December 28, 2005
Ten List of Foolish Myths
Looking back on 2005, I realize that much of what I heard -- and
what the media said -- turned out to be myths. Newsweek
reported that U.S. interrogators had flushed a Koran down a Guantanamo
Bay toilet. After Hurricane Katrina, reporters said that sharks
from Lake Pontchartrain were swimming through New Orleans, and roving
bands of armed gang members were attacking the helpless. Myth after
myth. So to celebrate the new year, I'd like to review my top 10
list of foolish myths. (ABC will broadcast a televised version of
this column in "20/20"'s timeslot Friday night.):
No. 10: Americans have less free time than we used to.
No. 9. Money buys happiness.
No. 8: Republicans shrink government.
No. 7: The world is getting too crowded.
No. 6. Chemicals are killing us.
No. 5: Guns are bad.
No. 4: We're drowning in garbage.
No. 3: We're destroying our forests.
No. 2: Getting cold will give you a cold.
No. 1: Life is getting worse.
A few of
these myths have some truth behind them. For two or three billion
people in the world trying to eke out a living on a dollar or
two a day, money would buy some happiness. If you can't feed your
family, money makes a big difference. But in America, research
suggests that once your income reaches $50,000, more money won't
make you happier. People say they'd be happier if they "just
made 20 percent more," but "happiness researchers"
tell me that such happiness quickly fades. A survey of 49 of the
Forbes richest found they weren't any happier than the
rest of us. One expert put it this way: "Even though no one
can be blessedly happy without external goods" -- such as
money and the things it can buy -- "we must not think that
to be happy we will need many large goods." It was Aristotle
who said that, and he was right.
"Look at all
the billionaires," recording executive Russell Simmons told
me. "If I know 15 billionaires, I know 13 unhappy people."
What does bring happiness?
Marriage (not always, obviously, but on average, married people
rate themselves happier than singles), deep friendships, belief
in God, and purposeful work. Aristotle was right again: So long
as you have the resources you need to take care of yourself and
do good deeds, it's your own actions, and particularly the noble
ones, that make you happy.
Money makes all sorts
of actions possible, beginning with staying alive. But it's the
actions that make us happy.
To briefly expand
on two of the other myths: Republicans shrink government? Not
in the past 75 years. At one of his State of the Union speeches,
President Bush was applauded after talking about "spending
discipline," but since he became president, the government
has hired a million more people and increased spending more than
on President Clinton's watch. It's not just because of terrorism.
During Bush's first five years, spending at the Department of
Labor was up 31 percent, Agriculture: 38 percent, Education: 81
percent. And the new prescription drug benefit is yet to be counted.
Put a politician in power, and he'll take your money and spend
it. That's what politicians do. Even Republicans.
worse" is myth No.1 because in TV newsrooms, I hear a constant
whine about life getting worse: avian flu will kill us if terrorism
doesn't get us first; crime and pollution keep increasing, and
the poor are suffering. But in truth, life keeps getting better.
We live longer than ever, and with less pain (think about dental
care in the 1960s). Crime is down. In America, even poor people
have homes, cars, and access to music and other entertainment
that was once only available to royalty. Pollution? The air and
water keep getting cleaner. I jumped in the Hudson River not long
ago to illustrate the point. There I was, swimming away and looking
up at the Empire State building. Despite eight million people
flushing nearby, the health department says swimming in the Hudson
is now perfectly safe.
Despite all the complaints
from the media, life keeps getting better. Let's complain less
and enjoy 2006.
JFS Productions, Inc. Distributed by Creators Syndicate