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Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.



New York Times
By CECILIA CAPUZZI SIMONAPRIL 9, 2015

It was peak reading season, and Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was gamely juggling a call from a reporter, interruptions from her 7-year-old as well as a 10 percent surge in applications to the University of Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. Ms. Chang was in the thick of decisions about who would fill 50 spots evenly divided between the fall fiction and poetry workshops.
“I’m deluged,” she said, surprised by the number of applications she was sorting through — 1,380 — especially in a year with a stronger economy, a condition that typically causes graduate school applications, never mind those to fine arts programs, to drop. “I have a tub of manuscripts,” she said. “It’s weird!”
Perhaps, she speculates, the surge is a result of the juggernaut HBO series called “Girls,” the one where the neurotic aspiring novelist Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, takes off to the Iowa cornfields and shines a bright light on the venerated program.
More likely, the swell in applications is not so weird.
“Explosive” is the word routinely used to describe the growth of M.F.A. programs in creative writing. Iowa was the first, established in 1936. By 1994, there were 64. By last year, that number had more than tripled, to 229 (and another 152 M.A. programs in creative writing), according to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Between 3,000 and 4,000 students a year graduate with the degree; this year, about 20,000 applications were sent out.
A graduate writing degree, unsurprisingly, turns out a lot of opinionated writing. Sample manifestoes from blogs and chat rooms: “Why you should hate the creative writing establishment (…as if you needed any more reasons)” and “14 Reasons (Not) to Get an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (and Two Reasons It Might Actually Be Worth It).” In scholarly circles, the boom and its implications have been a subject of heated debate since at least 2009, with the publication of Mark McGurl’s “The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing.” In it, Dr. McGurl, a Stanford English professor, describes the M.F.A. as the single biggest influence on American literature since World War II, noting that most serious writers since then have come out of graduate-school incubators.
Chad Harbach followed with a 2010 essay, “MFA vs. NYC,” in the journal n+1. Last year, he edited a book of essays, with the same title, on the credential’s influence. Mr. Harbach describes two centers of American fiction: New York City, the traditional hub, and M.F.A., the encroaching university writing program, or “the M.F.A. beast,” as he calls it. Even writers without the degree, writes Mr. Harbach, who earned his from the University of Virginia, have “imbibed the general idea and aesthetic. We are all M.F.A.s now.”
That’s not necessarily a negative notion, according to Dr. McGurl and Mr. Harbach (who received a $650,000 advance for his first novel, “The Art of Fielding”). But it seems to trouble many others, especially aspiring novelists and poets. With so many highly tutored creative writers already out there, is success possible without the instruction and literary connections that are cultivated in M.F.A. programs and that a volatile publishing industry — now evolved around program graduates and sensibilities — has come to look for and expect?
To M.F.A. or not to M.F.A.?
“It is a deadly question,” says the literary critic Anis Shivani, author of the 2011 book “Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies.” “Everyone who wants to be a writer in this country has to confront it, even if you rebel against the M.F.A.,” he says. “If you do the degree, opportunities open up.” Without it, he warns, you may be able to publish in small presses but are more likely to be “condemned to obscurity,” particularly if you write literary fiction and poetry. And your writing will change, he says, and not necessarily for the better.
Detractors like Mr. Shivani say the degree is responsible for so-called program fiction — homogenized, over-worskshopped writing void of literary tradition and overly influenced by the mostly upper- and middle-class values and experiences of its students. Others describe an inherently unfair system that all but requires aspiring writers to attend schools many cannot afford or otherwise access. They see a self-generating track to the literary establishment, on which the most fortunate jump to fellowships, writing colonies, agents, publishing deals and professorships, where they are indoctrinated into the status quo.
Of course, one doesn’t need an M.F.A. to write. “Just ask Samuel Delany, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Colson Whitehead, Hilton Als and Emily St. John Mandel, who is not only M.F.A.-less, she’s B.A.-less,” says Junot Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and M.F.A.-holder who has been a vocal critic of the degree.
With so much seemingly working against it, it is astounding the degree has gained traction at all. But there is another argument, and another list — prominent literary writers and poets with M.F.A.s and a diverse pool of work: Jhumpa Lahiri (Boston University), Phil Klay and Gary Shteyngart (Hunter College), Michael Chabon (University of California, Irvine), Ayana Mathis (Iowa), Jay McInerney (Syracuse University), Saeed Jones (Rutgers) Manuel Muñoz (Cornell), Ocean Vuong (New York University), David Foster Wallace (University of Arizona). The list could go on. And on.
In an essay in the book “MFA vs. NYC,” George Saunders, a professor in Syracuse’s program, writes that there are so many negative myths about the M.F.A. that they have become clichés. “Most critiques I read of creative writing programs or writing in the academy are kicking entities that don’t actually (in my experience) exist.”
Karen Russell, whose book “Swamplandia!” was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize when she was 29, is similarly inured to the critics. What did Columbia’s M.F.A. program do for her? “Basically everything,” she says. “I’m not even sure what I’d be writing now if I hadn’t gone.”
Success stories like Ms. Russell’s or Mr. Harbach’s fuel the fantasy. “It’s no surprise that the promise of the M.F.A. — to make you, if you’re lucky, a famous, well-paid author — strikes so many people with even the smallest literary dream as utterly irresistible,” Mr. Díaz says.
Other realities conspire to make the M.F.A. one of the fastest growing graduate degrees. Among them: the pervasiveness of digital media and celebrity culture, where anyone with a blog feels like a best-selling novelist-in-waiting; the rise of memoirs, a natural extension of the online selfie writing culture; the popularity of magical realism and noir fiction novels, which have turned many 20-somethings on to literature; and changes in generational attitudes, aspirations and culture.
“The younger generation is making career choices determined by quality of life,” says Jeannine Blackwell, dean-in-residence at the Council of Graduate Schools and a professor at the University of Kentucky. That, she says, goes hand in hand with a focus on reinvigorating urban communities through theater, art installations, food culture and centers for literature and writing.
Jean McGarry, a chairwoman of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, says that the teaching of creative writing has taken on even more significance because the way we learn has changed. Evolution in the Hopkins program reflects that. The program started as a one-year Master of Arts and attracted students older than the average 26-year-old in today’s full-residency programs. They were mainly writers with material in need of guidance and derailed by career or family, says Ms. McGarry, who earned an M.A. at the school under John Barth in 1983. Mr. Barth, a National Book Award winner in 1973, called his students “advanced apprentices.”
M.F.A. students today, Ms. McGarry says, are less developed writers; faculty “are doing more of the work of writing” for them. She sees that as a reflection of undergraduate education that emphasizes specialization and pre-professionalism, with little room for the arts, reading or writing. Students have come to expect education to be prescriptive, she says. In 2006, Hopkins changed the program to an M.F.A., adding a year because students needed more time to develop.
“Our understanding of what it takes to be an artist is geared to an era’s myths,” Ms. McGarry says. What the rise of the M.F.A. tells us about our era’s myths, she says, is that “the arts are more inculcated than they were before. It’s no longer the genius coming out of the ground fully fledged.”
Every program has its own character. Hopkins is known to be cerebral; Brown, experimental; Boston University, at one year, intense; University of Arkansas, at four years, academic. The best provide a temporary respite from a fast-paced culture unsympathetic to the pursuit of art for art’s sake, and an opportunity to find a community of like-minded people who validate your work and motivations. They allow students to test their stamina (and talent) for what Timothy Donnelly, chairman of the Writing Program at Columbia, calls a “radical lifestyle choice.”
The best also hone technique and train students to read analytically. Ideally, as Mr. Donnelly puts it, students develop an appreciation for the “sensuous aspect of language” and the ability to translate their experience of life onto the page. “I look at this very idealistically,” he says. “And then I think, ‘Well, let’s roll up our sleeves.’
Creative writing programs are designed as studio or academic models. Often, programs combine aspects of both. They typically offer fiction and poetry tracks, though “creative nonfiction” is gaining ground, as are screenwriting and playwriting. Some distinguish themselves by focusing on thematic writing. Antioch University, Los Angeles, has a social justice emphasis; Chatham University in Pittsburgh emphasizes environmental writing; Pratt Institute in New York has social justice and environmental tracks.
About a fifth of M.F.A. programs are low-residency — they meet for about two weeks on campus or some other on-ground spot (New York University, for example, gathers low-residency students in Paris); the rest of the semester is conducted online.
Studio programs mimic conservatories and focus exclusively on the writing craft. Academic programs require other coursework, sometimes literature, foreign language or translation courses.
At the core of every program is the writing workshop, the so-called Iowa model because it originated there. In its strictest form, it works like this: Classmates evaluate and write detailed comments about students’ work, then sit around a table and “workshop” the piece. The writer sits silently while classmates comment first on what is working, then go back around to comment on what is not. The instructor weighs in. Only then can the author respond.
In the workshop, writing is deconstructed and put back together. Relationships are formed. A skilled instructor can point out flaws and suggest techniques it might otherwise take years to figure out. “You develop a keener sense of your readers,” Ms. Russell says. “When 14 people tell you something isn’t working, you listen.”
The workshop is so central to the experience that programs often screen out applicants who could be problematic. “We read the personal statement closely,” says Ellen Tremper, chairwoman of Brooklyn College’s English department. “We try to see if a person seems rational and, frankly, unneurotic, because if you get someone with a screw loose, it can be disruptive to the group.”
Achieving workshop harmony can be a challenge. John McNally, an Iowa graduate who based a satirical novel, “After the Workshop,” on a washed-up graduate of the Iowa program, has described his own experience there as affected by “bitter jealousies, competition” and writing to please instructors and classmates.
Writing can get “workshopped to death,” Mr. Shivani says. He also points out that criticism is coming primarily from peers who “are people who don’t know anything about writing, which is why they are in the program.”
The workshop can take getting used to. David Win-grave, a New York University student, says that at first the camaraderie, the attention on his work and the mounds of feedback were “thrilling.” But it was easy to lose focus and feel frustrated, and he learned to rely on only a few trusted readers.
Most famously, Junot Díaz wrote in a New Yorker essay last year about racial and ethnic insensitivity during his time in Cornell’s program in 1992. “Too white,” he wrote, “as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc.).”
Cornell’s current director, J. Robert Lennon, says that while the program lacked a diverse faculty 23 years ago, half of today’s tenure-track faculty members are “writers of color” and split evenly between men and women. And, Mr. Lennon notes, Mr. Díaz’s student cohort was “100 percent writers of color,” which Mr. Díaz did not report.
“I don’t doubt that Junot had a hard time here; some students do,” Mr. Lennon says. “The workshop can be a contentious and at times hurtful environment, and I’d imagine that it can be particularly vexing for students who experience discrimination every day outside of class.”
One equalizer has been the availability of more financial aid. Some elite, smaller programs waive tuition and provide a stipend (Hopkins pays $30,000 a year, Cornell $26,000) for every student, typically requiring work in a related position, such as being a teaching assistant. Iowa, Syracuse University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan also have fully funded programs.
With tuition high for a degree not known for its marketplace potential — on average $27,600 for a two-year program at a public university, $72,600 at a private — funding is often the deciding factor in program choice.
Financial aid at most M.F.A. programs is likely to be partial, if available at all. Low-residency programs typically offer no grants or T.A. slots.
Brooklyn College may seem a bargain at $14,580 in tuition for its two-year program ($20,700, out of state) but the program loses talent to schools that provide full tuition remission and stipends, Ms. Tremper says.
The class entering Boston University’s one-year creative writing program this fall will be the first in which all students receive a full tuition waiver and a $12,800 stipend. Before that, says Leslie Epstein, who was the director for 36 years before stepping down last year, it too lost students to schools with better aid packages, prompting it to up its game.
But Mr. Epstein and some others in the M.F.A. community get impatient with the discussion of whether it’s worth taking on debt for an M.F.A. Debt is important to consider, he says, but so is passion. “It’s art! It’s not so bad to make a sacrifice.”
Still, there is reality. Few will write the great American novel or, let’s face it, even publish work. In fact, the surge in M.F.A.s has intensified the competition.
The monthly magazine Poetry receives 100,000 submissions a year and publishes 300 poems. “The number of writers has increased, but the number of readers has not,” says Joseph Harrison, senior American editor for Waywiser Press. Mr. Harrison is coordinator of Waywiser’s Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. This year, the competition drew 33 percent more submissions.
“We can only publish so much,” Mr. Harrison says. “I have to sound a cautionary note: M.F.A. programs make money off of people’s dreams. Everyone in the system is implicated. Writers, too. It’s a bit of a house of cards. One hopes people at least understand the odds and how difficult it can be.”
Including the odds of teaching at college, which many hope to do with the terminal degree. Last year, there were just 112 tenure-track creative writing positions.
Rahul Kanakia, who graduated from Hopkins’s M.F. A. program last May, says that once out of the cocoon, degree holders face a tough adjustment to the unstructured writing life, and the grind of sending work to multiple journals and receiving multiple rejections, if they hear back at all. “It’s like, is anybody out there even reading this stuff?” he says. “Often it doesn’t feel very productive.” (Mr. Kanakia is more fortunate than most, with pending publication of a young adult novel begun at Hopkins.)
Chris Brecheen, who blogs on the M.F.A. and is contemplating pursuing the degree, says: “What writers don’t understand is that there is little pragmatic about the M.F.A.” Of a dozen writer friends who went on to earn M.F.A.s, most, he says, are now doing “whatever they might have done before getting the degree,” including restaurant management, real estate and writing Web content. One person “leveraged” the M.F.A. to work as an organizer of literary open-mike events.
Perhaps the definition of post-M.F.A. success needs to include work like that of Dr. Ronald H. Lands, a professor at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine in Knoxville. He earned an M.F.A. from Queens University of Charlotte, in North Carolina, at 53; publishes stories and poems about patient experiences in JAMA and other journals; and created a course in narrative medicine for medical students. Or Jane Monteagle, an Antioch graduate, who pioneered creative writing programs in Los Angeles correctional facilities.
Many graduates, Ms. Tremper says, are likely to return to “normal jobs.” If highly motivated, they will try to squeeze in writing in hopes of the big break, and they will struggle. Prospective M.F.A. candidates, she says, need to ask: “Am I prepared for that kind of life?”
David Wingrave is willing to roll the dice to find out. He is finishing his first novel, will graduate from N.Y.U. in May and will then look for an agent.
“Before,” he says, “I had no contacts in the literary world, no sense of the process a book must go through, no ability to discuss the craft of literature, and on a day-to-day basis, no time to dedicate myself to it. At N.Y.U., I got those things.”
At the same time, he harbors no illusions about the road ahead. “I definitely need employment very soon,” he says. “Do you know of anything?”

Cecilia Capuzzi Simon teaches writing at American University’s School of Communication.



Science Says Happiness Can Be Achieved Through Experiences, Not Material Goods



By Rina Marie Garcia on April 10 2015 10:05 AM

Experts recently delved into the science of what makes people truly happy. Many believe that buying material stuff equate to happiness but according to a recent research, acquiring new experiences is the key factor in attaining a higher level of happiness.
Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, found that happiness can be achieved by acquiring new experiences rather than owning material things. Together with co-authors Amit Kumar, a doctoral student who studies psychology at Cornell University, and Matthew Killingsworth of University of California, San Francisco, the team investigated the relationship between an individual’s anticipation for a new purchase or experience and the actual thing that is to be acquired.
The study discovered that individuals experience a higher level of happiness when engaging in events, such as travelling and going to a concert, rather than in purchasing material things. Part of the research is the review of newspaper records that account circumstances of people waiting in line. In the said review, it was found that people waiting to purchase travel tickets and the like were more satisfied and well behaved compared to those queued to buy material things.
Kumar said to the Cornell Chronicle, “You sometimes hear stories about people rioting, smashing windows, pepper-spraying one another, or otherwise treating others badly when they have to wait. Our work shows that this kind of behavior is much more likely in instances where people are waiting to acquire a possession than when they’re waiting for tickets to a performance or to taste the offerings at their city’s newest food truck.”
Dr. Gilovich adds that the enemy of happiness is adaptation, and that while new things may excite us, the happiness is only temporary as we adapt to it. Meanwhile, our experiences are greater parts of ourselves compared to material things which are a completely separated from who we are as persons.
"By shifting the investments that societies make and the policies they pursue, they can steer large populations to the kinds of experiential pursuits that promote greater happiness," Dr. Gilovich and Kumar said recently in the academic journal, Experimental Social Psychology. With this, Gilovich closes by raising a recommendation to the society to enable more people to create valuable experiences.


To contact the writer, email rinadoctor00@gmail.com.


How changing habits can change your happiness



Spending more time outdoors and with family, and being more active are some of the top habits most people want to develop. Changing your habits takes work and dedication, says author Gretchen Rubin.

April 04, 2015 8:45 pm  •  HEIDI STEVENS Chicago Tribune
" ... we often feel both tired and wired. We feel exhausted, but also feel jacked up on adrenaline, caffeine and sugar. We feel frantically busy, but also feel that we’re not spending enough time on the things that really matter.”
— Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives”
Our habits, says Gretchen Rubin, are our destiny.
Which isn’t to say they’re predetermined.
Quite the contrary, maintains Rubin, the author and blogger who became a household name with her happiness research, spelled out masterfully in the best-selling “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home,” both of which sold more than two million copies.
In her new book, “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” (Crown), Rubin turns her focus to habits. She says we have the inherent power to start good ones and stop bad ones, but we are surprisingly loath to do so.
“Habits are part of your identity,” Rubin said in a recent phone interview. “Changing them means changing a fundamental part of who we are.”
But change can be good. Particularly if it helps us live longer, healthier, indeed, happier lives — the objective of Rubin’s latest project.
“Habits are the invisible architecture of our lives,” Rubin writes. “We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”
Most of us, Rubin writes, want to change habits that fall into the “essential seven:”
1. More healthy eating and drinking (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol).
2. Exercise regularly.
3. Save, spend and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, stick to a budget).
4. Rest, relax and enjoy (stop watching TV in bed, turn off a cellphone, spend time in nature, cultivate silence, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car).
5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating (practice an instrument, work without interruption, learn a language, maintain a blog).
6. Simplify, clear, clean and organize (make the bed, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle).
7. Engage more deeply in relationships — with other people, with God, with the world (call friends, volunteer, have more sex, spend more time with family, attend religious services).
“The essential seven reflect the fact that we often feel both tired and wired,” she writes. “We feel exhausted, but also feel jacked up on adrenaline, caffeine and sugar. We feel frantically busy, but also feel that we’re not spending enough time on the things that really matter.”
Were truer words ever written?
“It’s not that you’re in a crisis,” said Rubin, who lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters. “It’s just a nagging sense that you wish you could be more on top of things.”

Now: Getting there.
Step 1: Separate your habits from yourself
In “Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships” (Tarcher/Penguin), psychiatrist Amy Banks writes about the effect of bad habits (lying, cheating, losing your temper) on our relationships.
“Many people come to define themselves by their bad habits or their failures,” Banks writes. “Being able to recognize the bad habit as something apart from themselves is an important first step.”
We’re rebels. We’re rule-followers. We’re contrarian. We’re infallible.
We want more sleep, but we don’t see ourselves as early-to-bed fuddy-duddies. We should exercise more, but we don’t identify with gym rats. We need to take on fewer projects, but we’re not really the “say-no” type.
Rubin says she spoke with friends who, despite overwhelming evidence against smoking, struggled to give it up for reasons beyond the chemical addiction.
“They didn’t like being the kind of people who didn’t smoke,” she said. “They had to let go of the idea of themselves as urban, cigarette-smoking intellectuals.”
What is change, after all, if not letting go?
But once you’ve separated your habit from your identity, you can establish a mechanism for altering it.

Step 2: Align your values
“It’s all about self-awareness,” Rubin said. “All of our habits — all of our happiness — comes right back down to self-awareness.”
A fair portion of “Better Than Before” is devoted to helping readers figure out what makes them tick. Do you prefer simplicity or abundance? Are you competitive? Are you a procrastinator? What can you do for hours and not feel bored?
“I should tailor my habits to the fundamental aspects of my nature that aren’t going to change,” Rubin writes. “To avoid wasting my precious habit-formation energy on dead ends, I need to shape my habits to suit me.
“We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses,” she writes. “We must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best.”
We also have to ask what we want out of life.
Rubin, for example, longed for more time with her older daughter.
“I had to ask myself, ‘How can I make that happen?’” she said. “Scheduling ways to make it happen every week helps me monitor whether I’m putting time aside for her and asking her to put aside time for me.”

Step 3: Hold yourself accountable
“You have to monitor whatever is essential to you,” Rubin said. “It’s the only way to ensure that your life reflects your values.”
If you want to walk more, Rubin said, you buy a pedometer. Likewise, if you want to read more, you should keep track of how many books you read.
“Anything that’s important to you, the more you track it and are aware of it, the better you tend to do at it.”
Rubin says every personality type benefits from accountability.
“It really is the key piece,” she said.
Accountability comes in various forms. You can hire someone (a personal trainer or financial planner); you can take your goals public (tell all your co-workers, family, friends, blog subscribers); you can join a group (Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous); you can buy a device (a Fitbit or a calorie-tracking app) or you can adopt an accountability partner.
The point is, we behave better when someone or something is watching.

Step 4: Don’t stop
Stumbling blocks litter the path to change. It’s critical, Rubin says, to avoid tripping on them.
“Because taking the first step is so important, and often so difficult, I try not to falter in my steps once I’ve started,” she writes. “Stopping halts momentum, breeds guilt, makes us feel bad about losing ground and, worst of all, breaks the habit so that the need for decision-making returns, which demands energy, and often results in making a bad decision.”
So while a cheat day (or month) might seem like a much-deserved treat for all your progress, Rubin suggests weighing the consequences carefully.
“While some habits are almost unbreakable, some habits remain fragile, even after years,” she writes. “We must guard against anything that might weaken a valuable habit. Every added link in the chain strengthens the habit — and any break in the chain marks a potential stopping point.”

“ ... we often feel both tired and wired. We feel exhausted, but also feel jacked up on adrenaline, caffeine and sugar. We feel frantically busy, but also feel that we’re not spending enough time on the things that really matter.” — Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives”



See? There are a lot of good people on earth, they just don't get the same attention as the bad people get

Restaurant Owner Writes Amazing Letter To Dumpster Diver

By Sean Kelly, Sat, April 11, 2015

A restaurant owner went above and beyond to lend a hand to someone who had apparently been rummaging through the restaurant’s trash for a meal.
Ashley Jiron, owner of P.B. Jams in Warr Acres, Oklahoma, was shocked when she noticed that somebody had been going through food containers in her restaurant’s dumpster. Heartbroken that a person would have to resort to dumpster diving for their next meal, Jiron took action.
“That really, it hurt me that someone had to do that,” she said. The generous owner decided to post a note on the front door of her business in the hopes that the person would return and read it.

“To the person going through our trash for their next meal, [y]ou’re a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster,” Jiron’s note read. “Please come in during operating hours for a classic Pb&[J], fresh veggies, and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked. Your friend, the owner.”

P.B. Jams, according to reports, is a relatively new establishment and Jiron hadn’t experienced something like this before. She said she plans to keep the sign up for as long as it takes to get the stranger to accept her offer.
“I will not take down that sign until they come in,” she said. “I think we’ve all been in that position where we needed someone’s help and we just needed someone to extend that hand and if I can be that one person to extend that hand to another human being then I will definitely do it.”

Sources: IJReview, KFOR



This Study on Happiness Convinced a CEO to Pay All of His Employees at Least $70,000 a Year


By Jordan Weissmann

 You can thank one Mr. Dan Price for the Internet's feel-good business story of the day. The founder and chief executive of Seattle-based credit card processing company Gravity Payments has decided give out a massive raise that will bring the minimum salary for his 120 employees to $70,000 per year. "If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a costly one," writes the New York Times, noting that the average annual pay at Gravity is currently just $48,000. Thirty workers will see their earnings outright double. To finance this gesture of goodwill, Price says he will slash his own paycheck from $1 million to $70,000, and spend down much of his company's profits. Assuming the Times hasn't missed some dark ulterior motive, the man is a mensch.
And, apparently, the sort of guy who reads academic literature in his downtime. According to the Times, Price hatched his idea after reading an article by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton exploring the eternal question of whether money can indeed buy happiness. Their answer amounted to: yes and no. Based on data from a massive survey by Gallup, the pair concluded that people with higher incomes did indeed enjoy a sunnier mood. Asked to recall their emotions the previous day, they were less likely to report that they had been stressed or worried, and more likely to remember feeling happy and smiling. But there was a point of diminishing returns. Once people earned $75,000 per year, extra pay didn't statistically improve their state of mind at all. Hence Price's decision. For people who make low five-figures, a bigger paycheck makes a meaningful difference in the emotional quality of their daily lives.
 All this might also sound like validation for those of us who like to think the wealthy are all secretly miserable, or at least no happier than the rest of us. But that isn't quite right. While Kahneman and Deaton found that $75,000 may have been the magic cutoff for cash's ability to brighten our daily lives, the results changed when survey takers were asked to rate their degree of life satisfaction in the abstract. Given a chance to sit back and ponder, people with more money tended to evaluate their lives more positively. And there didn't seem to be any point where an extra dollar stopped making a difference.
You can see the distinction between money's power to influence our daily emotional experience and its influence on how we view our station in life more broadly in the graph below. The measures of mood all peak and flatten out once people reach about $75,000. Life satisfaction, on the other hand, simply climbs with income, albeit a bit more slowly once people start earning around six figures. “Beyond $75,000 in the contemporary United States," the authors write, "higher income is neither the road to experienced happiness nor the road to the relief of unhappiness or stress, although higher income continues to improve individuals’ life evaluations." So money can't make us infinitely more joyful. But it might be able to make us infinitely more content.
This finding has been echoed in work by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who looked at differences in life satisfaction both internationally and within individual countries, and found that there was no cutoff where additional income seemed to stop making people more pleased with themselves. "We find no evidence of a satiation point," they write. Still, I doubt knowing that would make the employees of Gravity Payments any less thrilled. 


Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent