Sunday, January 13, 2013

When I say "happiness isn't good enough", is "meaning" the other half?

I've written about happiness at least a few times. I often get frustrated because "happiness" becomes a catch-all term for anything good. The Atlantic awakens this old itch. They toss out "meaning" as the foil to "happiness": "happiness" is what feels good, "meaning" is this other amorphous blob of stuff you need to have a good life.

I guess Martin Seligman would agree; "meaning" is one of the 5 things he suggested to have a flourishing life. (The others are positive emotion (aka happiness), engagement/flow, relationships, and accomplishment.) Indeed, that feels like a more complete picture than just hammering on about meaning and slagging on happiness. But whether it's 1/2 or 1/5 of a good life, meaning is worth pursuing. But how do you find it?

The Atlantic article notes that many people find meaning through their kids. But that just feels like punting! Like deciding we don't really know what to do on this planet, so let's lovingly create a new generation and let them figure it out. (meanwhile contributing to overcrowding and pretty much every problem.) (again, *sigh*, hi Mom and Dad, yes, I'm still mostly glad you had kids. your generation did punt a lot of junk to us, though.)

The other examples of meaning they give are mostly the typical Mother-Theresa stuff: helping others, giving not taking, resigning yourself to life in a concentration camp so you can help your parents. I guess. The problem with finding goodness in suffering is that there's a lot of suffering that is just bad, and if you go on seeking suffering, or just being neutral about suffering, you'll probably stumble into a lot of meaningless suffering that is just bad.

Can you search for meaning and happiness at the same time? Or search for meaning without forsaking happiness? After all, happiness at least helps productivity.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is my drinking water unsafe?

Or, "should I get a Brita?"

I found the 2011 Pittsburgh Water Report. Looks like our water is better than the EPA standards in all categories.

I'd like all categories to beat the MCLG (minimum contaminant level goal; the value below which it is totally safe), not just the MCL (EPA guideline.) I guess the MCLG is 0 in Lead, Uranium, Radium, and Beta Photon Emitters. (there are also 5 categories where MCLG is unavailable.)
In particular, lead was on my mind for some reason, and Pittsburgh water 90th percentile is 10ppb. So 90% of the water in Pittsburgh is under 10ppb. And this site says rivers have 3-30ppb (parts per billion) lead. So unless the other 10% is crazy high, I'm still in the "as safe as rivers" zone.
For uranium, well, looks like the WHO is stricter, but their MCL is 15 micrograms/liter (EPA is 30), and Pittsburgh's level is 1.77. Also, looks like anion exchange and reverse osmosis are the only ways to remove it. This is more than a Brita, which means more maintenance than I really want to deal with. So I'm okay on the uranium too.
Can't find good info quickly on radium or beta photon emitters, and this is an hour more than I meant to spend already!

So, in conclusion: no. Should you get a Brita? Beats me, check your local water report, but if you're in Pittsburgh you should be okay without one. Or, at least, if you're arguing pro-Brita for health reasons, the burden of proof is on you.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that the EWG gives a more complete picture of stuff in our water. Based on that, haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes seem to be mildly problematic (in both we're between the one-in-a-million lifetime cancer risk and the one-in-ten-thousand; well below all non-cancer risk rates). Let's average it and say that by drinking these I'm adding about a 1-in-100,000 risk of getting cancer. Not great; however, given the additional complexity and cost I'd introduce by adding a pitcher or tap filter to my life, replacing the filters, etc, I'll take the 1-in-100,000 risk instead. (Also, I don't know if a Brita even removes those things from our water!) So I still say don't get a Brita, but for slightly different reasons.