Kindle Highlights from The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

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W. H. Auden articulated this tension beautifully: “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Friedrich Nietzsche explained it well: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”

Andrew Carnegie: “Show me a contented man, and I’ll show you a failure.”

Experts say that denying bad feelings intensifies them; acknowledging bad feelings allows good feelings to return.

“Every house needs a few junk drawers where you can find unexpected things. It’s good to have a bit of chaos someplace, with some things that don’t really belong anywhere but that you want to keep. You never know when stuff like that will come in handy, plus it’s just nice to know it’s there.”

Andy Warhol observed, “Either once only, or every day. If you do something once it’s exciting, and if you do it every day it’s exciting. But if you do it, say, twice or just almost every day, it’s not good any more.”

Epicurus agreed, albeit in slightly more poetic phraseology: “Of all the things that wisdom provides for living one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.”

Voltaire: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

I learned another reason not to say critical things about other people: “spontaneous trait transference.” Studies show that because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to me the traits I ascribe to other people. So if I tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with me. On the other hand, if I say that Pat is brilliant or hilarious, I’m linked to those qualities. What I say about other people sticks to me—even when I talk to someone who already knows me. So I do well to say only good things.

Start where you are.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”

In AD 524, while in prison awaiting execution, the philosopher Boethius wrote, “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.”

“There are times in the lives of most of us,” observed William Edward Hartpole Lecky, “when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed.”

“There is, indeed,” wrote Samuel Johnson, “something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual renovation of the world, and the new display of the treasures of nature.”

Knowing what you admire in others is a wonderful mirror into your deepest, as yet unborn, self.

It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.

Samuel Johnson’s observation of Alexander Pope: “Pope’s scorn of the Great is too often repeated to be real; no man thinks much of that which he despises.”

As Publilius Syrus observed, “No man is happy who does not think himself so.” If you think you’re happy, you are. That’s why Thérèse said, “I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.”

A common eighteenth-century epitaph reads: Remember, friends, as you pass by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare yourself to follow me.

Gertrude Stein: I like a room with a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.

T. S. Eliot: Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”/Let us go and make our visit.

“Nothing,” wrote Tolstoy, “can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.”

we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. As I’d learned in February, within a marriage, it takes at least five good acts to repair the damage of one critical or destructive act.

rumination—dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters, and sad events—leads to bad feelings. In fact, one reason that women are more susceptible to depression than men may be their greater tendency to ruminate; men are more likely to distract themselves with an activity. Studies show that distraction is a powerful mood-altering device,

Do good, feel good; feel good, do good.

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photo: naxos, greece, spring 2010

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Kindle Highlights from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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We are not only the tellers of our stories, we are the stories themselves.

Globally, roughly 450 billion land animals are now factory farmed every year. (There is no tally of fish.) Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed.

What we forget about animals we begin to forget about ourselves.

The average distance our meat travels hovers around fifteen hundred miles. That’s like me driving from Brooklyn to the Texas Panhandle for lunch.

And what about the people eating those birds? Just the other day, one of the local pediatricians was telling me he’s seeing all kinds of illnesses that he never used to see. Not only juvenile diabetes, but inflammatory and autoimmune diseases that a lot of the docs don’t even know what to call. And girls are going through puberty much earlier, and kids are allergic to just about everything, and asthma is out of control. Everyone knows it’s our food. We’re messing with the genes of these animals and then feeding them growth hormones and all kinds of drugs that we really don’t know enough about. And then we’re eating them. Kids today are the first generation to grow up on this stuff, and we’re making a science experiment out of them. Isn’t it strange how upset people get about a few dozen baseball players taking growth hormones, when we’re doing what we’re doing to our food animals and feeding them to our children?

(A recent study by Consumer Reports found that chicken and turkey products, many labeled as natural, “ballooned with 10 to 30 percent of their weight as broth, flavoring, or water.”)

Scott Bronstein wrote a remarkable series for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about poultry inspection, which should be required reading for anyone considering eating chicken. He conducted interviews with nearly a hundred USDA poultry inspectors from thirty-seven plants. “Every week,” he reports, “millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections, cancerous tumors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.”

All told, there are fifty billion (and counting) factory-farmed birds worldwide. If India and China eventually start consuming poultry at the rate the United States does, it would more than double this already mind-blowing figure.

Founded the same year that the ADA opened its offices, the USDA was charged with providing nutritional information to the nation and ultimately with creating guidelines that would serve public health. At the same time, though, the USDA was charged with promoting industry. The conflict of interest is not subtle: our nation gets its federally endorsed nutritional information from an agency that must support the food industry, which today means supporting factory farms.

The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods.

In the National School Lunch Program, for example, more than half a billion of our tax dollars are given to the dairy, beef, egg, and poultry industries to provide animal products to children despite the fact that nutritional data would suggest we should reduce these foods in our diets. Meanwhile, a modest $161 million is offered to buy fruits and vegetables that even the USDA admits we should eat more of.

One-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock.

In 1967, there were more than one million hog farms in the country. Today there are a tenth as many, and in the past ten years alone, the number of farms raising pigs fell by more than two-thirds. (Four companies now produce 60 percent of hogs in America.)

(American farmers are four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.)

All told, farmed animals in the United States produce 130 times as much waste as the human population — roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second.

That means that Smithfield — a single legal entity — produces at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined.

To take a step back: shit itself isn’t bad. Shit has long been the farmer’s friend, fertilizer for his fields, from which he grows food for his animals, whose meat goes to people and whose shit goes back to the fields. Shit became a problem only when Americans decided we wanted to eat more meat than any other culture in history and pay historically little for it.

Consider the life of a pregnant sow. Her incredible fertility is the source of her particular hell. While a cow will give birth to only a single calf at a time, the modern factory sow will birth, nurse, and raise an average of nearly nine piglets — a number that has been increased annually by industry breeders.

By the time farmers begin weaning them, 9 to 15 percent of the piglets will have died. The sooner the piglets start feeding on solid food, the sooner they will reach market weight (240 to 265 pounds). “Solid food” in this case often includes dried blood plasma, a by-product from slaughterhouses. (This does indeed fatten the piglets up. It also badly damages the mucosa of their gastrointestinal tracts.) Left alone, piglets tend to wean at around fifteen weeks, but on factory farms they will typically be weaned at fifteen days and increasingly as young as twelve days. At these young ages, the piglets are unable to properly digest solid food, so additional pharmaceuticals are fed to them to prevent diarrhea.

A single salmon farm generates swarming clouds of sea lice in numbers thirty thousand times higher than naturally occur.

A study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year, including roughly 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.

Remembering and forgetting are part of the same mental process. To write down one detail of an event is to not write down another (unless you keep writing forever). To remember one thing is to let another slip from remembrance (unless you keep recalling forever). There is ethical as well as violent forgetting. We can’t hold on to everything we’ve known so far.

(Those who eat chimpanzee look at the Western diet as sadly deficient of a great pleasure.)

Less than 1% of the animals killed for meat in America come from family farms.

The foremost scientist on this issue, R. K. Pachauri, runs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate work, and he argues that vegetarianism is the diet that everyone in the developed world should consume, purely on environmental grounds.

The combination of line speeds that have increased as much as 800 percent in the past hundred years and poorly trained workers laboring under nightmarish conditions guarantees mistakes. (Slaughterhouse workers have the highest injury rate of any job — 27 percent annually — and receive low pay to kill as many as 2,050 cattle a shift.)

Putting aside the obvious fact that the Pilgrims did many things that we wouldn’t want to do now (and that we want to do many things they didn’t), the turkeys we eat have about as much in common with the turkeys the Pilgrims might have eaten as does the ever-punch-lined tofurkey. At the center of our Thanksgiving tables is an animal that never breathed fresh air or saw the sky until it was packed away for slaughter. At the end of our forks is an animal that was incapable of reproducing sexually. In our bellies is an animal with antibiotics in its belly. The very genetics of our birds are radically different. If the Pilgrims could have seen into the future, what would they have thought of the turkey on our table? Without exaggeration, it’s unlikely that they would have recognized it as a turkey.

We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?

Gail Eisnitz comes close to creating such an encyclopedia in her book Slaughterhouse. Researched over a ten-year period, it is filled with interviews with workers who, combined, represent more than two million hours of slaughterhouse experience; no work of investigative journalism on the topic is as comprehensive.

Down in the blood pit they say that the smell of blood makes you aggressive. And it does. You get an attitude that if that hog kicks at me, I’m going to get even. You’re already going to kill the hog, but that’s not enough. It has to suffer… . You go in hard, push hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking, and I would just take my knife and — eerk — cut its eye out while it was just sitting there. And this hog would just scream. One time I took my knife — it’s sharp enough — and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of bologna. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it just sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing its nose all over the place. I still had a bunch of salt left on my hand — I was wearing a rubber glove — and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind…

WE SHOULDN’T KID OURSELVES ABOUT the number of ethical eating options available to most of us. There isn’t enough nonfactory chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island and not enough nonfactory pork to serve New York City, let alone the country. Ethical meat is a promissory note, not a reality. Any ethical-meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare.

Hitler was a vegetarian.

King and Chávez were moved by a concern for suffering humanity, not suffering chickens or global warming. Fair enough. One can certainly quibble with, or even become enraged by, the comparison implicit in invoking them here, but it is worth noting that César Chávez and King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, were vegans, as is King’s son Dexter.

When we lift our forks, we hang our hats somewhere. We set ourselves in one relationship or another to farmed animals, farmworkers, national economies, and global markets. Not making a decision — eating “like everyone else” — is to make the easiest decision, a decision that is increasingly problematic.

Today’s turkeys are natural insectivores fed a grossly unnatural diet, which can include “meat, sawdust, leather tannery by-products,” and other things whose mention, while widely documented, would probably push your belief too far. Given their vulnerability to disease, turkeys are perhaps the worst fit of any animal for the factory model. So they are given more antibiotics than any other farmed animals. Which encourages antibiotic resistance. Which makes these indispensable drugs less effective for humans. In a perfectly direct way, the turkeys on our tables are making it harder to cure human illness.

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photo: athens, greece, easter 2010.

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