Deficit of play

Some anthropologists and educators (guess which ones) are finding that spontaneity and freedom are as crucial to human development – REAL human development, as in that which includes the formation of  a personality, and the ability to interact constructively with others – as discipline, lecture,s testing, or “sitting still.”


Happiness is focus

Anyone surprised?

Human attention and energy is limited.  It makes sense that constant threat of a distraction, the buzz of the ever-present notification (or phantom buzz), is experienced as a constant buffer of non-presence to our daily lives.  “It makes me feel like I have another obligation in my life.”

Working at work (and at school)

Work is the collision between our internal selves and reality.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard.  Either way, it’s necessary for anything to get done, whether that is shipping a widget, an idea, or learning something new.

Proposition:  Sitting in a lecture isn’t work.  Writing the paper or doing the problem set – that’s work.  Passive is to not-work as active is to work.

Corollary: passive is to not-learning as active is learning.

Humanity and Ritual

Humans are ritualistic. We respond to, and are guided by, stimuli and our environments, our conditions, far more than most like to admit.

Most organized religion recognize this in being ritualized.   Repetition, signal, and cue and powerful guides for thought and behavior, and shape our personalities.  Shape a human, shape humanity.

Our habits (our rituals) make us who we are.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

– Aristotle

Any attempt at self-improvement, or community improvement, should aim for habit, for ritual, for process.  Not for motivation, or effort, or even reason.  Use reason in a matter of reason.  use encouragement in a matter of heart.  But once the reason and motivation are established, don’t try to continue with reason or encouragement to help the right use of either.  If its meant to last (to the extent anything human and material lasts) we need to use habit, i.e. ritual.

The power of one a day….

Slow down

Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood fame) joined with the petitioning of Congress in 1969.

Two things stand out here:

1.  His observations about the cheap “drama” – the use of violence, slapstick, and fast motion – in children’s programming arguably more relevant today than they were in 1969.  Looney Tunes just became Nickelodeon.

2. His pace.  Here is a man so in control of himself, his thoughts, and his articulation, it seems as though there is wisdom just seeping from his pores.

Technology urges us to keep on, to move faster and faster.  Now we need a smart Prometheus projector screen and an iPad in every classroom.

What about silence?  When is the reflection that gives birth to wisdom supposed to occur?  Does that have a place in education anymore?


Saving for Home Improvemen​ts

My wife and I live in an old house (built in 1911), and have a list of projects a mile long that would improve the house.  Some we will absolutely have to get done if we ever decide to move – e.g., fix the trim in the upstairs hall, replace the railing by the back stairs.  Others would be bigger upgrades – installation of storm windows, finishing the basement.  We have estimated that with $30,000 over time, we could have the house in great condition, love living there, and have it move-in ready to put on the market if the time came we decided to sell.
Of course, we infrequently get around to checking anything off the list by doing it ourselves, do not have enough saved and are not saving enough, to be able to put that money into the house.
My brother just bought a new house, and now he and his wife have to sell their current one.   They brought in a “stager” to walk through and point out the projects that are must-dos before listing the house (as well as telling them how best to arrange the furniture, what lighting to use in the listing pictures, etc.).  They are going ahead with spending a bunch of money on these projects. Most are things that I know my sister-in-law wanted done all along, before they ever decided to move. 
I cannot say I have seen any authoritative studies on the subject, but I have repeatedly encountered this theme that most people only get around to making many improvements when they anticipate selling the home.  Like anything, people procrastinate, and when they want to sell their homes, often realize they need to spend a bunch of money (money they may not have planned for) and work really hard in a short period of time in order to get the house ready for sale.  
The kicker is that we would all enjoy living in our homes more, now, if we got around to getting this stuff done.
I think there is room in the financial planning toolkit for a vehicle similar to 401k’s for retirement or 529 plans for education. Of course, not with respect to tax benefits (that I would be aware of), but at least with respect to the savings mechanism, I propose a product that would build savings for home improvements into your monthly mortgage payments.  This money could be put in a separate account, and could accumulate sight-unseen until the family decides to go for a kitchen upgrade, addition, or other improvement.
The idea would be to have a pool of funds specifically available for home improvements, and make the saving automatic.  We already pay a lump sum payment for the mortgage, home insurance, and taxes. 
Putting a special label on those dollars would encourage a positive use of mental accounting.  It would make homeowners more likely to save funds and use them in a way that could be potentially profitable, in terms of building equity in the home, or simply using them in a way that improves their quality of life. I believe that many homeowners would opt for a savings strategy that is specifically geared toward helping them actually improve, not just pay for, their homes.
This could be a product that banks and lenders could include with their mortgage offerings.  Of course there wouldn’t necessarily be penalties for misuse of the funds, as there are for withdrawals from a 401K, but I believe the mental accounting effect would be powerfully enough that most would use the money for its intended purpose.  (I have savings accounts earmarked for education for my daughters, and I would am loath to spend a dollar from those accounts.  $20 in my wallet, though, isn’t likely to last a week).
From “rational economic agent” perspective, this doesn’t make any sense.  I theoretically should not need a savings account with a separate label, or need to “hide” the savings from myself by embedding them into a larger monthly payment.  I should be able to maximize the utility of my current consumption, as compared to the utility of investing in the home, and as compared to any other investment opportunities.  It’s hard to argue that I do that.  Instead, my wife and I eat out too much.