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Are we happier?

Just a thought

November 02, 2011
People my age have experienced a lot of changes in our lifetimes. We've climbed a high ladder in technology and gadgets, but have we really risen above, or have a different perspective of, life's daily challenges?

I remember a lot of families out in the country where I was raised who didn't even have a telephone. I remember those who had a well but not running water. I even remember some who still had outhouses.

And I remember my grandfather saying, when my uncle bought a Plymouth with an automatic transmission, "Anyone too lazy to shift gears should have to walk."

I remember schools where the only climate control was opening or closing a window. I was in my teens before I first saw an air conditioner. I remember people, including my grandmother, cooking on woodstoves.

I remember going to town only once a week for grocery and other needs. I remember when most mothers stayed home and raised the children. And I remember when almost every kid was well behaved. Those who weren't were closely watched by the whole community.

I remember a time when a kid shooting another kid or someone shooting innocent people in a workplace was unheard of. I remember when no one I knew carried a gun.

I remember when most politicians of both parties got along and treated each other with respect, even if they had a difference of opinion about the issues. Their goal was to move the country forward, regardless of which party was in the White House. Elections were focused on what good things the politician had done, not the questionable things their opponent had done.

Doesn't that sound kind of dated these days? We've learned to dislike, disrespect and bad-mouth anyone who disagrees with us. And now, the goal is to win the game — not play fair — and take no prisoners.

I remember when kids could ride their bicycles without silly-looking helmets and don't remember ever hearing of a kid who suffered serious head injuries in a bicycle wreck, and we certainly had plenty of wrecks.

I remember eating most meals at home — a trip to a restaurant was a rare treat — and there was no fast food. Restaurant food was just like the food you got at home. And I remember when no one I knew had ever heard of pizza.

I remember when we got our first television (with two channels) and how every show was family oriented. And we would all gather in the living room in the evenings where everyone would be entertained by the same show. No foul language and everyone on TV kept their clothes on. Now, there are shows that I'm uncomfortable watching with my grown daughters. Maybe I'm a little squirmy about such things, but do we really need foul language, sex and nudity to entertain us?

And I remember when the bad guys on TV were shot by the Lone Ranger, Highway Patrol or Little Joe Cartwright, they were always wounded in the shoulder and hauled off to jail. Now, we watch as the special effects take over and we (unnecessarily) see brains blown all over walls and blood and guts strewn everywhere, all in the name of entertaining us better. This tells as much about us as an audience as it does about those who create the shows.

Yes, we've come a long way. Not only do we have TVs the size of a wall to better view the violence, sex, foul language and rude behavior, we also have cells phones so we can stay in touch constantly. We have the Internet and access to information at our fingertips 24/7. We have so many ways of communicating (phones, computers, text messaging, satellites, etc.) we should be so informed that we border on brilliance. Our cars talk to us. We have GPS that has replaced old road maps that we used to get at service stations to find our way. We have improved cameras, and we no longer have to send in the film and wait by the mailbox, excited to see what comes back. With the new digital cameras, it's all instant gratification but little excitement.

We have automatic washer and dryers, climate-controlled homes, microwave ovens and all sorts of time-saving devices yet still have little time to stop and smell the roses.

And when I used to sit at my grandmother's table, eating her delicious banana pudding, cooked on her wood stove, hearing the clean clothes flapping in the wind on the clothes lines outside and counting the rings of the party-line phone to determine if the call was for us or the neighbors, I was happy.

When we cut and hauled in wood in the fall and the whole family participated, we were happy. When we all took buckets and went blackberry picking, when the garden produced the first tomatoes of the season, when we made snow ice cream and homemade hot chocolate on winter days, we were happy. When we got our yearly three pairs of blue jeans, three shirts and new underwear, when the sun came out and we were able to go outside and play, and when cousins came over and we played hide-and-seek and collected lightning bugs until dark, we were happy.

Yes, if you ask most people my age when they were the happiest, they'll say it was long before cell phones, computers, microwaves, cars that talk and big-screen TVs. It was back when families ate meals and did a lot of things together. It was back when it wasn't necessary to be in constant contact with the rest of the world. And it was back when people treated others, even those whom they disagreed with, with respect.

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    I agree, but only to a point
    November 03, 2011 | 01:30 PM

    Great piece, Lee. As young man in my twenties, I missed a great deal of pre-technology age about which you speak. That said, it is still easy to remember a time when you could walk down the street without seeing someone with a cellular device glued to an appendage. Personally, I could not function without checking my email several times a day. Where has all of this technology gotten us? Has it made our lives better? I don't think there is an easy answer to the question, and your piece brings up great points.

    I disagree with the merit that you place on the fact that "most mothers stayed home and raised the children." While my generation is more reliant on technology, it is less tolerant on sexism.

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