Burgess Laughlin

Improving life through simple choices in society

20 posts in this topic

I am opening this topic-thread to suggestions for improving the quality of one's life through simple selections.

Living in a free or semi-free country offers lots of options. For example, we can go anywhere we want to go as long as we respect the property rights of others.

When I choose my routes in daily traveling -- for example, going to a grocery store -- travel time isn't the only factor I consider. I have found that I can improve the quality of my life by choosing my route for other factors as well: safety (considering crime and traffic conditions), and the pleasantness or interest of the route itself, for example, the pleasure of checking on the construction of a new condominium tower.

I hope to offer more in a following post.

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Here is an observation I have made from 62 years of living in urban and suburban areas of the United States (Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco [and the Peninsula], and Portland, Oregon). This observation may seem obvious to some, but not to others:

One block can make a big difference.

I have lived in or near downtown Portland for more than 30 years. I now live on the periphery of downtown (an area of about 20 blocks square, as shown in this slow slide show: http://www.pova.com/ but you may need to click on "Home Page" at the top if you don't see the photos at first).

Overall, my life is very pleasant now. As I always have, I live without a car, so I walk or bicycle almost everywhere I go, except for rare bus, train, or cab rides -- all of which are very close. I frequently bicycle up or down roads along the Willamette River, which runs north-south on the east side of downtown. All of what I seek regularly, such as groceries, I find also on the periphery of downtown. Occasionally however I cross through downtown to the other side, to the campus of Portland State University.

In my walks, I have found that conditions vary greatly from one street to another. My experiences are generally confirmed by crime maps of the area, although the statistics can be misleading at times. For example, I have had many confrontations or other unpleasant experiences on SW 10th Avenue in the last 30 years, but never on SW 11th Avenue. So, now I generally walk down SW 11th Avenue. Choosing a route is sometimes that simple, although acquiring the knowledge to do so took time. The effect on the quality of my life during those walks is great if I keep such differences in mind.

Why is there such a difference from one block to the next? On SW 10th Avenue, attractions such as a state-owned liquor store, "public" (governmental) transportation, and a "public" library (with its free restroom and its tolerance for bums) draw louts, small-time drug dealers, and petty criminals. On 11th Avenue there are no such attractions. One block makes a huge difference.

What other suggestions can you make to improve the quality of life through the power of such simple selections?

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[...] when I walk to my main grocery store (about a mile and half away), I plan my route carefully depending on the day of the week and the time of day -- to avoid moochers, small-time predators, drug-users, crazies, and in some spots merely the sight of disgustingly fat or ill-clad individuals. On the positive side, I plan my route to go by upscale coffeeshops, well kept homes and businesses, and views of the city from a distance -- views that show me the accomplishments as a whole without the repulsive elements.

[...] Phoenix is quite devoid of the bums and crazies you see in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. It's not surprising - we have less of a welfare state here and Phoenix has an essentially pro-business attitude. Even the Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano, avoids veering too far left for fear of angering her consituency. I often say that in Arizona, even the Democrats love their guns.

Of course, there are bad areas, but they are easily avoided. I'm moving into a new condo near downtown Scottsdale, which is a really lovely neighborhood.

[bold added]

Jason, aren't you doing what I am doing: Avoiding the bad in a particular city and selecting the good, in terms of where you live and perhaps the routes you take?

A side question: Do problems in Phoenix -- such as serial murders! -- occur mostly in certain "bad areas"?

http://phoenix.bizjournals.com/phoenix/sto...10/daily39.html

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I'm like you, Burgess; I, too, live without a car. I often take an early (7am) bus from this little town of Woodland to Sacramento, 25 miles away. After riding over the river and a half-way stop at the airport, we approach the city, with its not greatly tall, but clean-looking skyscrapers, and then we wind down in through crossing strips and ramps of highway to one of the main downtown streets. I walk for a while through the center of town, with the happy sounds of morning traffic around me, clean edges of office-buildings and hotels cutting the sky, and well-dressed people walking to work. Just last week I tried a different direction, only a block away (yes, surprising what difference a block makes!), and found a two block stretch of some kind of small-leafed (oriental, perhaps?) trees which provided dark, cool, peaceful shade. What a contrast! No one was there but me. Almost my first thought was---"Shangrila!" At the end of that two block stretch I discovered a secluded little coffee shop with few customers (no waiting in line!) and the best cup of coffee I'd had in quite some time. I took my coffee over to a bench twenty feet from the railroad tracks, and that's where I wrote some of the poems I posted last week. I wrote another one there today. Great place!

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Every day, I bus to and from work. I have to take 2 buses, and the total travel time is about 45 minutes. I love this time to rev up and wind down from the day.

During the bus ride I will read a book, listen to some beautiful music or a lecture on my discman.

When walking home from downtown, I will walk past or if open, peruse the shops I love. I too live in an area that's not so safe, so I change up my route often, walking on the quieter streets.

My trips are never monotonus or boring. I love the excercise I get from walking, and the time I have to relax before work and read :(

~C~

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I’ve notice that the quality of neighborhoods vary block to block in every city and town I’ve live in as well. One thing I loved about living in the Capitol Hill area in Denver when I was younger was being able to walk to work, the grocery store, and having almost everything I wanted to do or see available at my fingertips. Denver has a good cultural center right downtown. The museums, concert hall, huge library, office buildings, cafés and everything are located at the city center. There are also lots of little parks and great bike paths all over the city and it’s pretty easy to get out of town for day trips to the mountains.

There’s a part of downtown Denver called Lower Downtown (LoDo) where there used to be dilapidated warehouses and crime was rampant. During the 1980’s many of those buildings were turned in to lofts, and when Coors Field was built and the WynKoop Brewery opened it looked to me as though the positive turn around for that area was permanent.

Another area of downtown Denver that has seen or is in the process of seeing a positive turn around is more east around the hospitals. At one time it would have been considered rather daring for someone like me to venture north of a main thoroughfare called Colfax, but last time I visited it looked like the area was really picking up. A lot of the old homes were being fixed up, townhouses were being built and the hospitals were expanding.

Now my husband and I live in Florida. This area kind of reminds me of Los Angeles in that it’s very spread out. Downtown Orlando hasn’t offered much in the way of attracting businesses and the arts in the past, but it looks like there are some people who are trying to change that. I was lost for several years when we first moved here as far as figuring out where people go to see the symphony or the art museum (which is rather small). We live a distance from downtown and much further still from all of the tourist attractions. When we first moved to Florida we were informed about the high crime rate, which is partially explained that it is due to the transient nature of the people in Florida. We were also warned about the strange and inconsistent zoning laws. Because everything is so spread out here, travel time to and from work is lengthy and the bus system doesn’t come out where we live yet. There’s been tremendous growth in this area; it’s been a good area (outside of Orlando proper) to raise a family. Also, I love how green it is here and the fact that we don’t have a problem with air pollution.

There are so many things that go in to improving an urban center, zoning, making it attractive to business as well as a city being able to offer a good/qualified employee base for a variety of businesses, as well as other factors I'm sure I can't think of at the moment.

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In a different vein, a great idea I got from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, is having a reliable method of capturing ideas and making note of tasks that need to be done, wherever one happens to be when he remembers the idea or the task. The relevant concept is CAPTURE.

One can capture ideas in concrete written form, and so long as they are easily retrievable and reviewed periodically, the concern about losing them in the shuffle is greatly reduced. In this way, there is no need to try to burden your limited crow with attempts to remember many small things. And one may also even remind himself of some critical insight that he had while getting ready for work or for bed, or while watching television, which he might otherwise simply forget.

I keep many little pads of paper in various areas around the house, and in the car, so that I can write things down where I am when I think of them. I keep them by my computer, in the kitchen, by my bedside, on the side table in the area where we watch television, in the car, in the living room, etc.

What one writes down on these pads does not (generally) include complex thinking, though occasionally I might write down a crystallized result of more complex thinking. Nor should one necessarily use these pads as sole reminders of inflexible deadlines (critical appts., bills to pay, or even important birthdays or holidays, etc.). I reserve my electronic software for storing detailed notes and inflexible reminders, because as far as detailed notes go, electronic media can hold a lot in a small space; and for inflexible reminders, electronic calendars offer the very useful option of audible alarms. But if one uses audible alarms for every little thing, he may learn to ignore them. The idea of reserving electronic calendars for inflexible deadlines is also from the book Getting Things Done (recommended).

Here is a list of things that I write down on these pads: items to purchase, chores to do, errands to run, e-mails to write, phone calls to make, messages to send; names, physical and e-mail addresses, websites, phone numbers, and directions; recommendations for products, vendors, artwork, artists, books, music, TV shows, films, and actors that I either discover myself or receive from others; the diagram of a confusing sentence; interesting real estate; measurements; names and/or lyrics of songs that I want to figure out how to play on the keyboard; a list of resistance training exercises; a list of representatives who sponsored a heinous bill in congress; a list of the Objectivist virtues (to test my memory of them); brief notes on a dangerous intellectual; interesting streets in a city on which to look for hotels (as possible vacation destination); notes on navigating a financial website; an insight about a general psychological processes; a critical insight about my own psychological process.

I have a separate pad in the kitchen for shopping lists and errands; but if I'm not in the kitchen when I remember a certain shopping-list-item or errand, I write it down where ever I am, and can either transfer it to my main shopping/errand list(s), or just grab it and take it with me.

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I have a separate pad in the kitchen for shopping lists and errands; but if I'm not in the kitchen when I remember a certain shopping-list-item or errand, I write it down where ever I am, and can either transfer it to my main shopping/errand list(s), or just grab it and take it with me.

To simplify my life even more, I have one piece of paper (folded up) and a short, waterproof ball-point pen in my shirt pocket at all times. This is my "flash paper," the paper on which I write flashes of insight or memory -- any time, anywhere, anyway.

I also have a master TO-DO list I keep on my computer "desktop." It is especially useful for serializing appointments -- so I never forget a meeting, thus simplifying my social connections. I update that -- and occasionally print it out -- as needed. I check it onscreen every morning, first thing.

(I hope to begin a topic-thread on the Philosophy of To-Do lists, in the next week or so.)

One major benefit of flash paper and to-do lists generally is that they both ensure "capture" and free the mind to focus on other issues without a barrage of inklings ("I should be doing something special this morning, but I can't remember what it is") nagging at one's mind.

REMINDER: The purpose of this topic-thread is to describe simple things one can do to make life in society easier.

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To simplify my life even more, I have one piece of paper (folded up) and a short, waterproof ball-point pen in my shirt pocket at all times. This is my "flash paper," the paper on which I write flashes of insight or memory -- any time, anywhere, anyway.

One of the 'perqs' of being a man is (almost) always having a shirt pocket! One reason that I need to have the pads everywhere, is that there is nothing that I always have with or on me, where ever I am. When I go out, I (almost) always have my purse. But when I'm at home, my purse could be, say, downstairs when I'm upstairs -- or even just across the room. But my note pads are always there!

One major benefit of flash paper and to-do lists generally is that they both ensure "capture" and free the mind to focus on other issues without a barrage of inklings ("I should be doing something special this morning, but I can't remember what it is") nagging at one's mind.

Exactly!

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SIMPLIFICATION EXAMPLE: PHONE FILTER

I set my desk phone answering machine to answer mode almost all the time. I take it out of answer mode only at a particular time when I am expecting a call. A recorded voice discourages wrong-number callers and sales callers. I check once a day or so to see if I have any legitimate calls. I seldom do. Most of my communication now, even with friends, is through email -- which I can send or receive at even the oddest hours without worrying about waking up a friend.

I have known individuals, not friends, who are so compulsive about receiving phone calls that they act as if they have an obligation to answer every call that comes in. My approach is different. Anyone who wants my attention needs to prove he deserves my time.

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One of the 'perqs' of being a man is (almost) always having a shirt pocket! One reason that I need to have the pads everywhere, is that there is nothing that I always have with or on me, where ever I am.

How about an ankle-holster? Upscale gunstores might carry them in a variety of colors and styles to match any outfit.

(My attempt at humor.)

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SIMPLIFICATION EXAMPLE: PHONE FILTER

:) I like your phone filter example!

I have another example of making life a little easier. I had to learn the hard way about hurricane preparedness a couple of years ago. For one storm I had food and emergency medical supplies ready, but the lines were very long for gas. Some gas pumps (even stations) were completely out. So this year my husband and I agreed to never let our gas tanks get below 3/4 tank.

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In general, I would say that (especially for city-dwellers) you can always make life more interesting by taking a hands-on approach. When you walk by a building you like, stop and put a hand on it, feel the texture of the stone or get a sense of the strength of the steel; stand at the corner of a skyscraper with your hand on that corner and look up as that line runs out of your hand into the sky. Down in the subway train, have you walked to the front car and stood looking out at the lights and track rushing by and under you? Have you grasped a girder while waiting on the platform, while other trains roared by, and felt the vibrations and known the unyielding purpose? Connecting the feel of the things you value with your sight of them will strengthen their value to you and increase your pleasure in living. Also, take time to look around and simply view things from different angles, or, shut your eyes and just listen. What is pleasurable, or not, in the things you hear? The steam flowing out of that grill in the sidewalk, what does it feel and smell like? It's not so bad, especially in winter when it warms you up. :) Hmm, I've never been in that building before, so in I go and take the elevator up to the top floor, get off and take in a beautiful view of the city over the head of the receptionist, until she asks me, "Do you have an appointment?" "No, I'm just on my way to work; a longcut. Have a good day."

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In general, I would say that (especially for city-dwellers) you can always make life more interesting by taking a hands-on approach. When you walk by a building you like, stop and put a hand on it, feel the texture of the stone or get a sense of the strength of the steel; stand at the corner of a skyscraper with your hand on that corner and look up as that line runs out of your hand into the sky. Down in the subway train, have you walked to the front car and stood looking out at the lights and track rushing by and under you? Have you grasped a girder while waiting on the platform, while other trains roared by, and felt the vibrations and known the unyielding purpose? Connecting the feel of the things you value with your sight of them will strengthen their value to you and increase your pleasure in living. Also, take time to look around and simply view things from different angles, or, shut your eyes and just listen. What is pleasurable, or not, in the things you hear? The steam flowing out of that grill in the sidewalk, what does it feel and smell like? It's not so bad, especially in winter when it warms you up. :) Hmm, I've never been in that building before, so in I go and take the elevator up to the top floor, get off and take in a beautiful view of the city over the head of the receptionist, until she asks me, "Do you have an appointment?" "No, I'm just on my way to work; a longcut. Have a good day."

Wow. I feel like you just described something at the core of what makes defines my self. The fact that I now know another person enjoys these things in this way is so... nice. To have someone so poetically describe what is just a glimmer and momentary thought in the midst of a busy day is such a gift. Thank you.

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Improving one's experiences through simple selections....

What I've found makes my life more interesting is "keeping my eyes open". Pay attention to reality and ask myself questions. And, pay attention to my own thoughts and emotional responses, asking myself why I have the latter. Keep an active mind.

So if I'm on a walk: What kind of tree is that? What kind of flowers are those? Here's a street that I find to be pleasant: why? What do I like about it and why does it make me feel comfortable? Here's a house for sale: I wonder what it's got, and how much they want. Here's a modest house with a very nicely done yard: what's this say about the owner? Here are some workmen with a machine, drilling underground horizontal holes: how do they manage to do that, and what are they installing?

It's good to have favorites, and even better to understand why I like them.

Having a one-track-mind, though, I'm sometimes completely oblivious to my surroundings, e.g. when I'm focused on a problem I'm trying to solve. That's OK too: I still have an active mind, it just isn't focused on my immediate surroundings.

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Wow. I feel like you just described something at the core of what makes defines my self. The fact that I now know another person enjoys these things in this way is so... nice. To have someone so poetically describe what is just a glimmer and momentary thought in the midst of a busy day is such a gift. Thank you.

Thank you for enjoying these things as well, Elle. It IS nice.

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I also appreciate that other factors besides time can determine the route one takes. In London I often get off at Embankment tube station instead of Waterloo (from which I catch a train home) and walk to Waterloo across a footbridge traversing the River Thames. In the process I get to see the full London skyline - including all the new skyscrapers that are shooting up - and the Royal Festival Hall. The image is not unlike my profile picture. There are usually a couple of Jazz musicians busking as well which makes for a pleasant crossing. Better all that then 4 minutes crammed into a sweaty tube train and a further 5 moving up escalators.

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I also appreciate that other factors besides time can determine the route one takes. In London I often get off at Embankment tube station instead of Waterloo (from which I catch a train home) and walk to Waterloo across a footbridge traversing the River Thames.

I enjoyed seeing London via the tube when I worked there some time ago (I'm normally in the U.S.) It was fun and simple to use it to just explore when I had some time.

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Maybe it goes without saying, or doesn't qualify as simple, but spending money on yourself improves the quality of your life. I don't mean the basic necessities, I mean books, dvds, whatever tickles your fancy. I am pretty frugal, I have a cheap apartment and don't own a car. However I will always spend a little more money to get more enjoyment out of something. I'll pay for a business class seat on a train instead of coach, or an expensive pair of sunglasses I really like instead of a cheap pair. This is just the little things, I'm not talking about huge purchases. Remember when you were a kid and you'd beg your parents to get you a toy you really wanted? I don't think I'll ever get over having the independence to never need to depend on the good will of others. I love to be able to treat myself with trivial purchases. Many times it can be the highlight of the day.

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I've hesitated on this thread a few times, but have been reluctant to post, because I think one's self-improvement is ultimately an internal, individual matter. However, with the Current Events subforums generating a huge number of dark concerns from students of Objectivism regarding the trends and atmosphere around us, I suppose I this is a reactionary post. It is important to remember that there have been conditions far worse than what we have today, and that people still continued to live despite them. One important way, other than my couple of suggestions of introspection efficiency and asset protection, is to avoid "thinking useless thoughts", in the words of Irina in We The Living.

One cannot spend one's day write blasting letters to editors every time one sees a revolting news or op-ed article. Spending each day bemoaning the absence of a great many important things will be defeatist. While this is not a suggestion to evade knowledge, I'd like to stress that one can arrange one's environment to maximize one's happiness, in material and non-material aspects, through simple choices, and in so doing reduce the number and frequency of "useless thoughts", ones which one has no intention to act upon during one's lifetime.

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