ACHIEVING HAPPINESS
THROUGH LOWER STANDARDS


Self-Help for the 21st Century
by Steve Goodie


Excerpted Contents
(Click a chapter)

From Chapter 1:

From Chapter 2:

From Chapter 3:

From Chapter 4:

From Chapter 5:

From Chapter 10:

From Chapter 13:


Money

Men And Women

Family

Good Taste / Bad Taste

Success / Failure

People Are Idiots

How To Lower Your Standards



from Chapter 1

MONEY

There are few subjects as universal as the subject of Cash (and how much of it one needs). Let’s say I earned x-thousand dollars in 2001. And let’s say I brought in x-plus-two-thousand dollars in 2002. If, in 2003, I bring in less than x-plus-four-thousand dollars, I feel somehow that I’ve failed. Even if I made x-plus-two-thousand dollars (the amount I made in 2002), it would still feel like a failure if the amount doesn’t rise from the previous year. A failure! X-plus-two-thousand isn’t enough anymore. Why? Because I have foolishly allowed my Standards to rise.

In 2003 I can be happy with the same amount if I can somehow return to the Standards of 2002. If I can return to the Standards of 2001, I’ll be very happy indeed. Using this logic, if I can return to the Standards of, say, 1974, I’ll be giddy. Standards are sneaky. They seem to rise of their own volition. They are contained in a strange anti-gravitational field. Where everything else naturally sinks and decays, Standards naturally and annoyingly float upward.

This is why it’s not good enough to have money; you must make sure it is earning interest, doubling and redoubling itself. That’s the capitalist agenda, after all - if you’re rich, you are obligated to become richer.

And the funny, ironic, paradoxical thing about it - the grandest paradox I can think of - is that you can never, ever have enough money. No matter how much you have, you want more. Ask Donald Trump. The guy could just lie on the beach on his own island if he wanted to, for the rest of his life. But that’s not good enough. He must generate more money. And Bill Gates, the one whose software is key in the writing of this book - he’s perfectly able to just quit and relax. But he can’t. There is no such thing as “enough.”

Maybe a mantra will help.

Financial Mantra #1: “90% of the world is starving, so I must be doing pretty darn well.” (Say this 50 times every morning.) Well, I don’t know the exact statistic, but just watching late night TV should be evidence enough. Here in the United States, and in other affluent countries, we should be content to go to bed with nothing more on our minds than the rising cost of 900 numbers. I know I am, anyway. Who needs a Ferrari when you realize that you’re lucky not to have a bloated, empty stomach and flies all over you? Who needs a big mansion when you don’t have Sally Struthers sticking a microphone in your face while she munches on a burrito?

If you’ve ever bought or sold a house, you know who has all the money in this world: the real estate people. They are required by law to drive Mercedeses (now there’s a tough word to pluralize) and make a bazillion dollars a month and look good and live the good life.

What do they do? They help people sell a plot of dirt to other people. Let me say that another way: they oversee the transfer of dirt. And they get a percentage of the value of the dirt as a reward for their services.

That’s so cool. And I wonder: how did that dirt get value in the first place? I usually wonder that when I’m hanging around with my Communist friends. Can anyone tell me who assigned value to that which is just there? No one made it, it’s just lying there. “That’s mine!” someone yelled, and that’s where it all started. This is why the Indians (Native Americans) lost to the white guys. They didn’t understand that they could own what they were standing on, nor that it could be stolen. How can someone steal from me if I don’t own anything? Somehow we white boys did it. Amazing. An Italian shows up, looking for spices, thinks he’s in India... and the next thing you know the locals are running casinos, while the white guys are in real estate. We’re still trading dirt to each other, and making a hefty profit with each transaction.

But let’s get back to the question of “how did that dirt get value in the first place?” This seems to imply that I can just look at something and declare it to have great value. And it will, then, have great value. Well, let me take a moment to declare that my car is now worth seven billion dollars. And my stereo is worth eighty trillion.

Hmm. Maybe I don’t understand economics as well as I thought I did. It might be difficult to cash in the car and the stereo for that kind of scratch. Maybe the key is to value it in my head, rather than try to sell it. Just gaze upon my wonderful belongings, and decide that they are priceless, and that I am oh so lucky to have them. This seems more practical.

This is all summed up by Steven Wright, in a joke which goes something like this. “I have the world’s biggest seashell collection. I keep it scattered on the beaches of the world.” If you just decide that everything is yours, and also decide simply to enjoy possessing your possessions, rather than trying to sell them (or even use them, in most cases) - well, then, everything is yours. Through Low Standards, the world is literally your oyster. Or whatever kind of seafood you prefer.


from Chapter 2

MEN AND WOMEN

Here’s another universal topic. Let's start off with a mantra:

Relationship Mantra #1: “Today I will settle for whoever comes along.” (Say this 1,250 times every morning.) Love is a biggie for a lot of us. Love is confusing and evasive. Love comes when you least expect it, and love leaves with your TV and a sneer. “‘Till death do us part” is frightening because we’re terribly afraid that the really right one will come wandering down the beach on the first day of the honeymoon, and we’ll be hitched to this big loser. The trick is to accept the loser you’re stuck with. Love how inadequate s/he is; embrace his/her disgusting habits; don’t look around, just dig into the sand with your true love and consider getting cable. If you compare what you have with what you don’t have, of course you’re going to be unhappy.
There are only so many leggy supermodels to go around, and there are billions of poor short fat bald slobs who want to own them. And there is a distressingly low number of handsome successful non-violent guys with jobs, and billions of angry venomous women who want to mold them into love-slaves. We can’t all be Billy Joel. We can’t all get dumped by Christie, even though we love her just the way she is. By the way, he wrote that song for his previous wife, not Christie. I bet his first wife wakes up laughing every day now. So - what’s the point? Find someone who doesn’t totally nauseate you and give up the search!

Of course, until this non-nauseating person pops up, it’s important to enjoy your singlehood. Personally, I much prefer “Single Guy” or “Single Woman” to “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette.” For some reason, when someone calls me a bachelor, I feel like I’m about 98 years old, sitting on a park bench in a raincoat feeding pigeons. “Single Guy” sounds more, hey, sah-wingin’! Groovy and exciting, free and easy, hey baby, we’ll be back to pick you up later...

Whatever. Either way, when I’m not with anyone, I find myself wondering how long I’ll be eating Spaghettios out of the can, over the sink. I know it won’t last forever. I know I will meet someone again. And then we’ll eat Spaghettios the proper way: out of bowls, in front of the TV. The only question is “When?” Wait, no, there are other questions. Like, “Will she have ten toes?” and, “Just exactly how psycho will this one be?”

The important thing is to remain positive. Of course I’ll meet someone new. That’s what being single is all about - the potential to meet someone new. That’s why we stay single. If you get married, and someone new comes along, you’re really not supposed to explore that option. I think that’s the point of marriage - reduced options. So be Cool Single Guy/Gal, and be your own groovy self. I happen to know that I am a Babe Magnet! Well, sort of... Lately it seems like I’m the kind of magnet that repels.

No! We must remain positive. There is nothing wrong with being single. That Standard that says people must find a mate in order to be considered successful and worthy... it’s wrong, I tell you! We must focus our energy on being our own wonderful, pithy selves, and all will come to us in time. Lower the Standards, and feel good!


from Chapter 3

FAMILY

If you will use your family as your yardstick, your Standards will invariably plummet. Think of your dad scratching his inner ear with his car keys, and any little habit you might have seems like teeny potatoes. Recall, if you will, your mom making you wear mitten clips and shoving bread bags in your galoshes, and any lack of fashion sense you might have today is forgiven. Or at least explained. Remember how your uncle would sneeze and show you the hanky? You can’t be nearly that awful, so cheer up! And Grandpa would do the old “got your nose” and “pull my finger” gags over and over and over... at least you have the sense to think up some new material every decade or so. Oh, families are the perfect source for Lower Standards. That’s why I visit mine so often.

Many of my friends have created their own families by having their own children. And most of these children are normal, healthy, and fun. But one thing I’ve noticed about parents is that they are all convinced that their kids are the smartest, sweetest, and most adorable. It doesn’t matter if the newborn looks like Winston Churchill - you must agree with the giddy parents that this is the cutest thing ever created. Having kids seems to wipe out Standards. So naturally, I believe procreation is a good idea.

Look at the refrigerator of any parent. It’s bound to be covered with all manner of juvenile artwork. All of which is colorful and imaginative, I will admit. But it’s rare that you see refrigerator art with any artistic merit. No one’s getting tons of calls from the Louvre.

Still, parents become euphoric as they admire the artistic triumphs of their offspring. And they want to share the joy with me. And then it’s my job to ooh and ahh over little Picasso’s efforts.

And wait, there’s more. Ironically, before my friends had kids, they would have laughed at this garbage right along with me. Having kids makes you want a finger-painting in every room in the house. It makes you enjoy Urkel and those annoying twins that Bob Saget introduced us to so many years ago; and suddenly you can tolerate the look and smell of excrement. Even when it’s green. So have a bunch of kids, and be happy, happy, happy!


from Chapter 4

GOOD TASTE / BAD TASTE

Let’s start with food. I like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. You know what? Most of us do. We also like McDonald’s food, or it wouldn’t be so popular. As Americans, we love all kinds of bourgeois crap. And yet we’re ashamed of it. We bring the shame on ourselves, thinking that most other people don’t enjoy these bland, gooey foodstuffs. Hey! We all love it! It’s like masturbation and nose-picking. We all do it, we all enjoy it, yet we make fun of everyone else who partakes. In many cases, our Standards are already Low! But we can’t admit it, we don’t want the neighbors to know, so we try to act above our Marginal Standards.

Baskin Robbins is guilty of contributing to America’s rising Standards. Horribly guilty. Guilty, guilty, guilty. There was a time when vanilla was good enough for everyone. Back in the 1700s, when Dolly Madison introduced her newly invented Ice Cream at the White House, everyone got vanilla and everyone raved. Then someone dumped chocolate sauce on top, and the country went mad. And then someone thought, “Hey, let’s put the chocolate inside the ice cream!” Thus was born the Second Flavor. GUILTY!

Vanilla and chocolate were good enough for a while. Until someone put strawberries on top. Then we needed strawberry ice cream. Mocha Almond Fudge was not far away. Rocky Road, Mint Chip, and Cookie Dough followed in suit, and pretty soon we couldn’t be satisfied without a gazillion choices down at the ice cream parlor. Hey, just the name "ice cream parlor" is a sign of woefully High Standards. Or parlour, as I’ve seen it spelt. It’s not really a parlour; it’s a little chunk of a strip mall. We just like to pretend it’s a parlour, because we think it sounds classy. OH SO GUILTY!

Baskin Robbins decided to help us along with our need for many flavor choices. On any given day, the B.R. folks offer thirty-one flavors. But that’s not to say that thirty-one is the limit. Baskin Robbins has a repertoire of over fifteen thousand flavors. They just don’t have enough cardboard buckets to hold them all at once. One time a B.R. guy ran down to Kentucky Fried Chicken to steal some buckets, which signaled the start of the bloody Dairy-Poultry war. Dairy won, and was made Queen. General Sanders was demoted to Colonel, but was allowed to remain in business. KFC offers about twenty kinds of fried chicken now. Who needs twenty kinds of fried chicken, for Pete’s sake? Only someone with fifteen thousand ice cream choices.

Obviously we’re out of control. Stop eating all those stupid flavors. Eat your vanilla, fry your chicken in a pan at home, and don’t put sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, olives, pineapples, tomatoes, extra cheese, banana peppers, onions, ground beef, and jalapenos on the same pizza.

GUIL-FREAKIN-TY!

When I was little, Mom would make Kool-Aid for us to drink. It seemed to make sense, since, as the ads remind us, it’s a lot cheaper than soda and it provides vitamin C for growing kids. Hooray. But Mom decided, without telling us, that the recipe on the packet called for too much sugar. So she used, oh, about a third of the prescribed sugar, thus concocting a red, slightly bitter fluid suitable for watercolors and little else. I didn’t know that she had tampered with the prescribed formula, so I faulted the manufacturer for the marginal drinkability of the stuff.

It would have been a good idea to have dropped my beverage Standards. But I was young, and I didn’t know. Worse yet, I blamed the lovely people at Kool-Aid for the nasty stuff with which I was washing down peanut butter. Then the day came when I was across the street at my friend Brian’s house, and his mom served us Kool-Aid. I didn’t want to be rude, so I drank it. And I loved it! I literally screamed in delight - “What do you DO to this stuff?!” When she calmed me down (low sugar-tolerance will make a lad a bit enthusiastic), she told me that she had simply made it according to the instructions on the package. I ran home to tell my poor ignorant mother the news - I was sure that she had inadvertently blown the recipe. It had to be an error. I could accept that fallibility in my mother. What I couldn’t accept was that she knew the correct recipe all along! My mother had been cheating me of the sugar I deserved!

In reality, she was trying to Lower my Standard of sweetness in food. A difficult task, seeing as she and my father gave us a sip of their Pepsi every night at dinner. It’s easier to accept bitter beverages if you haven’t experienced the popular carbonated sugar-water offerings. So: lay off the sugar, and you’ll love the nastiest Kool-Aid. Pretty soon you won’t even need the water - just chug the powder right out of the envelope. Pixie Sticks, I think they call that.


from Chapter 5

SUCCESS / FAILURE

Feeling sorry for yourself? Hate your life? Hate your job? Go look at a roll of toilet paper. Imagine what horrible thing someone must have done in a previous life to be reincarnated as Charmin. Sometimes I like to tease the toilet paper: (sung in an annoying, childish manner) “I know what’s gonna happen to you-u!” Or I’ll do the old, “The paper towels have it a whole lot better! Even the Kleenex is laughing at you, toilet tissue!”

But the really fun thing to do is to tear off one sheet of toilet paper, and use it to clean a pair of glasses. The ladies might use it to take off makeup. Anything innocuous will do. It drives the rest of the roll right up the wall.

Imagine the youth experience of a single sheet of toilet paper. There in the factory, as s/he’s being processed from the tree s/he once was, s/he hears rumors about what the future holds. “Surely this can’t be true,” s/he thinks. But the others are older and wiser, and s/he gradually accepts his/her fate. S/he understands, before s/he hits the shelves of the Piggly Wiggly, that his/her destiny is going to be unpleasant. S/he has steeled him/herself for it, and s/he is at peace.

Let’s suppose, then, that this particular sheet is somehow the one singled out to be used as a hanky. What a huge relief! To be sneezed upon would suddenly be a miracle in this sheet’s life! S/he might have been hoping desperately to be the sheet that gets used to wipe the seat! Only tremendously Low Standards could make this kind of ultimate reward possible.

(Man, that he/she thing is annoying, huh?)

A friend of mine is a Substitute Teacher. Here's a guy with the Lowest imaginable professional Standards. I remember school. And I remember how we treated the Substitute. A Substitute brings out the delinquent in everyone. The news that our regular teacher was absent put an evil grin on the face of even the most devout student. Suddenly it was okay to mouth off and throw stuff; this was the day you were glad you didn't bother doing the homework.

I wonder about people who become Substitutes. What job satisfaction can there possibly be in bringing out the worst in today’s youth? What good feeling can my friend hope to go home with? "Today I didn't get hit in the head with anything weighing more than five pounds!" It's never going to change... what keeps him at it?

"Well, there's work when I want it, and I can do it anywhere I go." Sure, and I can get attacked by dogs at any animal shelter. Is this really an attractive selling point for a career? "I get the summers off." So does everyone who quits their stinking job in the summer. Then he said, "I don't really have to care about what I'm doing." Ah-HA!

I wish he'd just said that in the first place. That makes some sense. That's the kind of perk that few jobs can offer. That’s total freedom from giving a rat's ass about whether you're doing a good job or not. That means you must simply stand in front of the brats for forty-five minutes and go home, knowing you've put everything into it that you're getting out of it. Now that’s a good job.

You want a good job? Keep the job you have, and stop caring about it. When the concept of a work ethic is dropped, so is the whole problem of hating your job. If you’re a waiter or a waitress, for example, your customers’ feelings about your performance can make your work environment unpleasant. If they’re rude to you, if they keep you standing there while they make up their little minds, if they make you wrap up their food and then leave it sitting on the table - all these things will affect you only if you give a rat’s ass. Once your Standards drop, you will go about your job with a much more whimsical air, tossing a plate here, a glass there, Standard-free and worry-free. Your customers will be as irate as always. Perhaps more so. But your personal existence will suddenly become sublime. Not caring is the key.

“Wait a second,” you say, “what about my tips? If I don’t care about the customers, they won’t tip as well!” Once again Lower Standards come to your rescue. If you Lower your Standard of a good tip, then it won’t matter that the jerk left three pennies at the bottom of a milkshake glass. Plus, these bastards weren’t tipping all that well to begin with, so what’s the difference?

Everyone goes to work; maybe as someone’s secretary, or a corporate tool, or a truck driver. Everyone spends a lot of time doing things they don’t like, in order to keep themselves (and any dependents) eating. And all the while, we all wish for a different way.

That’s called having a dream. They say everyone has a dream. And I daresay that’s nearly true. We all have a set of circumstances in mind which we’d much prefer to our current situation. Some dream big - like becoming president. Some dream bigger - like becoming a really good basketball player. It doesn’t matter how big, it only matters that the reality you have in mind is not the reality you face every day.

Now look at me. Come on, look at Steve. I am going to be the Low Standardly example for all humanity. Am I busy dreaming of a grand career like John Irving or Paul Revere or George Carlin or Ronald Reagan? No. I’m writing this stupid book, in the hopes that enough people will buy it and let me stop worrying about the fact that I’m not John or Paul or George or Bonzo.

Because I know - I know - that if I went after any of those dreams, and somehow they came true - that I’d feel just as ridiculous about my silly aspirations as if they’d not come to be reality. Trying to be big by being famous is a fantasy with no basis in fact. Fame and fortune just make people want more, and more, and more. That’s just human nature. Satisfaction isn’t programmed into such an approach. And giving up the battle is the only way to win.


from Chapter 10

PEOPLE ARE IDIOTS

We watch thousands of hours of television a year. We read Reader’s Digest and People Magazine. We think Alex Trebec is smart. We thought Kato Kaelin was in. We consider Trent Lott proper senatorial material. We are America. And, increasingly, we are the world.

We watch Geraldo and Sally and Jerry and Montel. We see our fellow citizens on TV making fools of themselves in front of millions, screaming and crying and pointing fingers and breaking noses. We watch Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight and A Current Affair, thinking we’re being informed. We send millions to our Psychic Friends, but we let Sally Struthers’ kids starve. Ms. Struthers, conversely, is doing just fine. We cut the funding for public television. We set up laws that allow drinking, but forbid the sale of soft drinks along with bottled liquor. And in some states you can get drive-thru liquor by the glass. With your motor running, behind the wheel, you get handed a shot of Jack. Then we outlaw liquor sales on Sunday, thinking that people are going to suspend their consumption of alcohol in reverence for the Lord’s day of rest.

We eat at Taco Bell and McDonald’s with a passion. We listen to “Hip Hop” and “Dance Music,” thinking it’s not “Disco.” We buy 70s music collections, forgetting that disco sucks. We buy lottery tickets, knowing that the chance of winning is less than that of just finding a million dollars on the sidewalk. We get married and have children because it’s the thing to do, and wonder why our lives become less than we’d hoped.

We move to the city because that’s where it’s happening. We drive to the country to get away from the city, and there we’re bored out of our minds with nothing to do. We spend our weekends at the mall, buying tacky overpriced garbage. And we make fun of those who live in the middle of nowhere all their lives.

As a member of this idiot society, I sometimes find it painful to acknowledge our indefensible practices. Yet it’s amusing, in a sick way, to see how far we’ve slid, and how rapidly we’re still sliding. We don’t see it because we’re in it, but we are without question the cheapest, pettiest, bourgeois-est group of organisms in recorded history. No, scratch that… I meant in all of history. This is what will probably insure our position as the last group of organisms in history. We’ll burn out, the earth will enjoy a brief respite from the human scourge, and then we’ll be replaced by the next species to enjoy the dominant position on the food chain. It’ll probably be some form of algae. One with very Low Standards.

There’s this thing that everyone is supposed to have, which keeps us from killing ourselves and others. It supposedly allows us to function as normal, useful citizens. It helps us make decisions and take steps to improve our lives. It’s called Common Sense.

It’s called Common Sense because everyone supposedly gets some. But I reject the whole notion. Why should I be held to some arbitrary Standard of intelligence just because the world says so? I don’t want none of your damn common sense! I want to be just as stupid as I was made! I want to do thirty-five in the fast lane, I want to put my shoes on first and then my socks, I want to shove beans up my nose!

Why should everyone have to be smart? We need stupid people just as much as smart ones. Who else is going to go see the Batman movies, and vote for W, and subscribe to TV Guide, and buy this book?

Here’s what I’ve learned: it’s not important whether you’re smart or stupid. Our greatest heroes are all fictional, you know. No one can really leap tall buildings in a single bound. Hey, if the escalator’s out, I won’t even go to the third floor of the mall. We continue to hope for real heroes, and we invent them when necessary. We elect officials whom we wishfully endow with saintly qualities, and then we joyfully cut them to pieces with sexual and financial scandals. George W isn’t any dumber than most of us. Most of us are idiots. We just can’t accept the idea of being led by someone as dumb as we are. And that’s the problem. A world of idiots should have idiotic leaders. Thankfully, behind the gloss of public image, all our leaders are idiots, so everything works out.


from Chapter 13

HOW TO LOWER YOUR STANDARDS

I sense some frustration from the masses of readers. I hear you saying, “Okay, my Standards are too high. How do I Lower them?”

Lowering Standards is all about updating your perspective. You’re susceptible to being miserable only when your perspective is bad. Take me, for example. My most miserable time was in high school. I got lousy grades, and I felt that I was blowing it. Having no perspective, I presumed that failure in school was failure in life. Now I’m out in the world, and the only high school lessons that I still use are my driving skills. Every other useful skill I happen to have is something I picked up when it became necessary. Squeezing the juice out of a can of tuna without getting the tuna all over the sink. No one taught me that. I figured it out on my own. Mounting a phone on the wall. Recording a show on the VCR. Balancing the checkbook. Eating with chopsticks. Filling out tax forms. Sex. Well, I’m still working on some of these. And now that I think of it, eventually I probably could have figured out how to drive on my own.

The point is, if you feel you’re a failure, it’s almost certainly a lack of perspective that’s making you feel that way. Good perspective brings Lower Standards, and vice versa. Being an adult, the importance of my high school grades has dropped below zero. So the grades remain the same as they always were (it’s a bit late to change them now), but the relevance they once enjoyed has been replaced with apathy bordering on ridicule. Who cares if I failed calculus - twice?! Who cares?! Nobody cares! It’s got no bearing on real life, unless you’re working for NASA, in which case you probably aced calculus. But for me it’s contentedly forgotten.

Role models are helpful. Find the people (or other organisms) with the Lowest Standards and emulate them.

Take the moth, for example. Moths are attracted to any bright light because, to them, it looks like the moon. The moon, it turns out, is the center of the moth’s navigation system (and the center of the moth’s universe). It’s all the moth needs to feel that he knows where he is and where he’s going (yes, I happen to be using a male moth in this example). So when an artificial moon appears (namely my front porch light), the moth is perfectly happy to assume that that’s the moon. He needs to look no farther. The moon has been found, case closed.

“My goodness,” thinks the moth, “this moon certainly is closer than I had expected. I never thought I could actually crash into the moon. But look, here I go (crash). See that (crash)? I had always thought it was thousands of miles away (crash), firmly locked in orbit around the earth. But no (crash), apparently I was wrong (crash). It’s right here, (crash) firmly attached to this front porch (crash, crash). Well, I’m just glad I found it (crash). It sure is warm, this moon... (crash).”

So, dearest reader, adopt the philosophy of the moth, and you’re on your way to very Low Standards. Remember Don Quixote… every windmill is a triumph, just as, for the noble moth, every lightbulb is The Way;





Afterword

And there you have it. You’ve now read a sample of Achieving Happiness Through Lower Standards. Well, you've probably read it... or maybe you just scrolled down to this page to see if you want to read it. If that’s the case, I’d like to go on record as saying “Yes, you definitely want to read this book. Oh my yes. No doubt about it.”


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