Nos Jours Heureux

20 thoughts on “Nos Jours Heureux”

  1. “Gross National Happiness”? (The writer lets out a profound Guffaw!!) I’d prefer to be just content, based in the ideas that; that which is supposed to work, works, that the things I might need to buy from time-to-time are relatively inexpensive – and are worth the price; that things won’t break or fall apart within a few weeks of purchase; that ‘customer service’ would no longer be an oxymoron. Etc., etc., etc. Happiness would be a bonus to such a life.

    Years ago we looked at moving to the Big Island and were intrigued by the low cost of the acreage in places like HOVE (Hawaiian Ocean View Estates), which is similar to the pictures you put up (they may have been taken in HOVE, in fact). Then we realized that lava flows may inevitably strike twice in the same place, something the residents-in-place were gambling wouldn’t happen there. Did I mention that the development that was hit last year was built on an old lava flow?

  2. I find Montreal one of the most awesome/fascinating cities I know (and to be clear I’ve never lived there, don’t speak a word of French, but have visited a bunch). But if you asked me to pick a city to move to I’d pick it. It’s one of the two axes of Ashkenazi Jewish food (the other being NYC where I do live). They deliberately gave away their title as center of Canadian business in favor of Toronto because of the language wars. At the same time they have developed these niches which are all fun, like being the world center of circus (it’s no accident that Cirque du Solei is there) and fireworks. They love Jazz and have one of the top Jazz festivals in the world. They are genuinely mutlicultural in a French way; I watched African immigrants making what are quite possibly the best croissants I’ve ever had at the amazing Kouign-amann. They have a genuinely unique cuisine and are one of the greatest food cities in the world. Bike Share programs started there. And they will probably be fine when a lot of the rest of the world will be under water/too hot/etc. The St Lawrence will rise but should be easy to deal with, they have plenty of fertile land, etc.

    1. Apologies for the double comment, not sure how I managed that but feel free to delete the other. But I also realized I forgot the most amazing part. Did you know that 99% of Quebecois power is carbon free? All that hydro! (Yes obviously they had the Geography to support that).
      Plus they export a bunch to other places which makes some nice $$$ for the Province. (Amusingly they also don’t seem to trust the Anglo electric grid and export it all over High Voltage DC, which spared them the last big blackout, though they have had their own issues with icing)

      1. The hydro power is in the north and passes miles of rich iron ore. For decades it was a power dispatcher’s nightmare. AC power resonates with the induced magnetic fields in the rock. Worse, these resonances could be amplified by the various loops in the transmission system around the Great Lakes, the trunk line and s on. DC links were long sought, but technologically impossible until recently. Now we have high efficiency, high power semiconductors. It isn’t so much distrust of the Anglo grid as a combination of geographical and technical factors.

  3. I find Montreal one of the most awesome/fascinating cities I know (and to be clear I’ve never lived there, don’t speak a word of French, but have visited a bunch). It’s one of the two axes of Ashkenazi Jewish food (the other being NYC where I do live). They deliberately gave away their title as center of Canadian business in favor of Toronto because of the language wars. At the same time they have developed these niches which are all fun, like being the world center of circus (it’s no accident that Cirque du Solei is there) and fireworks. They love Jazz and have one of the top Jazz festivals. They are genuinely mutlicultural in a French way; I watched African immigrants making what are quite possibly the best croissants I’ve ever had at the amazing Kouign-amann. They have a genuinely unique cuisine and are one of the greatest food cities in the world. Bike Share programs started there. And they will probably be fine when a lot of the rest of the world will be under water/too hot/etc. The St Lawrence will rise but should be easy to deal with, they have plenty of fertile land, etc.

  4. Looking at the link to Bhutan on GNH, it appears to have little to do with adequate water, roads and sanitation, though my own happiness might perk up if they were better maintained. Especially when out on my bike. However, I am certain my day will be ruined if some census taker came to the door to question me about my happiness.

    1. We were in Bhutan recently, and GNH is being promoted there. The society is transitioning from a traditional agricultural society to a more modern one. The big drivers are the sale of hydro power to India and the development of a high end tourism industry. There are still lots of traditional farms, but machinery powered by small fossil fuel engines is increasingly common (e.g. for prepping rice terraces) and even small hamlets are getting electrical power.

      Despite this, it is rather clear that there is no obvious pathway to getting Bhutan a high enough GDP to give it a first world living standard, so the focus is on making things better. There is an emphasis on medical care and education, but also on conservation to maintain natural beauty. If GNH metrics are used as an excuse to make sure that rising wealth is broadly distributed, then I’m all for it. Bhutan has 750K inhabitants, so it is small enough and homogeneous enough to make this kind of thing work.

      One reason for the increased emphasis on GNH as opposed to GDP is that GDP ignores the issues of distribution. It is much harder to concentrate wealth than happiness, but measures of happiness has been used to justify the excesses of some horrible regimes, for example, tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire. In traditional societies, one is expected to be happy with one’s lot in life since it is viewed as inherent and unchanging. A member of the lower orders wanting a bicycle or perhaps even an automobile is considered a problem for the state since discontent with the lack lowers the GNH.

  5. GNH, eh? Yeah, cynicism taken. Nonetheless, it’s a much needed thought experiment if nothing else. Montreal certainly makes me happy!

    I’ll propose a very Silicon Valley one: Gross Personal Legacy. Your contributions minus your deductions, to the world, at death. A ruthless hedge fund manager that donated his millions to charity might come out net zero at best, while the value of the local business owner who raises 3 kids and coaches basketball on the weekends would be off the charts. Actually that’s not Silicon Valley values at all, which is maybe why GNH is down around here…

  6. Hi Johnny,
    I’ve read your posts for years now. I find your pragmatic, realistic approaches to increasing personal and communal resilience to be gems of wisdom!
    Your observations about institutions and the way people respond to long cycles are helpful for cultivating a broad view and discerning historical patterns in human behaviour. This is important to me, since I am very young and am preparing for constant radical changes during this century. Thank you very much for creating these posts.
    Also, I live in Montreal! Your writings about intensely automobile centered cities in the US have made me much more grateful to live in walkable city with great public transportation.

    1. Ah, yes. You are lucky to live in Montreal. I used to come here often when I was younger. At this moment I’m at a cafe near Place Emilie Gamelin enjoying a lovely meal in the perfect spring weather. Back home to San Francisco tomorrow…

  7. “People sometimes choose a temporary life of natural risk over the impossibility of affording a more stable conventional life elsewhere. The rules that govern society are ignored in these odd corners because they’re irrelevant to the authorities. A self selecting population exists largely outside of official concerns.”

    Personally I think this statement leads to the ultimate conclusion. There is no risk-free existence on this planet. Risk is a natural – and even necessary and desirable – ingredient to this life. In fact safetyism is killing us. Running away from risk and roadblocking all possible danger out of our lives is making us weaker and more afraid, not stronger and more vibrant.

    1. I live in San Francisco. Earthquakes put the entire city at a similar risk at the people on the lava flow. Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Portland… Same same.

      1. Drewster makes an excellent point, Johnny, and it’s more than just quakes, tornadoes or even lava flows. Our overlords have seemed to squeeze every bit of spontaneity and even the mildest danger out of our lives. When was the last time you saw kids riding dirt bikes? Even playing games in a residential street? Playground equipment has become soft, rounded, plastic and boring to any kid beyond age 6 or so. Helicopter parents, anyone? Similar boundaries exist for grown-ups. Entertainment? Adventure? Here’s a phone….THAT’S your entertainment, son. In the not-too-distant future we will clad ourselves in bubble-wrap before venturing out-of-doors. LOL They have us right where they want us….docile, overweight, incurious, irrationally fearful and addicted to phone-delivered stimulation.

    2. “If happiness is the goal, and more happiness can be achieved with physical design, how does that drive values?”

      I don’t know. My response is that when I began on my divorce support project 20+ years ago (my house), I had no idea what I was doing. Looking back from this distance, I can say it had to do with creating the kind of environment that I would call “home.” All my decisions since then have been based on that same principle: what do I need to make this fit who I am?

      Turns out I live in in an urban/suburban neighborhood that wasn’t so desirable when I got here but is now. By improving my home, and by living where I do, I now own more valuable real estate then I used to. Still, as someone who hopes to leave my property feet first, I don’t give a fig. What I do to the property, I do for me.

      I can only hope it appeals to those who come after me. I’ve done what I can to make it sustainable and appealing, but in the end, where it is 50 years from now is not up to me.

      1. Good points, and I tend to agree about making a home fit you, not some abstract “market.” But I sometimes wonder how I would have responded if the run down area I bought into years ago would have continued to decline rather than seriously improve. (All loaded terms, I know.)

        What I think this museum exhibition was trying to figure out is what makes one place rise while another falls. Is it how photogenic it is? Does it play well on social media? Does it conform to the zeitgeist? And how durable are these dynamics? Any number of forces could make these superficial parameters irrelevant.

        1. “What I think this museum exhibition was trying to figure out is what makes one place rise while another falls.”

          I’m still hooked by something that came up a few posts ago: Anyone can whip up a subdivision to go with nearby jobs, but what makes a place not only last but also flourish?

          There was that Protestant place that grew from (and partly still is) a tent city. And someone mentioned towns which have a unique attraction or land formation. But it seems like there needs to be something special about the locale. You can survive about anywhere, but truly living seems to require you to be part of something bigger than yourself. Just thinking out loud…

  8. Gross National Happiness. So much wrong with this concept that I barely know where to begin…. I think I’ll mull it over for a bit.

    1. That mulling is exactly what the museum exhibition is all about. GNH isn’t a bad concept if it’s used to address the needs of the population. You know, boring stuff like sanitation, education, healthcare, housing…

      If we decide to take a conservative approach we have to make it possible for people to provide these things for themselves at a much lower bar to entry. We aren’t willing to do that at the moment since we collectively want to filter out the riffraff with institutional barriers.

      If we decide to do this in a liberal manner we need to trust government a lot more. We’re not ready for that either since there’s a fear of the Nanny State and confiscatory socialism.

      So for now officials use “heuristics” to fake the numbers on unemployment, inflation, and the general welfare which all look great on paper, but are actually a shit show on the ground.

      1. Fair enough. It is a double-edged sword but most everything that deals with the mass population is.

        I’m more interested in why “Happiness” is the goal. I don’t see that as a productive goal. As you mention, “…the gulf between a superficial temporary cultural interpretation of happiness and the larger external reality can be profound.” Too many things in the human spirit are only attainable with risk (as mentioned above in the comments) and trial. Those things are not about happiness, they are about growth (usually spiritually).

        I also see the target of “Gross National Happiness” as something that is dangerously undefinable. Historically it tends to be redefined as “The Greater Good” and become the justification for all kinds of abuse.

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