Archive for March, 2019

A writer discovers a treasure trove

Nearly everywhere I go, I carry a pen and a notebook – or at least a note card. You never know when an epiphany might hit, or a quotable quote might come, or a repeatable joke might fly.

It’s simply hard to remember memorable lines – no matter how hard we try – if we don’t write them down.

I once referred to a notebook as my grown-up security blanket. Without it, I feel in danger of missing a moment.

At this point, I have journals and notebooks and note cards scattered all over the place. I recently found one stuck in the side pocket of an old briefcase I hadn’t used in years.

It felt like I had happened upon a Dead Sea scroll. Why, yes, I do consider my kids’ one-liners holy.

The unearthed notebook’s first entry was a collection of comments from a Christmas morning several years ago.

After all the presents were opened, our oldest son, eleven at the time, said, “Wait. Is that it?”

Our second son offered a similar line of questioning, “Did I get anything else?”

Our fourth son, age four, evidently hadn’t reached the age of jade: “I hope there are presents under the tree tomorrow.”

“There won’t be,” our third son replied.

“Disappointment is how you know you’re alive,” a friend told me recently.

This was confirmed by another friend who told me his Valentine’s plans for the rodeo and a concert had shrunk to “a romantic evening of laundry and frozen pizza.” Kids will do that to you.

Back at Christmas, our daughter was more interested in Santa’s operations:

“Does Santa have any friends?”

“Did you keep any of his texts?”

She’s not always so innocent.

I once asked her, “Is that your second cupcake?”

“No, it’s my first,” she replied.

“Then how did icing get all over your face?” I inquired.

She thought for a minute and said, “My brother threw a cupcake at me.”

Along with finger-pointing, questions flow freely in a houseful of kids.

-“Do doctors get sick?”

-“Was there ice cream when you were a kid? Were there shakes?”

-“How long is fifteen minutes?

-“How big is a Berenstain bear?”

-“When we die, do we turn into a dog or a cat?”

I have tried to make clear that God sent Jesus that we might live with him forever.

“MIGHT live?” a perceptive son replied.

My recovered journal reads on with more kid questions like, “Dad, why do you take a bath everyday?”

“Because dads sweat more than kids,” I answered.

“Do dads sweat more than grandpas?” a son wondered.

I’ll let him know in a few years.

Around a campfire eating s’mores one night, one son made up a joke, “What did the kid say after he ate s’mores? I want s’more!”

Around the dinner table, we often play “high-low” where you give your day’s best and worst.

Our most succinct son once summarized his day this way, “My good news is I have no bad news. My bad news is I have no good news.”

He seems to grasp Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:18, “A wise man avoids all extremes.”

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The Challenge with Choices

In a world of near-infinite volumes of digital bits and bytes, there’s something to be said for the physical.

With a smartphone, I can access virtually any piece of data ever discovered, or any song ever recorded, or any photo ever taken.

Still, at times, I want a hardback book or a vinyl record.

My family bought a retro record player not long ago. Since then, an extended family member has given us a stream of vinyls: The Beatles, Elvis, U2, Norah Jones, to name a few.

We now have about fifteen to choose from. It makes choosing music simpler, and the music is actually richer than listening on a digital device. Little known fact: Digital music squashes sound quality to make songs stream faster.

For the same reason I go with vinyl at home, I’ve been popping in old CDs in my old Land Cruiser rather than fiddling with a digital playlist on my phone. Limiting my options increases my focus and creates a more enjoyable experience.

I may have unlimited options in this information age, but I don’t have unlimited time, energy and knowledge to filter those options.

Hence, there is a diminishing return to expanding choices. Having too many choices can be debilitating.

In the mid-1990s, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar conducted a study in a gourmet grocery.

She set out twenty-four choices of jams. Sixty per cent of people stopped for a sample.

Then, she set out just six choices of jams. Only forty per cent of shoppers stopped.

However, thirty per cent of people who stopped for the smaller assortment ended up purchasing, compared to only three per cent of those who stopped for the larger display.

Fewer options drove greater sales.

In “The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less,” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that an increased volume of consumer choices causes anxiety in shoppers. Too many options causes paralysis, not liberation.

Schwartz cites a study that revealed a two per cent decrease in participation in an employer-matched retirement plan for every ten mutual funds added to the plan.

An expanding selection scared participants off, or at least prompted procrastination that resulted in inactivity.

Schwartz says that even if a person makes a choice from a large slate of options, he or she is less satisfied with it because of the regret that comes from contemplating the options not chosen.

This explains why a meal of Cane’s chicken tenders can be more enjoyable than dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. The latter’s menu is a tome. I’ve seen shorter textbooks.

At a family camp out last fall, a mom organized a taste test. She distributed about fifteen different flavors of Oreo cookies that Nabisco now makes. They included lemon, cinnamon roll and red velvet cake. Suffice it to say, some of them were a far cry from the original.

Unable to leave well enough alone and driven by Wall Street growth expectations, Nabisco is simply trying to expand its Oreo “franchise.”

In the meantime, milk’s favorite cookie falls victim to the fallacy that having more choices always delivers more happiness.


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