The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Dan realized that he was getting used to working construction when he started coming home ready to do other things. Rather than sitting at his desk or sleeping over the entire weekend, he had started going out and doing his normal weekend kinds of activities. It took away from the time he had free to read. He started reading in the evenings when Tom was at work.
It took him almost three weeks to read the article on the pursuit of happiness. It was a very difficult paper to read and he went over it a second time to make sure that he understood the ideas in it. He hadn’t ever thought about how complex happiness was.
He had expected the article to immediately launch into a discussion about what kind of entertainments and adventures that a person wanted to achieve in their life. He was shocked that entertainment and adventures didn’t play a leading role in happiness. Instead, the article began by discussing the kinds of environments in which the person lived.
The first part of the article discussed the importance of a person’s physical environment. He’d never thought about how much the place where a person lived and worked affected them. It dawned on him that there was a reason why people decorated their houses differently from their neighbors. Everyone was trying to create a comfortable environment.
The physical environment of a person included the neighborhood, the house, the furnishings in the house, the climate, and the landscape. Some people were happier in the mountains, while others were happy living around the ocean, on the plains, near a swamp, or hilly regions. Some people were more comfortable living in ranch style houses while others preferred condominiums, cabins, or apartments. Some people were comfortable surrounded by antiques while others wanted modern furnishings.
The physical environment also included the workplace. At first that didn’t mean much to Dan, but then he thought about it a little more. His current workplace was outdoors on construction sites. He had to put up with the weather, the dirt, and the noise. That was a far different environment than an office. Spending eight to ten hours of a work day in a place that one disliked could very easily lead one to be unhappy, regardless of how much they enjoyed the actual work.
After reading that section of the document, Dan understood why Tom had reacted so negatively to Boston. Tom didn’t like urban areas, crowds, or cold weather. He had returned from Boston complaining that he had felt cramped by the environment. The town of Austin was a much better choice for Tom.
While the first section had discussed physical surroundings, the next section discussed the importance of the social environment in happiness. It made the point that the human being was a social animal. Social relationships with life partners, acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers were covered in this area.
The idea of a life partner being a social relationship struck him as odd. He had never thought of a wife and children as part of his social life. Somehow, the thought of being married to someone had a different feel to him. As he read the section about life partners he realized that while life partners and family were the most intimate kinds of social relationships into which a person entered, they weren’t the only ones. A very close friendship was another very intimate relationship.
The key point of this section, was that happiness required all forms of social interactions; from the superficial, to the most intimate. Failure to take the time and effort to develop all of those forms of social interactions, was to deny a fundamental characteristic of the human species. That statement struck a raw nerve in Dan. His history in terms of forming relationships with other people was pretty bad, and a lot of that had been the result of being in the wrong social environment.
The next section discussed the emotional environment. After having read the section on the social environment, Dan had thought that the emotional environment had been covered. The example from the article clarified his thinking on the matter significantly. Physically a bus station is just a building and socially it’s filled with strangers, but it is an emotional environment. It’s filled with tired people who are often on edge after hours of discomfort. Physically a stadium is just a building and socially it’s also filled with strangers, but it is a very different emotional environment than a bus station.
There was a subtle distinction between the social environment and the emotional environment. Most social bonds were devoid of emotional content, but that wasn’t true when it came to friends, family, and significant others. The manner in which the bonds were expressed contributed to the emotional environment. Some folks felt more comfortable with calm subtle assurances of affection while others demanded dramatic demonstrations. What one group might consider as a cold unfeeling household could be viewed by those within it as comfortable. What some considered a warm atmosphere could be viewed as discordant and chaotic by others.
The emotional environment also dealt with pressure, competition, and tension. Some people performed well under pressure while others fell apart. Living in the proper emotional environment was often the deciding factor in happiness. There were serious, light-hearted, highly charged, quiet, and stressful emotional environments. People who thrived in one would wilt and die in another.
From the emotional environment, the article moved to the biological environment. When he had first read that section, Dan had burst out laughing. He thought it was ridiculous to consider biology in terms of an environment. He laughed until the article launched into a discussion about physical fitness, food, and sex. The laughter died on his lips when he considered a life without good food and sex.
After reading about sexual preferences, sexual practices, and sexual lifestyles, Dan realized that sex was far more important than just the old ‘in and out’. He read how some people created dungeons in their basements to support their role play. There were couples who practiced swinging. Women turned bedrooms into romantic settings that made them feel particularly feminine. People wore clothes to feel sexy.
The article took care to distinguish sex, from intimacy. Intimacy was sharing one’s feelings and desires. It was about vulnerability. Sex was about the exchange of body fluids, propagation of species, and recreation. Sexual intimacy combined sex and intimacy. Dan read the section wondering why it bothered to make all of those kinds of distinctions until he realized that sex was a biological drive while intimacy was part of the emotional environment.
The article turned to a discussion about intellectual environments. The article presented differences in intellectual environments, using the reasons why people bought computers to clarify the concepts. Some people bought computers to keep track of their budgets. They were interested in intellectual activities associated with satisfying their immediate informational needs. Information was to provide assistance in the now. Other people bought computers to play games. Their use of it was designed to escape the real world. Still others bought computer to have access to a wealth of information. Their intellectual environment was developed to extend their awareness to a larger context.
The intellectual environment included the subjects of interest to the person. An hour of reading history could be ecstasy or torture depending upon the person doing the reading. Dan realized the truth of that. He was reading this article with an interest far greater than he had ever applied to his homework.
The discussions of environments of importance ended with the spiritual environment. This environment spanned the range from a total dedication to the development of a greater spirit, to a complete absence of spirituality. Some people wanted and needed a strong spiritual element in their lives. Others felt that it was a waste of time. The presence or absence of an appropriate place for spiritual development was an important factor in happiness.
The article moved on to discuss how one utilized time. Again, it wasn’t so much about what one wanted to do. It was more about filling the time with activities, than about the activities themselves. Dan realized that there were significant implications regarding how one spent one’s time, to how happy a person was.
Activities weren’t classified into dancing, working, and other kinds of actions. The article focused on the characteristics of those activities. Some people felt comfortable with tightly controlled schedules, while others were more at home with chaotic lifestyles. Were the activities physical or mental? Were they constant, periodic, or chaotic? People needed a little of all different kinds of activities, but the specific blends that were most rewarding differed from person to person.
The article made the point that finding an activity with the right blend of characteristics, would lead one to a passionate pursuit of it. The article told how various people called it ‘finding one’s bliss’, ‘finding one’s passion’, or ‘getting in the groove’. In terms of a career, pursuing one’s passion would never feel like work.
Dan had never thought about the pace of life contributing to his happiness. Until this time, his life had been dictated by school and his learning disability. It was a stunning revelation that his happiness could depend how he chose to spent his time, by selecting which activities filled his day.
By this point in the article, Dan had figured that all of the main topics had been covered. He was shocked to discover that he hadn’t even gotten through half of the article. The next section was about how various life choices mapped across the various environments.
It touched upon what the article called ‘one’s life work.’ The article was careful not to call it a career. The author put being a stay at home caretaker in the same category as an engineer. It had surprised Dan initially, but after a moment of thought he came to agree with that premise. This was about how one spent one’s time for the majority of their day. This was about the environments in which one spent the majority of their time. It was about the activities performed. It wasn’t about the money earned.
The article didn’t talk about the typical categories of jobs. Instead, it talked about the characteristics of jobs. Jobs ranged across the physical, emotional, and cerebral. There were repetitive tasks that didn’t tax the mind. There were jobs that involved problem solving, attention to detail, and intense concentration for extended periods of time. Some jobs required the person to shoulder great responsibilities. Other jobs didn’t require much more than showing up. Some jobs involved dealing with lots of people while others were solitary pursuits. Some required working in an office while others were outdoors.
No one had ever described jobs to Dan in those terms. Always it had been by subject area. It suddenly made sense as to why Tom was having a hard time choosing a major. Tom didn’t know enough about the kinds of things that physicists, chemists, and mathematicians did in their day to day jobs. The fact was that Tom didn’t really know what kinds of occupations required those kinds of degrees.
Dan thought about how little he knew of the workplace. He tried to come up with the names of twenty different jobs and their characteristics. He could name jobs, but he couldn’t identify their characteristics. It seemed to him that he was going to have to do a bit of research before he could make a real decision about what he wanted to do for a living.
The article moved to leisure time activities. This was the first category that had come to mind for Dan when he had thought about the pursuit of happiness. The discussion on this point was almost disappointing. Then he realized that his leisure time was actually a small fraction of his daily life. The one point that was stressed was that a person should make sure to schedule sufficient leisure time in their life.
There was one fact that couldn’t be denied, after reading the article. Happiness encompassed very different things for different people. If he was going to be responsible for his own happiness then he definitely needed to understand what happiness meant for him. There were no pat answers to life, and there were no universal definitions of success.
It was Friday night, and Dan was alone at home after a long day at work. Diana was visiting with some of her friends. Even his parents had gone to a play for the evening. Tom was off on a date with Susan Anderson. Thinking it was stupid to spend an evening alone, Dan rose from his chair and headed out of the house in search of something to do.
Twenty minutes later he arrived at the movie theater in the mall. It was a mob scene as teenagers and adults alike stood in line to purchase tickets. Looking over the screen of available movies, he saw that all of the movies that appealed to him had been sold out. Those that hadn’t been sold out weren’t really of much interest to him. Given the choice between a children’s cartoon movie, a romantic movie, and a horror film, he decided that his best bet was the romance film. He debated if it would be better to return home alone. Not wanting to sit in the house alone, he bought a ticket.
As he stood in line to purchase his popcorn and soft drink, more than one young woman his age checked out his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and tight butt. His job had been a better exercise regimen than could be purchased in the gym at the mall. Lifting and carrying heavy loads eight hours a day, five days a week, had produced muscles. He hadn’t realized that he had been carrying heavy bags of concrete mix as easily as he had once carried a five pound sack of flour. The t-shirts that had once hung loose were now stretched tight across his shoulders. He had a dark tan from being outside all day.
Seated in the middle of a nearly empty theater, Dan watched the movie. He didn’t think much of the dialog or the script. Men didn’t act like the movie portrayed them. They didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves like the leading man in the movie. At least, he couldn’t imagine himself acting in that manner. Then he thought about the emotional environment section of the article. Perhaps some men did act like that.
The movie wasn’t a complete disappointment. He kept finding little vignettes that highlighted various kinds of relationships among people. There was a little scene as the leading woman walked down a busy street filled with merchants. She greeted everyone who ran the little stores that lined the street and was greeted back. Little smiles were exchanged that lasted longer than the time over which they were exchanged. At several points in the movie, the leading woman met with her best friend for a heart to heart chat. Of course, there was the whole drama with the leading man.
Dan was leaving the theater at the end of the movie when he heard, “Dan Parker? Is that you?”
He looked around and spotted Alison Boyd waving to him. He paused and after stepping out of the way of others wanting to leave the theater, said, “Oh, hello, Alison.”
Alison couldn’t believe her eyes. Pasty white, rail thin Dan Parker had turned into a tanned muscular hunk. She had always thought that Dan Parker was a nice enough guy, but she hadn’t been willing to risk the social problems of hanging around with the school dummy. She asked, “Are you here alone?”
“Yes,” Dan answered feeling a little awkward at the admission. Who else except a loser went to the movies alone on a Friday night?
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Alison said. She looked over at her friend and they exchanged a nonverbal conversation. Obviously getting the all clear from her friend, she smiled at Dan and asked, “Would you like to join us for an after movie drink at the diner?”
“That would be nice,” Dan said. He glanced over at the woman with Alison and asked, “Who is your friend?”
“This is my cousin, Mary Boyd,” Alison answered.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mary Boyd. I’m Dan Parker,” Dan said giving her a little bow of the head.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she answered. She wondered if he might be interested in being her summer vacation fling.
Dan drove over to the diner in his car and waited for the pair of young women. After a short wait to be led to a booth, Dan sat across from Alison and Mary. Once everyone was settled, Alison asked, “So what were you doing at a chick flick?”
“It was the only movie available when I arrived at the theater,” Dan answered with a shrug of his shoulders.
“Oh,” Alison said thinking that it was a rather lame reason to sit through the kind of movie men normally hated. She asked, “What did you think of it?”
Dan frowned as he thought about the question. He almost started off trashing the movie, but realized that it had been intended for a certain kind of audience. While it wasn’t the kind of movie that he normally liked, he had enjoyed his observations about the leading woman. After a moment, he answered, “Well, I found elements of it very interesting. The main character seemed to instinctively understand the keys to happiness. She had an amazing network of support with her friends, acquaintances, and family. I think that her unhappiness over the leading man was a little exaggerated, but that was important for the film.”
Expecting to hear that it could have used a chase scene or something equally testosterone driven, Mary sat up a little straighter, and studied Dan with a lot more interest. Curious, she asked, “Are you thinking of becoming a psychologist or something?”
“No. I was just reading an article that discussed social and emotional environments. I recognized some of the things that were described in the article in the movie,” Dan answered.
Hearing Dan talk about having read an article, Alison said, “I thought you couldn’t read.”
“I can read. It just takes me a bit more time than most people,” Dan said with more than a little defensiveness in his voice. He waited for her to tell him something nasty about him being stupid.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Alison said. Like a lot of people at school, she had believed that Dan was mentally slow. She had always liked him, but hadn’t given him much more thought than that.
“Yes. I have dyslexia, and I have a hard time recognizing words when I read them. I have to take my time, to make sense out of the word,” Dan said.
Mary said, “I am majoring in education. I’ve heard about dyslexia. I understand that dyslexics have a difficult time attaching sounds to letters, so that trying to sound out a word isn’t very easy. They said that dyslexics have to learn how to read in a different way.”
“That’s true. The earlier it’s caught the easier it is to learn better ways to approach reading. Mine was caught rather late, so I still tend to fall back on phonetic reading when I encounter words that I haven’t memorized. That really slows me down,” Dan said. Years of being drilled in sounding out words had created habits that were nearly impossible to break.
“I didn’t know that,” Alison said looking at Dan and then back over to Mary. She was impressed that Mary knew that much about the subject.
Mary said, “It sounds to me like you’ve got it under control.”