Archives for November 2013

Thanksgiving Day – celebrate happiness with the two most important words

If appreciation is the most important ingredient for happiness, then Thanksgiving Day gives us a unique occasion to focus on what makes us happiest.

Thanksgiving is the most important holiday of the year.

Oh, sure, Christmas is grand, and I know it has many, many fans. I’m not knocking Christmas. But the Thanksgiving story is more important.

Easter has its fans, too. Rebirth is a wonderful thing, but I still say Thanksgiving is more important.

Yes, kids jump for joy at the thought of Halloween. I am sure they enjoy the costumes almost as much as the candy and chocolate, but the Thanksgiving story is even more important than overdosing on sugar.

Why?

Because the two most important words in the English language are “Thank You” – the ultimate in positive thinking. This is true for business success, for social pleasure, even for self-actualization.

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For business success, a thank you tells a prospect or partner that you are appreciative of what she has just done and that you are happy with them. It shows you have a genuine interest in that person and the business relationship.

For social interaction, expressing gratitude is equally important to show how you value the other person and the social relationship you have with him. “Thank you” is a bonding phrase.

But giving thanks is most important on a personal level for our own pursuit of happiness. This is true for anybody who has ever lived, but it is even more true for us today.

A Happy Thanksgiving of gratitude

Consider how much we have today. More than any of our ancestors, we live in The Land of Plenty. We have more than anybody who has lived at any time before. And for those of us who live in the developed world, we have more than most people on our little planet have even today.

I’m not just talking about our abundance of “stuff”. Oh sure, we have ten-foot tall digital color televisions with 594,798,345,691 channels and the ability to program them several light years into the future, the past and the 13th dimension. And we have computers that send us around the world faster than the speed of a turbo-jet on growth hormones. And we have 31 flavors of ice cream waiting for us on every second street corner. And we throw out more “junk” than we ever could find a use for in the first place.

But we have so much more than just ‘stuff’. Consider the following:

FREEDOM AND CHOICE: More of the world lives in a democracy than ever before, and democracy is becoming more open or “democratic” with every year (perhaps in part due to the Internet?). For most of mankind’s existence, democracy was as common as scale models of tourist destinations and automated toothpaste squeezers.

Tourist souvenirs

For most of mankind’s existence,
#democracy was as common as scale models of tourist destinations.

OPPORTUNITIES: With freedom and affluence comes opportunity. We have more opportunity to make money, to earn it the way we wish, to choose our careers, our location, even our lifestyle. Women have just about reached equality with men in most of the developed world, and more people are able to flee oppressive regimes for the Land of Milk and Honey. Actually, does that not sound like a continuation of the original Thanksgiving story?

KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? With freedom, comes the ability to satisfy our curiosity: knowledge. And with knowledge comes a thirst for freedom. Let’s face it, the idea of “the ignorant masses” has become an anachronism. Even the dumbest among us has more knowledge than most people who lived a couple centuries ago. (I said more “knowledge”, not more “wisdom”, but that’s another topic.)

HEALTH: Just surviving past childhood used to be a major success. Now we expect to live comfortably into our 80s or 90s. And we expect – no, we demand – to have exceptional health care all along the way (even for those who are afraid to go to the doctor!).

Make every day Thanksgiving Day

This list could keep growing, but these are the major benefits I am grateful for living in twenty-first century North America. What does that have to do with Thanksgiving Day and happiness?

Well, follow this train of thought. Whatever you have, you can either appreciate or not. If you appreciate it — I mean really notice that you have it, that it is good, that you feel good about having it — it will bring you happiness. However, if you get used to it, take it for granted, and focus on things you don’t have, then whatever you do have just won’t bring you happiness; it is just part of the scenery, background noise.

Read also: Yes, Virginia, there is a secret to happiness.

Appreciation is the key to happiness. And daily appreciation is the key to daily happiness. Whatever you truly and proactively appreciate, whether “stuff” or education or a vacation or a nap (as I write this, there is nothing I would appreciate more than a nap!), will bring you joy. But in this fast-paced, dog-eat-dog, over-stimulated society, how can we appreciate anything?

Sadly, many of us who have the most to be grateful for express gratitude the least, and feel the least appreciation. It seems the more we have, the more we want. The more we want, the less we appreciate what we have. The less we appreciate, the less value there is to having anything, which may explain why we keep wanting more.

We who are drowning in luxuries and hold the world in our hands can’t seem to find the time to appreciate what we have … but we still make time to whine and complain. We still find things, however petty, to feed our negative thinking. How can we learn to appreciate our abundance and live a happy life?

The secret to feeling the appreciation we often overlook is in expressing our gratitude vocally or in writing. How can we possibly fail to appreciate something when we say “Thank you” for it and focus our attention on the appreciation? As I said earlier, “Thank you” are the two most important words in our vocabulary.

Happiness workbookI offer several ideas on how to express gratitude in the Get Happy Workbook and my self-help book Climb your Stairway to Heaven: the 9 habits of maximum happiness, including keeping a gratitude journal, saying grace, practicing “bolsterism”, or just sending flowers, cards, or a thankful e-mail message – to name just a few ideas. Perhaps the most useful of all ideas is to make Thanksgiving Day every day – and really feel the gratitude.

Christmas is important. Easter is important. Halloween is important for the kids. But for our own personal happiness, there is nothing like a truly heartfelt Thanksgiving.

So have a Happy Thanksgiving today, and every day.  And I invite you to express what you are grateful for in the comments below.

Read also: Last year’s Thanksgiving Day message.

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Home Of The Year

It might never be seen in a magazine, but your home should be home of the year, every year, to you. Let’s see what kind of home we get when we mix in a dose of toddler and a dash of humor.

This was a few years ago, when we were gathered ’round the television, where Little Lady was watching an episode of Stuart Little. The kids on the show had entered their house for a Home Of The Year contest sponsored by some fancy magazine.

I turned to my wife with yet another one of my way-too-brilliant ideas. “Why don’t we enter the Home Of The Year contest?” I asked.

My wife looked around in horror. “What? With this place?”

There's No Place Like HomeLittle Lady, just over two years old at the time, was looking for the green crayon. “Sure,” I replied, obviously missing something. “Why not? It’s a great home.”

“This place is a certified mess,” my wife said in frustration, as she started slipping the videos back into their sleeves. “What magazine would call this home of the year? Dump Monthly? Trash Can News? Oh, I know – Bad Housekeeping?”

Read also: The ultimate home makeover.  Wow!

Little Lady emptied the crayon box on the floor. “Oh come on,” I answered. “This is a wonderful home full of love and joy. See all the drawings taped to the wall?”

“In the Home Of The Year, there are no crayon drawings taped to the wall,” my wife explained with just a hint of patience. “There might be an original Rembrandt or Van Gogh, or perhaps an exceptional imitation. It would be placed in an elegant frame.”

Little Lady found the green crayon. Now she needed a sheet of paper on which to draw.

What makes a house a home?

“I don’t know,” I hesitated. “Rembrandt and Van Gogh don’t sound very homey. I suspect you might find them in the Museum Of The Year contest.”

“Just look at this dust!” my wife cried. She blew on the top of the television set, which temporarily vanished into the haze. I think it’s time to buy a vacuum cleaner from [insert highest bidding vacuum cleaner brand name here]. (That’s called “product placement” in Hollywood. Except that Hollywood tends to place tire-squealing Porches and Mercedes, but that would probably make this “home of the year” even messier!)

Read also: How we fix things around our house with duct tape.

Little Lady emptied her bookshelf with one fell swoop, but still could not find paper on which to draw.

“OK, so it’s dusty,” I admitted. “If we dusted more frequently, we would spend less time together and it would be less of a home.”

“The Home Of The Year contest Committee really does not care whether we spend time together,” my wife said. She headed toward the kitchen in search of iced tea, nearly tripping over a bag of clothes along the way. “They just want to see a spotless house with all the classiest decorations.”

Child's messy handWho needs paper, anyway? Little Lady found a blank spot on the wall, and started applying her green crayon.

“Well, that might make a good House Of The Year, but a home is a place to live in. It needs to exude love and comfort, not cleanliness,” I said.

Apparently, I was still clueless. “Homes of the year never exude love, and certainly not comfort,” she explained, ironically picking a copy of Good Housekeeping up from the floor. “They are showcases of a woman’s ability to keep a house in immaculate condition with absolute precision … despite the presence of a male creature around.”

Ouch. Little Lady gleefully switched to the red crayon. “Well I don’t know anything about keeping a house tidy, but if that’s what the magazines want, why don’t they call it The Janitorial Olympics?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s too hard for them to spell,” my wife replied, smiling. “But they don’t, so just get used to reality. We simply do not have even the slightest, tiniest, most minuscule hope of ever winning the Home Of The Year contest.”

By then, Little Lady had drawn three stick figures on the wall. “My home,” she shouted, running to give Mommy a big hug.

I didn’t need a magazine to tell me we already lived in the home of the year. And if the dust doesn’t kill us off first, we will live there every year.

Home Decor Books

Home Decorating Made Easy

Now, just for the sake of argument, suppose you wanted to decorate your home in some other motif than crayon scribbling. Get the Home Decorating Made Easy manual. It’s not as easy as scribbling with crayons, but even I will admit it looks much classier.

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Learning to forgive

Forgiveness is not just something to ask for. It is also something to grant. With forgiveness comes great freedom, whether you are on the giving or the receiving end.

This is a guest post from Jason of “Learning To Forgive”.

I often encounter those holding onto resentments from the past in an attempt to avoid conflict or reduce the chance of having to be vulnerable. Forgiving others as well as asking for forgiveness takes a tremendous amount of courage.

Forgiveness - don't have a heart of stoneTo forgive, we must allow our ego’s to subside. We have to let go of the need or desire to be angry. We have to release the desire to exact revenge.

In asking for forgiveness, we must humble ourselves. We have to accept our faults as a human being and look into the mirror and realize that is who we are; imperfect, temperamental, emotional, vulnerable, yet beautiful and unique.

Nobody likes feeling vulnerable. Yet, beautiful moments and learning experiences happen we are most vulnerable, allowing ourselves to be emotionally open to receiving and giving forgiveness.

Finding the courage to forgive happens when we look at ourselves and realize how fragile we are. This realization can seem overwhelming, but once we accept our fragility, we can then begin to appreciate the gift of life on a deeper and more intimate level.

The gift of life happens now! Happiness happens now! To allow ourselves to hold onto resentment, anger, shame or guilt seems pointless when you look at it that way.

Living in the now is the key to happiness, and the key to living in the now comes from finding the courage to forgive.

Jason is a self proclaimed animal lover, and dedicated to helping others discover their truth.

Read also: The Secret to Happiness.

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Coming soon to a store near you.

The old notion of lining up at the cash register could be a thing of the past, with mobile POS (point of sale) systems. Could we now be given surprise rewards and impromptu discounts, even as we are trying on clothes in the fitting rooms?

I don’t know whether to publish this in the “Frugal” section or the “Too Cool” section. Oops, it seems I don’t have a “Too Cool” section, so…

Most frugal shoppers keep one eye open for sales and the other for loyalty programs. Over the long term, they amount to the pretty much the same thing: take 10 percent off, or win 10 percent more merchandise later on.

Well, this post is inspired by a local gas station that keeps trying to get me to take on their points card. Notice that I did not say points “program”. I said “card”.

“Sorry, I don’t want another card in my wallet.”

There is a company called Coin working on a card that will replace all the other cards. You just push a button and it becomes any card you want. But that hasn’t yet arrived and it will cost us (consumers) money.

Why does a loyalty program require me to carry an extra plastic card? I found myself both laughing and nodding my head at about 12-18 seconds into this video by Vend …

Tweet quote: “I don’t want to carry another loyalty card in my pocket.

The video goes on to show how stores can run loyalty programs using Cloud-based Vend from an iPad. Aside from freeing our wallets and purses from card-bulge, it also means that store staff can run around the store and do all sorts of crazy things with their loyalty programs.

Who knows, maybe some creative stores will start offering on-the-spot prizes, windfalls, contests and all sorts of entertaining stuff. Why not? – online marketing over the past few years has become all about engagement, so why shouldn’t the same thing apply to the retail environment.

And now that they are integrated with PayPal, I don’t need cash or a credit card to pay, either – which makes it easier for consumers and less of a headache for retailers.

Shopping in a mobile-enabled store

Imagine this scenario. You are trying on two items in the fitting room, unsure which one to pick, and you decide to buy one. You don’t want to wait in line at the checkout, so you make the purchase right there in the change room. And – Surprise! – you have just earned enough points to get the other item free, so you don’t even have to choose between the two.  And no need to even reach into your pocket for a credit card.

Actually, I can see clothing retailers using this system to offer buy-two-get-one-free specials only accessible right there in the fitting room.

Although I have yet to see anything this creative in the stores around here, this mobile system is already being used by numerous small retailers.

This soup is not for saleThe Not For Sale Campaign is using it in stores In the Netherlands to sell merchandise that it uses to funds its charitable works around the world.

The Ben Espresso Bar in New Zealand makes it easy for customers to enjoy seasonal brews.

LoMo Market uses the iPad based system to be mobile – to bring farmers markets near to you, so you don’t have to travel so far (assuming you live near Durham, North Carolina – if you live in Norway or Botswana, I suspect you’ll have to drive pretty far to get to LoMo).

Not only might we soon do away with loyalty cards, but also with those pesky paper receipts. “We just ask if they’re happy to receive a receipt by email, and not one customer has said no,“ says Andrew Paine of Sitka, a surf shop and retail clothing store in Victoria, British Columbia.

For the retailer – the guy who wants our loyalty – the whole Vend system is much more than just about loyalty programs, as Mobile Commerce Daily reports. In fact, that is a pretty small portion of what Vend does. The folks at GetApp point out that the big benefits of a cloud-based system is that it allows an entrepreneur or manager to keep track of things from anywhere. So if you are flitting between store and factory and warehouse and another store and…well, wherever you are, you have real-time data on sales and customers and whatever else you’re tracking.

And the folks at GrowMap point out how easy it is for smaller merchants to use Vend because it integrates well with PayPal. Can you say “Frustrating banks that won’t give my small business a merchant account with Visa or Mastercard”? Sure, I knew you could.

So don’t be surprised if over the next few years, you see a lot more iPads checking you out – I mean “checking you out” as in a check-out counter without the counter. And not just at the “store”. Your kid’s piano teacher might bring Vend to your house. Your plumber surely will. Your insurance agent, too. The volunteer firemen who stop your car at the main intersection in town. The cow you milk…no, wait. Maybe not the cow.

* Want to keep up with the news on Vend, Follow them on Twitter or GooglePlus.

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A Parenting Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe

Parenting young children is tough enough, without having to follow a recipe. This pumpkin cheesecake recipe* was written for parents like you.

Whoever writes all those fancy cookbooks has never been a parent. To begin with, the pages are never spill-proof, almost guaranteeing that somewhere in the middle of mixing ingredients, Little Helper will spill something and cover up the remaining two ingredients listed. This means that parents must learn to improvise.

Get also recipe secrets from famous restaurants.
Some would suggest that the very thrill of cooking is experimentation. So what’s the big difference between oregano and cayenne pepper, anyway?

Then there are all those “quick” recipes to “serve your family” gracing the pages of women’s magazines. NO recipe is quick with Little Helper’s assistance.

For the benefit of parents everywhere, I have taken my favorite pumpkin cheesecake recipe and translated it into parentease. The non-parent version is available in Cooking By The Book — a free bonus I offer with every purchase of The Get Happy Workbook.

Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Recipe (Parenting Version)

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Mix one cup of ginger snap cookie crumbs and one tablespoon of olive oil. Add more cookie crumbs to make up for the ones that disappeared about the same time your Little Helper walked into the kitchen.

Press the crumby oil mixture … “Sorry, that doesn’t sound quite right – Little Helper distracted me.” Press the oily crumb mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form pan, and up around the edges about one inch. Put it in the refrigerator to cool – best to slip it in safely behind the broccoli and that thing that’s been turning bluish green for three weeks, to deter any impromptu inspirations from Little Helper.

Enjoy also this non-parenting pumpkin soup recipe.
Soften three bricks of cream cheese, ideally in the microwave. If you can’t separate the cheese from Little Helper’s hands, let her keep doing what she’s doing until the cheese is good and soft. Cream the cheese with one and a half cups of pureed pumpkin, three large eggs, two tablespoons of cream, and one cup of brown sugar. Keep mixing until creamy.

Add one teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you are “fortunate” enough to have help at this stage, you have three options:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Vanilla Cheesecake”.
  • Try scooping out the extra cup of vanilla that Little Helper poured in for you.
  • Start over.

You will also need to add a tablespoon of cinnamon. If Little Helper is in a generous mood, don’t worry. You still have three options:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cheesecake”.
  • Try scooping out the extra pile of cinnamon that  Little Helper poured in for you.
  • Bang your head against the counter and start over.

There is also a tablespoon of ground ginger to add. Sorry about that. Don’t worry, you still have three options…again:

  • Rename it “Harvest Pumpkin and Ginger Cheesecake”.
  • Scoop out as best you can the extra heap of ginger Little Helper added for you.
  • Bang your head twice on the counter and start over.

I almost hate to mention this, but you’ll need to add a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. And a half teaspoon of salt. And a half teaspoon of allspice. Go ahead and bang your head some more if it makes you feel better. The counter can take it.

The Parenting Failsafe Recipe for Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Fortunately, there is a parenting failsafe. It is sort of like a “get out of jail free card”. Look in the bowl. Observe the quantity of creamy things. Observe the quantity of spicy things.

If the quantity of creamy things is even slightly greater than the quantity of spicy things, keep going and pretend you didn’t have any help. Maybe nobody will notice. If the quantity of spicy things is greater than the quantity of creamy things, open another can of pureed pumpkin. Hmm…and another. Keep adding cans of pureed pumpkin until creamy things are greater than spicy things — or until your grocer runs out of cans.

Is this a great pumpkin cheesecake recipe, or what?

Pour the pumpkin filling into the crust. Note, if you had to add too many cans of pureed pumpkin, this could get messy. I recommend hip-waders…especially for Little Helper.

Cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 50 minutes or until the top is slightly brown and almost as cracked as your head and the counter. Do NOT let Little Helper eat the cake while it is still in the oven. This is considered dangerous by nine out of ten electricians and seven major oven manufacturers.

Let it air cool in a safe place — like at a neighbor’s house — then refrigerate overnight

Just before serving, top with whipped cream and sprinkle with pecans. Oops. I just wrote that last line in non-parentease. It should read: “Now that the whipped cream is polished off, shake the remaining candy-sprinkles on the cake.” Unless Little Helper ate them, too.

Now you can sit down and enjoy your Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake (Parenting Version). Or your Harvest Pumpkin and Vanilla Cheesecake. Or whatever you want to call that mess. Oh yes, don’t forget to laminate this page to avoid more impromptu experimentation with cayenne pepper in the future.

* NOTE: This article is humorous, but the recipe is real (tried and true and from a few years back, when my kids were younger)…and real good!!!

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Protein Powder – not just for shakes! (Bonus: Protein Power Pumpkin Soup Recipe)

Inexpensive and versatile, protein powder is a great way to top up the protein you might be missing from your diet without breaking your budget. It goes into almost any liquid or semi-liquid food, including the creamy pumpkin soup recipe in this article.

I wrote earlier about the price of various sources of protein.  One of the more reasonably priced sources is protein powder, usually from whey. They are most often used to make shakes and smoothies after a workout.

But protein powder has so many other overlooked, but handy, uses.  In fact, it might just be the flexibility of the product that makes it more attractive than the price.

protein pumpkin soupSuppose you want a complete meal, but you don’t want to cook up meat.  So you make a salad and grab a yogurt and…that’s not a full meal.  Yogurt has very little protein.  Even the best Greek style yogurts don’t have enough for a complete meal (unless you eat a lot of yogurt, I suppose).  No problem, just toss a bit of powder into your yogurt.

Soup and salad for lunch?  Just add protein powder – preferably to the soup, not to the salad.  In fact, there is a creamy pumpkin soup that I love that makes a complete meal when you add a bit of protein powder.  The picture is to the right. The recipe is below.  The evidence is currently in my stomach.

A fully cooked meal, but you don’t feel like meat?  Mashed potatoes with protein powder.

Vegetarian lasagna or spaghetti or Fettuccine Alfredo…just add protein to the sauce.

Oatmeal for breakfast?  Pancakes for supper?  (Yes, if you add the magic powder, there is no reason they can’t make a very good supper.)

In fact, can’t get your kids to eat their meat? Add protein powder to your cake recipe.

Tweet this quote: “Can’t get your kids to eat their meat? Let them eat cake!

In fact, you can add whey powder to pretty much any sauce or cream or to anything you bake – cookies, cakes, muffins, pies…even meatloaf (but that would be kind of pointless, right?)

pumpkin soup slice


Protein Power Pumpkin Soup


Here is the pumpkin soup recipe…
Pre-cook one medium-sized pumpkin or three average sized butternut squashes, and discard the seeds (you can roast them later for tasty snacks).  You can just put the pumpkin or squash about 20 minutes in the microwave; they don’t need to be fully cooked, just soft enough to scoop out of their skin and into a very large pot.

While the pumpkin or squash is pre-cooking, peel seven apples and three onions and cut into pieces, discarding the apple cores, of course.  Toss into the pot with a cup or two of water and start cooking.

Grate about two inches of fresh ginger root into the pot.  Powdered ginger will not be the same – the soup will taste VERY different.  The best way to grate the ginger root is to keep it in the freezer and remove it only when you are ready to grate.  You want the ginger root to be frozen hard for grating. Yes, your hands will freeze before you get it all grated, so wear gloves if you insist on being a wuss (like me).

pumpkin soup slice

Add a touch of powdered nutmeg.

Add a touch of powdered pepper – this tastes better if you grind it fresh, too.

Add a touch of salt.

All these touches really depend on your personal taste.  Best to start off with very little and experiment in your bowl later on.

Add the pumpkin or squash and keep cooking until everything is nice and soft – pumpkin, apples and onions.  Add water as needed, and be careful not to burn the bottom of the soup.

pumpkin soup slice

While the soup is cooking, grate some cheese. This cheese will be for sprinkling on your soup when it is on the table to serve.  Some people prefer just a very gentle sprinkling.  Other people, like me, want lots and lots of cheese. I like cheddar best for this purpose (I am not that big a cheddar fan, but this combination just seems to work well), but mozzarella is good, too, and most hard cheeses should do nicely.  Put the cheese aside.

When everything in the pot is soft and cooked, you can cream it in the blender.  You will probably have to divide it into about five or six batches for this.  But first, add the protein powder.  How much protein powder depends on how much cheese you will eat in the soup.

If you are like me, you really need very little protein powder to make this soup a complete meal.  But if the cheese is just a garnish for you, then I suggest putting enough protein for however many meals you plan to make out of it.

pumpkin soup slice

This pumpkin soup recipe is just one thing you can do with protein powder. It is a very healthy meal, because pumpkins are loaded with vitamins and who do you know who gets enough fresh ginger in their diet? But the protein powder is an ideal way to add convenience and control costs almost any time with almost any food.

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10 hit songs blasting the music industry

Some big names like Billy Joel, Pink and The Kinks have had hits with anti-music-industry songs, ironically helping to line the pockets of industry executives.  This is the story of ten hit songs that pop stars performed to bite the hand that feeds them.

There is something sweetly ironic about listening to a hit song produced by the music industry about how evil and corrupt and useless the music industry is. Or to tune in to your fave radio station, only to hear a song blasting radio stations.

And that is perhaps why we love such songs so much. Here are just a few of the music-industry and radio-station-bashing hits that you might enjoy.

Spirit of the Radio by Rush

Canadian rock band Rush sings about the “freedom of music”, but how “glittering prizes” make that freedom so restricted. Money. Fame. The usual. This is clearly a song that criticizes not just the record labels, but the artists themselves for paying too much attention to those prizes and for making the “endless compromises”.

Rush - Spirit of the RadioAll this machinery making modern music
Can still be open-hearted.
Not so coldly charted, it’s really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah, your honesty.

One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity.

They don’t say to what degree these prizes have co-opted them over the years, but it is fair to say that Rush has rarely contorted their music to fit any particular formula. However, it is also fair to say that much of the music they have written that is wildly outside radio format is on the early albums.

In their lyrics, however, Rush makes no compromise. That this song ever saw the light of day is proof of that. On the same album one also finds “Free Will”, a tribute to Ayn Rand and libertarianism and, seemingly, an anthem to explain why they made no compromise on “Spirit of the Radio”.

The Entertainer by Billy Joel

If you thought that “Piano Man” was Billy Joel‘s middle finger to the life of a struggling musician,
you must listen to the much less-renowned but equally compelling “The Entertainer”.

He begins by being suitably cynical about the fickleness of the public, of the fleeting nature of fame itself:

Piano Man by Billy JoelToday I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game, you’ll forget my name
And I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts

Like Rush, Billy Joel’s harsh words are not just aimed at the record company executives, but equally at the performers themselves. Billy Joel offers a few choice words for how low entertainers like himself hustle for money:

I am the entertainer
I bring to you my songs
I’d like to spend a day or two
I can’t stay that long
No, I’ve got to meet expenses
I got to stay in line
Gotta get those fees to the agencies
And I’d love to stay but there’s bills to pay
So I just don’t have the time

But like so many artists, he harbors great frustration at all the other people who put their hands in his music, and has to make those “endless compromises” that Rush sings about. Billy Joel puts it this way:

I am the entertainer
I come to do my show
You’ve heard my latest record
It’s been on the radio
Ah, it took me years to write it
They were the best years of my life
It was a beautiful song
But it ran too long
If you’re gonna have a hit
You gotta make it fit
So they cut it down to 3:05

And if that is not a pretty direct reference to “Piano Man”, which most of us know for both its short version and its longer and more complete original version, we can all pack up and go home.

Grace Kelly by Mika

Like Billy Joel, Mika was not impressed with record company executives who wanted to mess with his music. It seems that Mika’s sound wasn’t conventional enough for them, but Mike thought that he could have whatever sound he wants:

In Mika’s own words, “Grace Kelly was written after these musicians were trying to mold me into what I should be. I was really angry and so I wrote the song and mailed them the lyrics. They didn’t call me back, but two years later it’s come full circle.”

Mika sings Grace KellyI could be brown
I could be blue
I could be violet sky
I could be hurtful
I could be purple
I could be anything you like
Gotta be green
Gotta be mean
Gotta be everything more
Why don’t you like me?
Why don’t you like me?
Walk out the door!

Cowboy Hats by Chris Cummings

Moving from Mica’s anger to Chris Cummings pragmatic cynicism, the country music industry takes one on the chin. Chris Cummings sings about how young performers are sucked into a suckers machine, essentially used for the benefit of the agents.

Chris Cummings sings Cowboy HatsIt’s all done from a to z
We’ll tell you what to say
Just repeat after me
They walk the walk
Sign autographs
Yeah, the money’s all yours
’til you pay it all back

…and…

There’s two born every minute
There’s a sucker and a star
We’re all very busy, son
But could you tell us which you are

This is perhaps the most damning attack on the record industry that we visit today, painting them as snake oil salesmen with the main, purposeful intent to dupe starry eyed dreamers.

We Built this City by Starship

Starship‘s anthem that featured in the movie Rock of Ages, starring Tom Cruise, gets back to the whole conflict between money and art, and of course the artists are singing about how the money players are getting in the way.

We Built This City, by StarshipSomeone always playing corporation games
Who cares they’re always changing corporation names
We just want to dance here someone stole the stage
They call us irresponsible write us off the page

…and…

Who counts the money underneath the bar
Who rides the wrecking ball in to our rock guitars
Don’t tell us you need us, ‘cos we’re the ship of fools
Looking for America, coming through your schools

Here is the song sung by Grace Slick and Starship:

And here is the song mix from the move Rock of Ages:

Rock and Roll is a Vicious Game by April Wine

This rock ballad takes up the theme from the early part of Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer”. April Wine reminds us that you are only as good as your last song, and people will happily forget you for someone who’s last song is on their minds.

April Wine Rock and Roll Is a Viscious GameHe opened up his heart to us, he gave us what he could
We symphathized and harmonized, he made us all feel good
But it’s funny how those things can change, and time can pass us by
Songs that moved us so easily, no longer make us cry

In fairness, this song still does make me cry. In this case, it isn’t really the music industry that is cruel; it’s you and me, who move on to newer music. But that is part of the game.

Don’t Let Me Get Me by Pink

Back on the track of Mika’s anger – oh, yes, he’s not the only one – let’s take a look at Pink‘s version. She got tired of being told by music industry executives to fit the mold, much as Mica was. The result was “Don’t let me get me”.

Don’t Let Me Get Me by PinkLA told me, “You’ll be a pop star,
All you have to change is everything you are.”
Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears
She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me

In the official video, she speaks to herself in the mirror, but the whole issue was the result of what she was being told in corporate offices.

Not to agree for a moment that Pink is in anybody’s shadow in the looks department, she did choose a different look, one that is all her own, and most people will agree that she built an image which is pretty unique in today’s pop scene.

You might still be able to catch Pink
singing “Don’t let me get me” and other “less than perfect” songs in your town:
http://www.ticketstub.com/search.php?q=pink
 

Around the Dial by The Kinks

The Kinks zero in on Billy Joel and April Wine’s concern for the fleeting nature of stardom from the music listener’s point of view. Oh, but a twist! It’s not the missing pop star that they lament; it’s the missing DJ.

Around the Dial by The KinksWhere did you go Mr. D.J.?
Did they take you off the air?
Was it something that you said to the corporation guys upstairs?
It wasn’t the pressure,
You never sounded down.
It couldn’t be the ratings,
You had the best in town.
Somehow I’m gonna find ya, track you down.
Gonna keep on searchin’,
Around and around and ’round and ’round…

This song was not, in fact, about how individual DJs could go AWOL. It was about corporate consolidation of radio stations around the world, with automated playlists and fewer DJs (and less local variety in music selection). In fact, this might just be the most critical attack on the music industry on this list.

Radio Radio by Elvis Costello

OK, perhaps this one is almost as critical. Elvis Costello takes his shot at radio consolidation in “Radio Radio”, a short punchy tune of the new wave / punk rock era in the UK and across America. His lyrics are more aggressive, implying a dictatorial bent from the radio companies:

Elvis Costello Radio RadioRadio is a sound salvation
Radio is cleaning up the nation
They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice ’cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio

When he appeared on Saturday Night Live, he was asked not to sing this song, but he was a rebel and gave a melodic middle finger to the TV execs.

I wanna bite the hand that feeds me.
I wanna bite that hand so badly.
I want to make them wish they’d never seen me.

What a great song!

You might still be able to catch Elvis Costello
biting the hand that feeds him in your home town (He’s touring right now!):
http://www.ticketstub.com/search.php?q=Elvis+Costello
 

American Pie by Don Maclean

Let’s end with a song that focuses on the evils and perils of the music industry in a most confusing way. Other than taking a veiled swipe at the Rolling stones and mourning the death of Buddy Holly, it is hard to say just what Don Maclean is displeased about, and he has always refused to say. Whatever it is, it seems to have affected him greatly and given the world another great, epic song.

Don Mclean sings American PieNow for ten years we’ve been on our own
And moss grows fat on a rollin’ stone
But that’s not how it used to be
When the jester sang for the king and queen
In a coat he borrowed from James Dean
And a voice that came from you and me

Oh, and while the king was looking down
The jester stole his thorny crown
The courtroom was adjourned
No verdict was returned

…and…

Now the halftime air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune
We all got up to dance
Oh, but we never got the chance

‘Cause the players tried to take the field
The marching band refused to yield
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

One thing that shines through this list is that so many of these songs can be called epic, much more than just a couple standard verse and chorus repetitions. These are not formulaic love songs or heartbreak songs.

There are many more examples of songs that attack the music industry from Tom Petty and Graham Parker and the Clash and others. But these are ones that actually hit the charts. I hope you enjoy them.

Read also: Hotel California – the Eagles defined musical innovation

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Spare a smile?

The wonderful thing about a smile is that you always have an extra to spare. Because as soon as you give it away…Presto! You have another one just waiting to be shared.

One of the four categories of this blog is frugal. That’s all about saving money, living simply without the need for very expensive tastes.

Being frugal with money is one thing. Being frugal with smiles is quite another. For most of us, money is a limited resource.  Being frugal means allocating limited funds where they are most needed, rather than being frivolous with it.

Tweet this quote: “Smiles are the ultimate renewable resource. Don’t be stingy with them.

But smiles are not limited.  They are the ultimate renewable resource.  No matter how many smiles you give away, you will always have as many as you started with.  In fact, you’ll have more, because every smile you share will get you at least one smile shared back, if not dozens.  Loaves and fishes are all very well I suppose, but a smile replenishes itself just as well and it won’t go stale by tomorrow.

Spare a smile

 

The man in this photo, snapped on Queen Street in Toronto, asks us whether we are willing to spare a smile.

Children spare a smile.  You can too!

Children smile a lot.  They will smile for almost any reason, and for no reason at all.  Adults don’t smile nearly as much.  Why?

Smiles open doors.  Do adults not need any doors opened for them?

Smiles make friends.  Do adults not want friends?

Smiles reduce stress.  Do adults like stress?

In fact, the only stress reliever in shorter supply among adults than smiling is laughter.  Yes, that most amazing, all-natural stress reliever that adults seem to find so hard to embrace.

Read also: The Happiness Poem

But laughter is smiling.  It’s smiling big and wide.  Did you know that in Spanish the word for smile is “sonreír” and the word for laughter is “reír”?  In French, the word for smile is “sourire” and the word for laughter is “rire”.  Coincidence?  I think not.

We have both laughter and smiles in endless abundance.  There is no reason to be stingy with them.  Share as many smiles as you can.  Laugh as often as possible.  Watch how your life improves the more often you spare a smile.

* Photo credit, with permission: Sam Javanrouh

 

 

 

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The secret of (synthetic) happiness according to science

Research shows that we have the capacity to synthesize happiness when we don’t get what we want.  But is synthetic happiness as good as “real” happiness?  Or is all happiness just a concoction?  Let’s look at the science behind happiness and synthetic happiness.

This is a very instructive TED talk by Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert.  He explains all about the secret to happiness – synthetics.  Yes, we all synthesize happiness.  Is it fake?  Yes…and no.  When we fake happiness, it turns out that we make happiness.  And that makes it real.  But I should let him explain it, as he does it so much better than I can.

He quotes the words of Thomas Browne:

“I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Archilles; Fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

This is a quote that I very much like.  It is empowering.  It is very positive.  Repeat it over and over and you might even become invulnerable to emotional distress.

Tweet this quote: “When we fake happiness, we make happiness.”

But the best part of this video is when Dan Gilbert lays down the four secrets to happiness, as gleaned from scientific research.  And here is the screenshot from the video:

Secret Of Happiness

OK, those are not really the conclusions he draws.  But he does call on the same type of research that I address in my own book, Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 habits of maximum happiness, namely that three to six months after a major life event, people return to their pre-event level of happiness. Consider these events:

  • You win the lottery.
  • You become paraplegic.
  • You get divorced.
  • You have a miscarriage.
  • You win the marathon.
  • You win an election.
  • Your home is destroyed in a tornado.
  • You are presented with an award.

And a few months later…nothing.  The event was traumatic or exhilarating, but it has no long-term effect on your happiness.  How can a paraplegic be just as happy as he was before the accident?  How can a lottery winner be no more happy than before the windfall?

Read also: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Happiness.

Happiness is not something tangible.  It is how we feel, and that is something we synthesize.  Is it real?  Yes.  Is it genuine? Yes.  De we “create” it?  Yes.  There you have it – the real secret to happiness.  You can now safely join The Beatles.  Or go to jail.  Either way, you’ll end up just as happy.

Read also: A happiness poem.

 

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