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Cherubs by Michaelangelo

Michaelangelo - Thoughtful cherubs in the Sistine Chapel - 1920x1200

The modern world provides so many good choices and so many bad ones that our minds are totally swamped – we dither, we temporize, we postpone because it’s so difficult to make any decision. The problem is we are exposed to far too much over-hyped information telling us things that are claimed to be important, some of which are not, but how can we know what is the good stuff?

Yesterday at the super market I was with my spouse and wimpishly followed her down the toilet paper aisle; it was a long one and there were many brands to choose from and within the brands there were specially labeled ones, some with designer embossing, and beneath it all a blizzard of price tags. As if that wasn’t over-choicing enough there were an abundance of sizes to choose between, single rolls and huge boxes of rolls. Do I need a gross of toilet paper?

Why didn’t I bring along my Consumer Reports to help me with these life-enhancing decisions? Suddenly, a question pricks my guilt-nerve. Am I a crappy under-informed consumer? I am confused, and further deepening my distraught state, why is the photo on the package of a beautiful young mom wiping her smiling baby’s face with the ass-wipe paper? My mind goes into a warp and I wonder about flipping the bird. If the hand is held up with palm facing the person is that gesture an insult, a greeting or showing off how clean my finger is after using this or that toilet paper? Grocery shopping is stressful for me so I palm it off as much as possible.

Grocery shopping is easier for me when I’m alone. I walk into the store, spot the most distant corner and immediately head for it, walking around the nearest edge. I know from past experience that the real food is located in the most difficult-to-reach places in a supermarket. If you don’t believe me, try the experiment and when returning walk back around the other periphery of the store while seeking out the rest of what you actually should be eating. It’s there in the furthest reaches of portability. The easily visited center aisles have the stuff you shouldn’t eat, like sugar, booze, soap, motor oil, and toilet paper.

Should I run right out and reread Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less? He claims we can’t cope with the modern world because we have too many choices, and that when we do make a choice it is made with the knowledge that when we start using whatever item we happened to get, it will not work very well. Also, when we get home we will then see a pretty young thing on TV using a similar product who is obviously so happy with her purchase that she is just oozing with enthusiastic hormones. Even when buying a big ticket item, like the most expensive car we can afford, after a couple of weeks it affords no inner smiles and becomes just transportation. It seems that everywhere we look someone else has something a little better in some way than everything we have. Is it engineering trade-offs, or is it really better, or are we really inferior? All comparisons are odious! But toilet paper? Give us a break.

Kids in Santa Claus suits

Only evil people would lie to children seeking truth.

I have been lied to and punished this way so many times in the past by the media that now my mind freezes when it comes time to buy anything, even to get some toilet paper. “Geez, I should have bought more Google stock when it was $85” springs spontaneously to my flustered mind, swamped with irrelevant but sometimes important data.

One mental trick I tried when trying to get our ass wipe was to cruise the bottom shelf and look for the store brand; that way I get down the aisle quickly and get a satisfactory product for bottom dollar. On the other hand if you want in-group prestige keep your eye at horizon level and choose the biggest, most carefully designed package with the smallest item inside. Of course that will cost a lot more but look at the ego-bennies you will reap in the privacy of your own poopy place. Ah, the cheruby smile you will feel, knowing you’ve got the best ass wipe in the world.

So, it would seem, you can achieve happiness by pursuing a reasonable goal at any time, no matter how mundane the momentary goal happens to be. But happiness is so transitory and gone in an instant that perhaps seeking contentment would be a wiser policy. And what is contentment but being satisfied with what you have at your disposal?

Having a reasonable and meaningful goal is great; it gives you purpose and organizes your activities and keeps your mind occupied. Progressing toward these goals keeps every moment filled with temporary happiness; the downside of course is that when you get what you seek and stop striving a chasm of emptiness opens up and threatens to swallow you. On the other hand, contentment doesn’t require much in the way of struggle. Just pay attention to what’s presently happening and accept it as is. You are what you are and I am what I am. If it works for God, why shouldn’t it work for you and me too?

Contentment is had when not pursuing any goal and just accepting what’s at hand.