June 29, 2015

Ten Things I Love

Filed under: Feel-Good Story of the Day — Tags: , — Ann @ 9:56 am

Love stone

What do you really LOVE? “My kids, my spouse,” etc. — that’s a given.

I mean, what gives you that grand, swooning feeling of cherishing that makes you think, “I don’t ever want this to stop”?

My list would be long but some that come to mind immediately are:

1) listening to and making music, and especially certain songs and even parts of songs/harmonies
2) hiking in a beautiful setting
3) watching people do something they’re really good at — dancing, playing an instrument, card tricks, art, etc.
4) the sight of someone or something being helped
5) furry animals being cute or clever — crows playing, a kitten watching his mom bathe and trying to mimic her moves
6) the smell of bacon and/or coffee being made outside on a Coleman stove in the mountains
7) being in the mountains
8) reading or watching something that is exquisitely written
9) really clever, surprising, witty, understated humor
10) calming fragrances: vanilla-lavender, bay and eucalyptus when I’m hiking, freshly ground coffee, sunshine on pine trees, Geronimo’s fur


June 24, 2015


Filed under: Memory Eternal,Rants! — Ann @ 3:34 pm

So many words have been and will continue to be poured on the wounds left in the wake of the Charleston murders. Many of my friends have written and/or shared articles and videos expressing reactions ranging from sad and bewildered to angry and outraged. What I’m feeling, however, was evidenced in the voice of President Obama: weary. Because every time this happens, we go through the same series of motions (and emotions). We huddle together, the tragedy is the focus of our thoughts, prayers and posts, there are millions of words written and spoken calling for every appropriate reform and change — and then nothing happens. Until it happens again. According to Mother Jones, there have been almost 80 mass shootings in the U.S. involving four or more victims in the past 30 years. And didn’t we all think — at least hope — that Sandy Hook, where 20 little children were massacred, would be the mass shooting that would finally spur permanent change? We say, “This must stop!” and we seem helpless even to make it slow down. I’m sick to death of this all-too-familiar ritual. The news. The outrage. The outpouring. The funerals. The “one year later” stories. And then, another mass shooting. The news. The outrage. The outpouring. The funerals. The “one year later” stories. If you really want your heart to break, Google “mass shootings” and you’ll find many articles entitled, “How To Stop Mass Shootings” — all dated several years ago….after one or another of America’s mass shootings. I feel like we can’t go through this one more time — all the while knowing that we will.


Dr. Carolyn Saarni

Dr. Carolyn Saarni

Last week I learned of the death of one of my grad school professors, Dr. Carolyn Saarni. In addition to being a world-renowned scholar and author specializing in developmental psychology, Carolyn was much beloved by us, her students. Personally, I admired her so deeply for the life that she crafted for herself: she had a beautiful home in Berkeley, was very close to her family, was fit and trim and healthy (until she contracted lymphoma, relatively recently), and bicycled and traveled all over the world, taking gorgeous photos with which she would grace her PowerPoint presentations for our enjoyment. She was dating and would make sly references to her love life during her lectures — always in a classy fashion. She was SO young and vibrant and full of life. She had just turned 70 three weeks ago. Carolyn was my professor through two really rough courses: Developmental and Clinical Issues with Children and Adolescents, and the Research and Design course which resulted in my master’s thesis. I was so fortunate to learn from her and to be touched by her lively spirit and love of adventure. I am deeply saddened that someone so keenly full of life was robbed of additional years that likely would have been just as vibrant and exciting. Thank you, Carolyn. Your memory lives on in the lives that you have changed.

Oil, that is. Black gold. Texas tea.

Oil light

Let me start by saying that the past 4 to 6 weeks have been crazy and my attention has been focused elsewhere. Like, for example, my domesticated-feral tabby Geronimo showed up one morning with an eye injury (to his already injured-healed over eye) so profound that it required an emergency vet trip and two more trips to a kitty eye specialist. Then Neal’s post-surgical wounds, which had been healed, became unhealed and I’ll spare the grisly details but that required several more trips to the Larkspur specialist. In the same period, the bathroom toilet broke at the base, flooding the floor. And then the refrigerator stopped working, resulting in the spoilage of all the dairy products and frozen foods with which I’d recently stocked it. Finally, I was informed not once but twice that I’d lost my health insurance: the first time the notification was in error; the second time, it wasn’t.

Needless to say, all of these little crises came with a price tag and demanded all of my focus. Which is why, this morning at 9 am when I take my aged Saturn to Rigo, my mechanic, to explain to him what I let happen, I hope that he — and the Gods of Transportation — will show me some mercy.

Monday night as I was driving home from work south on Highway 101 in no traffic and zipping along at a brisk 68 mph, my Saturn started making a tapping noise. A scary-ass “uh-oh something’s wrong” tapping. Because the car is very old and I’ve recently had to replace the head gasket ($1,000!), I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I simply shouldn’t be driving it so fast. However, Tuesday morning as I was driving back into Santa Rosa, suddenly an ominous thought formed in my brain and spread like a wine-dark stain on a white shag carpet. I broke into a cold sweat as the realization hit me: I HAVEN’T CHECKED MY OIL. The oil hadn’t been changed or checked since the head gasket was replaced, precisely 3,500 miles ago. Old as she is, my car needs at least one quart of oil added between changings, sometimes two.

Suddenly I knew with dread and certainty why my car was making noise. I decided I didn’t even want to wait until I got to Santa Rosa, but decided instead to pull into a retirement community a few miles up the road. I reasoned that a community of elders would surely have at least one full-service gas station. As my Saturn tap-tapped its way down the highway, my stomach knotted itself so many times I imagined that my intestines had turned into a macrame plant hanger. As soon as I got into Oakmont I saw, on my left, like a shining beacon, a gas-station-turned-auto-repair business. I pulled in, parked, and walked up to where several people were sitting on a bench outside, waiting for their cars. A pleasant-faced man in his 50s saw my approach. “Excuse me,” I said, “is there any way someone can check my oil and add some if it’s low?” My mind would only let me assume “low” as any other possibility (“gone”) would lead to visions of my poor recently-deceased father spinning furiously in his grave. The man said “Sure!” in a way that made me want to hug him.

He disappeared inside his garage, came out with a few bottles of oil and a rag, pulled out the dipstick, put it back in, pulled it out again, and said: “Empty. Bone dry.” He looked at me.

This is the thing that every driver knows MUST. NOT. HAPPEN. I learned it from my father at age 15. “Whatever you do, make sure you check the oil and keep it changed.” I knew this. I KNEW THIS. I swayed a little and grabbed his arm, and said, “Oh my god in holy heaven.” I couldn’t even imagine what he was thinking of me, given what I was thinking about me — and I know and like me.

He added several quarts of oil to my car while I stood by thinking, “I’ve killed my car.” I couldn’t have felt any worse if I’d forgotten to feed my cat and was watching a vet giving him intravenous fluids, trying to undo the damage that my neglect had caused. Well, okay, that would be worse. But self-recrimination coursed through me like a fever.

I thanked him profusely, paid him, and got back on Highway 12. I turned off the radio and the air conditioning and listened to my engine as I drove. I’ve been driving this Saturn since 1997….I know her every purr and ping. The tapping was gone. Everything sounded normal. I prayed all the way to work, “Let it be okay let it be okay let it be okay please please please thank you thank you thank you.” As soon as I got to my office, I Googled, “I let my car run out of oil how screwed am I?” One response said that a mechanic should change your oil and see if there are metal shavings present which, presumably, would mean a death sentence. Almost all responses said the car’s engine was likely ruined. I called Rigo and arranged to take my car in at 9 am this morning.

There’s nothing else I can do. It will either be okay, or it won’t. And I can’t even say that I’ve learned a lesson because it’s a lesson I already knew, one that’s as ingrained in me as “look both ways before crossing the street.” Rigo will tell me whether I got away with it or not.

Meanwhile, a big shout out to Vaughn at “At Your Service” in Oakmont. If you’re ever in the Valley of the Moon and need some vehicular maintenance, throw some business his way. I don’t know what he was doing when I got there, but he dropped everything to help me. He was the best part of yesterday.
6:35 PM – UPDATE: Rigo said he did find metal shavings in the oil filter. He also said that, nevertheless, my car sounds otherwise fine and “should be okay.” A little thing: He always puts one of those “next oil change” stickers up in the corner of my windshield. This time, I noticed, he wrote it in red ink. I don’t mind. My Dad, who died in January, always looked after me, his youngest. Now that he’s gone I’m especially grateful for any extra support, even if it’s something as simple as reminders in big red letters.

June 21, 2015

Father’s Day 2015

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Ann @ 9:44 am
Stan 1960s

My father, 1960s

First Father’s Day without you, Dad.

There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them. If you can remember me, I will be with you always.

~Isabel Allende, “Eva Luna”

June 13, 2015

Six months.

Filed under: Memory Eternal — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 4:44 pm
My father.

My father.

Six months to the day since I (we, all of us) lost my Dad. I’ve received loving support in abundance, for which I’m grateful. Another reason to be grateful: my Mom’s friends and neighbors have stepped up completely to bring food and company. They show up at her door with a container of soup or a casserole saying, “I made too much last night; here you go,” and I know the “too much” was intentional and I love them for it.

In the past six months I’ve learned more about loss and mourning than I ever really wanted to know. Because words are my conduit to understanding — whether I’m writing or reading them — in these months I’ve studied dozens of articles and essays on grief, looked at countless quotes, and pored over my counseling books. The truest quote I’ve discovered to date is this one: “Grief does not change us; it reveals us.” The experience of loss becomes itself a question, and the answer rests in the lives we choose to lead in the midst of unspeakable sorrow.

My life is different now. How could it not be, without my Dad? And not just in ways we would expect after losing a parent. For me there is a deepening of the spirit, a desire to be closer to my truest self to honor my father and his memory. A part of who I am is set aside forevermore, dedicated to the role of living eulogy.

It’s so like my father to figure out a way to inspire me to try harder and strive more earnestly on a daily basis, even after his death. Six months since his passing and I think I’m a better person, or at least a wiser one. I want to say I wish he were here to know it but, first, even if he were here he would wave off any attempt on my part to convince him I need to improve (he thought I was perfect as I was). And secondly, more importantly, I think somehow he knows that I’m trying. Wherever he is, he knows. It’s my spiritual journey, it’s my path, but there’s a sense that Dad is walking with me, every step of the way.

The Truth About Aging (For Women)

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

Over the past 15 years or so, as I’ve moved from middle age towards what sociologists call the “young old,” I’ve searched in vain for a book, blog post or website that would provide me with a reliable guide towards this process that, in my experience, is as much as a drastic developmental shift as was the experience of puberty. Aging and puberty have much in common: changes in our hormones resulting in changes in our bodies and even our voices. When I realized that the truth about aging isn’t out there, I decided to write the guide myself.

Aging has many facets. There’s the science. What is aging, exactly? There are the sociocultural aspects — what our culture tells us about who we are as older adults. There are changes to our brain (e.g., older adults experience a decline in the urge to novelty-seek). And, of course, there are changes to our faces and bodies — the changes that get most of the attention and have given rise to a multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

Craig T. Nelson

First a word about the science. What is it that happens to our bodies when we grow older? According to the experts, “We think of aging as the accumulation of random damage to the building blocks of life—especially to DNA, certain proteins, carbohydrates and lipids (fats)—that begins early in life and eventually exceeds the body’s self-repair capabilities. This damage gradually impairs the functioning of cells, tissues, organs and organ systems, thereby increasing vulnerability to disease and giving rise to the characteristic manifestations of aging, such as a loss of muscle and bone mass, a decline in reaction time, compromised hearing and vision, and reduced elasticity of the skin.” This is an important article to read, by the way, because it explains why all of the anti-aging fads (antioxidants, hormone therapies) are doomed to failure. For an even more thorough examination of aging from a scientific point of view, go here.

Whether or not one ages “well” depends on a host of factors — genetics, lifestyle and resources being the most important determinants. It’s commonly known that people whose skins have more melanin tend to wrinkle more slowly than paler humans. Inherited bone structure will also determine how your face ages, as will a host of other genetic factors. As for lifestyle, it’s also no secret that regular exercise, a healthful diet, eschewing tobacco, and making the choice not to abuse substances will help to keep you looking more robust than those who sit and watch TV all day, eating Nachos, and smoking Lucky Strikes and/or meth. However, if you’ve done your homework and read the first science-y article I shared, you’ll know that “…no one has shown that diet or exercise, or both, directly influences aging.”

So maybe at this point we should distinguish between the process of aging and the process of looking/becoming old. Because even those of us who can live, in principle, with the truth that we are all aging, can have some difficulties when it comes to the actual realities of our faces and bodies becoming old. Many experience changes that can be hard to come to terms with: thinning/lost hair; physical aches and pains; changes in our body’s shape despite exercise and diet; problems with teeth and vision even if we’ve never had those problems before. I haven’t even touched upon menopause and the changes endemic to that process. The reason I’m leaving out advice specific to increases in our Follicle Stimulating Hormone levels is that every woman’s menopause experience is so different, depending on heredity, state of mind and body, and more. Some women enter menopause in their late 30s and endure decades of misery; some women seem to glide in and out of it in their late 50s with barely a hot flash — and most women fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Having a good OB-GYN who truly listens to you can maximize your comfort and peace of mind.

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares

Shelley Fabares


As you can imagine (if you’re not yet there, age-wise), there’s a lot of panic around this business of our bodies and faces growing older. If you’re serious about approaching your 50s and 60s well-armed against the effects of looking older, here are my suggestions:

1. Be wealthy. I’m only half kidding. At the very least, have excellent health and dental insurance. But money can buy some amazing resources that will stave off some of the worst effects of aging for quite a long time. What can you buy? Products that reverse hair loss, products that may or may not make your skin look younger, hair implants, dental treatments, cosmetic procedures (more about which later), body reshaping, personal trainer, personal chef, stress-relieving retreats and massages, vaginal tightening — even contact lenses that duplicate the youthening look of limbal rings. If you have vast sums of money, you can look like Jane Fonda did at 70:

Jane Fonda, 70

Jane Fonda, 70

What do I mean when I say “vast sums”? This, for starters. Estimates are that Ms. Fonda spent $60,800 for the initial work and shells out another $4,000 plus in annual maintenance, though that sounds low to me. To her credit, Ms. Fonda has admitted that she didn’t have the “courage” to age without plastic surgery, unlike her friend Vanessa Redgrave who is showing her real, aging face to the world without surgical enhancements.

If you can’t be wealthy, be smart about your mind and body:

2. Starting from a young age, always use sunscreen and wear a hat when you’re outside. Put sunscreen on your hands, too.

3. Starting from a young age, take care of your teeth. Brush, floss, see your dentist regularly.

4. Starting from a young age, take care of your body. Strive to be within your normal weight range. Work out regularly. Keep your muscles strong and stay flexible. Yoga, weights, aerobics, do it all as you are able (and if your doctor says okay). And sit up straight. Stand up straight. You’re no slouch so stop slouching. And don’t sit too much. Your body wants to move, let it move. Work on balance, which becomes impaired as we grow older.

5. Have regular medical checkups and all of the recommended annual tests.

6. Keep hydrated. You don’t have to be ridiculous about it, but do drink water throughout the day.

7. Create and stick to a skin care routine, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. I have pretty good skin (thanks, Mom) and since my 30s I’ve only ever washed my face with plain warm water, followed by an SPF 30 moisturizer (daytime) and Pond’s cream (nighttime). Don’t ever scrub your skin hard. Gentle, gentle.

8. Take good care of your hair (keep it out of the sun as well) and to the extent that you can afford it, splurge on a good cut and good coloring (if you choose coloring). Nothing makes a woman look older than a bad haircut and a bad dye job. Which brings me to another truth:

9. Try to dress well. If you haven’t yet found your style, it’s a good time to do so.

10. Take good care of your brain. Experts say it’s not what you do so much as that you change it up all the time. Sudoku or crosswords puzzles every day aren’t going to challenge you. Some experts even recommend that you take different routes to familiar places. The idea is to keep your brain surprised. Keep doing things you’re not used to doing — don’t let your synapses get flabby.

Even with all that, though, it’s attitude that matters most. It’s well-known that we have to maintain a sense of purpose as we advance in years. This is your path to figure out. Everyone has different religious and spiritual orientations so I can’t give specific advice. I can only promise you that having A spiritual practice, ANY spiritual practice, is going to make a positive difference in your aging. That includes having a supportive circle of like-minded (or at least interestingly different) friends with whom you can socialize and laugh with. Further, ideally the spiritual aspects of your aging journey will include a daily gratitude practice, time spent in mindfulness/meditation, time spent in nature, and time devoted to serving others. Being in gratitude will help you to be aware of the many gifts of aging that we sometimes take for granted. If we’ve been paying attention all along, we will have developed greater wisdom, insight, patience, and even a greater capacity to love and appreciate. Developing our spiritual selves is an important part of being the wise elders that we want to be. I highly recommend Lewis Richmond’s book “Aging as a Spiritual Practice – A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser.” Because, again: if anything is going to get you through the challenges and changes of aging, it’s going to be your awesome attitude and your spiritual practice, whatever that is to you.

Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” I heard this quote decades ago, before it had any meaning for me. Now I know the truth of it. It takes courage to embrace change of any sort, but when that change is happening in regard to our faces, our bodies, our identities, and in our lives as a whole, it takes a monumental strength. I haven’t even delved into some of the other challenges that can accompany growing older: serious illness and/or disability, or the serious illness/disability of friends and loved ones and, of course, loss of our parents, friends, even siblings. Yes, younger people suffer these losses as well, but not to the extent that we do as we grow older. Loss goes with the territory. You can age gracefully, but more than that, you will need to age courageously.

After spending the last 12 years or so developing a deeper understanding about the process of growing older, the most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s unwise to think of older/old age as just a different version of your younger life. I’ve come to understand that this is a time of life unique unto itself, unable to be compared to any earlier stage. When we are younger, we are more certain about where we get our power (for women, historically, largely through our youth, beauty and sexuality) and as we age we have to look within and elsewhere to find new sources of power. It’s at once terrifying and exhilarating. For me it involved going back to school in my 50s to get a BA and then a Master’s Degree in counseling. I’m currently on track to become a Marriage and Family Therapist — a career that will take me through my 60s, 70s, and 80s (if I am very lucky).

Robert Frost wrote, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” I could never have seen the challenges I’d face through the aging process, but I also could never have foreseen that successfully navigating them could result in such joy and enthusiasm. I’m going through a new stage of life. It’s hard, and it’s good.

Ann Clark Now

Ann Clark Now-January 2015

Ann Clark Then

Ann Clark Then

June 10, 2015

Feisty, cute, adorable, STOP.

Filed under: Rants! — Tags: , , , , , , — Ann @ 3:18 pm
Power Couple

Power Couple

I was watching an old episode of “Frasier” last night in which Frasier’s father starts dating the widower of a long-time family friend, sparking this exchange:

Frasier: Dad, listen, Stan’s been gone a while now. I mean, you’re not teenagers, you’re two mature people reaching out for some companionship. I think it’s adorable.
Martin: [outraged, offended] Adorable?!

When I was an undergrad one of my professors spent much of the class encouraging us to examine the use of the word “feisty.” Her premise was that in our culture we only apply that word to either the very young, the very old, or the very weak — someone who is otherwise powerless but shows strength despite our expectations. I got it immediately because even as a relatively young person at the time, I was already noticing that our culture reserves the adjectives “cute” and “adorable” for babies, puppies, elders — and especially elderly couples.

It’s a verbal ploy to remove any potency or gravitas from a situation we otherwise take very seriously: the pair-bonding of two human beings. We don’t typically attend weddings of 20- or 3-something couples and, gazing at the bride floating down the aisle, whisper, “She’s so adorable!” We save our serious words — “beautiful,” “elegant,” “perfect together” — for the young and young in love.

A 64-year-old Huffington Post contributor named Anne Brenoff tried to make a similar point on her own blog and was thoroughly excoriated in the Comments section. There were the inevitable references to “the word police” and, of course, the claims that “I call everyone adorable!” and the senior who responded that she “loves” being called adorable. All missing the point.

The point is this: Words are very, very powerful. Until we truly grasp that, we can’t communicate with one another on these topics. Microaggressions, a form of unintended bias, is a term most commonly applied to race, gender and sexual orientation but it’s relevant here as well. To characterize a dignified human being as cute, darling, or adorable underscores our culture’s dismissal of that person’s (or their relationship’s) power and status. To see a young, newly-formed couple holding hands and observe, “They’re so perfect together” is to acknowledge that you are taking them seriously. To view an elderly, newly-formed couple holding hands and respond (in one of those squee, golly-gosh-darn voices), “They’re so cute together!” means something completely different. And one of the things it means, I suspect, is that the elderly couple is considered asexual. I think assumptions about sexuality (or lack thereof) play a big role in how we characterize our senior population. I seriously doubt that if it were well-known that the newly-hooked-up 65-year-old couple at the party were the ones who were having the hottest, sweatiest, nastiest sex on the planet, anyone would look at them, cock their head like they were gazing at a poodle puppy and say, “Oh my gosh, they’re so adorable!”

Save “cute” and “adorable” for puppies and kittens and babies. I’m a force of nature and will be until the day I die. Any relationship I’m going to be in will neither be cute and adorable. It’s going to be passionate, fiery, wild, consuming, fervid, frenzied, sexual, sensual, and breathless.

In other words, so much more than cute. And that doesn’t mean I’m feisty. It means I’m mighty.

June 6, 2015

Reality TV and the 16 Basic Desires

Are you front-row center? Want to know why?

Are you front-row center? Want to know why?

After a week that had all forms of media referencing the Kardashian and Duggar families with greater urgency than any discussion of ISIS could ever engender, I found myself thinking about reality TV shows and the people who watch them. Though I’ve never seen one single episode of any reality television program (not counting that one shameful weekend years ago where, at a friend’s urging I watched about 12 straight hours of “America’s Next Top Model” — with the lights out and the drapes closed), even I knew that Bruce Jenner is more famous for his role in “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” than he was for winning an Olympic medal. And even I knew that the Duggar family is famous for a show called “19 and Counting” which seemed to be about how many children a couple could have and still stay true to their Christian principles by never taking God’s name in vain. And now, of course, both of these families have been cannon-shot out of their reality TV roles onto media headlines everywhere — Bruce for becoming Caitlyn, and the Duggars for becoming reprehensible (at least the excuse-making, blame-laying parents and their perpetrator son — I can’t speak to the rest of the family).

Driving to an appointment yesterday morning I was listening to a local radio talk show, and almost every single person who called to talk about the Duggars prefaced the call with, “I don’t watch reality TV but….” And so I got to wondering, who does watch those shows? And more important, why? I suspected that the reasons were more complicated than the usual “to feel superior.” I did a little Googling and stumbled across a fascinating study and journal article, “Why People Watch Reality TV,” by Steven Reiss and James Wiltz of Ohio State University. As it turns out, feeling superior seems to be part of the answer.

You can read the article yourself but, essentially, the authors used “sensitivity theory” to reveal that humans have 16 basic desires, with associated motives, underlying animal behavior, and a particular resulting joy. The motives, followed in parentheses by the joy that results from achieving each of these desires, are: power (efficacy), curiosity (wonderment), independence (freedom), status (self-importance), social contact (fun), vengeance (vindication), honor (loyalty), idealism (compassion), physical exercise (vitality), romance (lust), family (love), order (stability), eating (satiation), acceptance (self-confidence), tranquility (safety, relaxation) and saving (ownership).

As you can imagine, people differ in how they prioritize these desires. For example, if your roommate has a low need for order he won’t notice a sink full of dirty dishes (leaving you — with your high need for order — mightily miffed). We also have the potential to experience the 16 joys through direct or vicarious experiences. For example, we can watch a romance movie and feel the joy of lust, or we can watch a war film and experience the joy of vindication. However, in stark contrast to the joyful feelings we get from direct experience, the vicariously-achieved joys tend to be shorter-lived, of lower quality and intensity, and overall less pleasing. And one of the reasons, apparently, that Americans are so glued to their sets, is that we experience television viewing as a very easy and convenient way to vicariously experience the 16 joys repeatedly (and some of them simultaneously).

As we humans go through life seeking to experience these 16 basic goals and the joy that accompanies them, we focus on those that are most highly valued to us (depending on upbringing, culture, opportunity, personal skills and history and, I’d imagine, character and personality). But right after a basic desire is achieved, it reasserts itself and has to be satisfied again. The study authors give the example of a vengeful person who has gone through several days of “minimal conflict” and who may therefore feel motivated to pick a fight. Because our basic desires quickly reassert themselves, according to the theory, and therefore can be satisfied only temporarily, we seeks out ways to repeatedly satisfy our most important ones.

So what do you think are the two basic desires that drive watchers of reality TV? The study findings showed overwhelmingly that the more reality TV shows a person liked, the more status-oriented a person was. The motive for status is “the desire for prestige, including the desire for attention.” The animal behavior associated with status is that “attention in the nest leads to better feedings.” And, as previously stated, the particular joy associated with status is “self-importance.” That’s the primary carrot. People motivated by status need, more than others on average, to feel self-important. And reality TV can accomplish this psychological need in two ways. First, viewers feel they’re more important (have higher status) than the regular people they see on reality TV, and, second, the underlying message of reality TV is that millions of people are fascinated by watching the real life experiences of ordinary people, which implies that ordinary people are important.

The second largest significant finding was that people who watch and enjoy reality TV place a higher value on vengeance than did people who don’t watch those shows. The motive for vengeance is “a desire to get even, including the desire to win;” the animal behavior associated with vengeance is that “the animal fights when threatened,” and, of course, the joy resulting from vengeance is “vindication.” In short, the primary feelings (joys) being sought by those who watch reality TV are self-importance and vindication.

If you are a partaker of reality TV shows and that doesn’t sound right to you, well, remember it’s just one study and one theory. If you have other reasons for watching, I’d love to hear them.

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