Re "A Paradox of Progress: Stepped-Up Stress," Commentary, Feb. 23: Several of Gregg Easterbrook's comments are bitterly contested -- especially his generalizations. He writes, "By practically every objective measure, American life has been getting better for decades." I would answer with my own generalization. Americans are better educated than ever. So why are we beating up on teachers and schools under the guise of improving them?
Easterbrook fails to mention my favorite list of concerns. Was I lied to about Iraq? Why? Who is responsible? Is there such a thing as global warming and is it driven by human causes? Can anything be done about this? Who cares that our society is increasingly polarized? Who cares about the uninsured? Who will speak the truth that America's most affluent and American businesses are not accepting their fiscal and social responsibility? The list is endless.
These and a host of others are legitimate concerns, and trying to silence them gives me a lot of stress and has an impact on all of our lives. There are many paradoxes in life, and the idea of "progress" is probably rife with them, but I'm not trying to debate the meaning and goal of progress. I'm certainly not trying to simply make myself as happy as I can be. But I am trying to live my life in such a way that it doesn't undermine my understanding of life and the future. I need all the help I can get.
Ted D. Meyers
The modern world may have improved our material lives ... but do material possessions really make us happy? Much of our overconsumption is a result of our being held prisoner by advertisers. Madison Avenue has created our culture of overconsumers. We believe that we are inadequate and don't fit in unless we own the biggest SUV, the latest multifunctional cellphone, the largest big-screen TV, a DVD player, etc. What is the definition of "better off"? More possessions don't bring happiness or make us a better society.
Core values that go beyond material possessions, such as developing one's spiritual growth and one's involvement in community and striving for justice and peace, are a source of true happiness, which comes from within.
Of course Easterbrook is correct in the stress paradox. But in his short list of short-term strategies to reduce stress, he forgot to mention meditation. It's free, it's portable and it requires less discipline than most exercise programs. If "everyone" meditated, Easterbrook's long-term goals of finding ways to make society less of a rat race, rendering the economy less tumultuous and easing job anxiety would be manifested naturally.
Corona del Mar
I would like to suggest a theory as to why modern society is so unhappy. I believe that the reason is in large part due to the overwhelming presence in the media of the concept of celebrity.
Until the advent of automobiles and radio/television, people rarely ventured out of or knew anything about an area farther than a few miles from their homes. Growing up in these conditions, a person with great ambition might make his life's goal to be richer and more powerful than "Farmer Jones" from down the road who owned the beautiful ranch. Even if this was a lofty goal, it was certainly within the realm of possibility.
Today, everyone wants to be a rock star, sports legend or famous actor. This is an extremely unlikely prospect, with arguably fewer than a thousand spots to distribute among a population of close to 300 million. The result is a widespread belief that we are failures -- not as important or worthy as "the beautiful people."