropped a pass that I should have caught.  Unfortunately, we lost in sudden death- a situation caused by the fact that one of the guys had to go to work.

It was a beautiful day yesterday.  The high was in the low 70s and there was a slight breeze.  Perfect weather to both rake leaves and play football.

I’ve still got some piles of leaves to bag when I get home from work, and I’m incredibly sore from the effort, but it was worth it.  That particular yesterday will never come again, and I feel that I lived it well.

Customer Service

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I wanted to post something today just because I feel it’s important to introduce new material on a daily basis.

It makes for a good habit, and it shows respect for the people who take the time every day to stop by and visit.  It’s no different than a company having really good customer service, so that its customers keep coming back.

I never quite understood why customer service has become so poor in some stores.  Surely the CEOs realize that customer service is one of the most influential factors leading a customer back.  Thus, good customer service equals improved profits.  And considering that every business in the world wants your dollar, you’d think they would act more appreciative solely from an economic perspective.

I think this has partially occurred because the shopping dynamic has changed radically over the past few decades.  People used to mainly shop for necessities.  As necessities (food, clothes, cars, etc.) are generally sold by several retailers, businesses had to compete with excellent customer service.  All things being equal, you’d probably go buy your eggs from the guy who seemed glad to have you in his store.  In fact, even if the eggs cost a few pennies more, you’d still rather give him your business than the grouch down the street who seemed annoyed you came in.  In that sense, the market regulated customer service- those who didn’t have it quickly found themselves out of business…

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