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Gail Jones

More things change

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I’ve heard this phrase repeated by seniors, and the over 40 crowd often – the more things change, the more they remain the same.

But is that true for the American worker?

Has compensation changed much over the years? Is the American worker happier, more satisfied with their income and lifestyle – overall?


Has things remained the same – despite the many changes in our industries, workforce and culture? Has industry changes kept the principal of work and reward, the same for the American worker? Meaning, does harder work and more investment in education, resulted in increased compensation for the average worker?

Prior to the 1950’s, more than 50% of the American workforce produced a product, rather than provided a service. Most of our work was centered on manufacturing, Agriculture and retail trade.

Today the greater percentage of our workforce is service oriented – with education, healthcare, professional and scientific management, leading our service industries.

So how has this shift affected compensation for the American workerIs this more learned generation better compensated than their grandparents were? graph

The US Census Bureau reported the median annual earnings for men in the 1940’s was $1,800. In 2010 it was $33,276. So the answer to the question of has compensation changed – is not  a surprise – of course we are earning more than our grandparents did in the 1940’s!  But has our increased earnings caused us to be happier, more satisfied, less worried than the generation that came out of the Great Depression?

Or does increased income even have an impact on happiness at all?

Does being satisfied with our income means that we are happier?

I heard a famous actor once said that money give him choices. Which is true for lifestyle changes, with additional income, we are able to buy better – bigger – more – so perhaps choices makes us happier?

But does choices  make us more or less satisfied?working-in-a-coffee-shop1

Are we more likely to compare our better, bigger, more, to previous generations? And our response results in satisfaction?  Or do we, as a generation with more income and choices – compare ourselves to each other?

Do you feel more satisfied? Happier? Or does the more things change, the more they stay the same – for you?


When Despair visits

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de·spair [dəˈsper] the complete loss or absence of hope: synonyms: hopelessness · depressed. gloomy. disheartenment · discouragement.

We all have experienced that emotional response to bad news – we call it sadness, but when it lingers, when it takes up space and time and refuses to leave, we may call it depression or despair.


Despair is an unwelcome guest that visits us all – rich, poor, young, old, black, white, famous, unknown, powerful and powerless.


When we read about the rich and famous, some of us may even snicker at some of the things they do to invite this houseguest, then seems surprise by his presence, or by his lengthy stay!  Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson comes to mind.


Then there is the friend, or relative who stands on their doorsteps and beckons this houseguest to come in. You know them, they love stuff and spends their paycheck + credit card acquiring more stuff – begging despair to linger for years as they avoid the phone calls and mail from one of despair’s favorite elf – the debt collector!


Or that despair chaser that blindly seeks after fun, knowing the cost is more than they could pay, but fun (and ridding themselves of boredom) outweighs their judgment and despair is the inevitable result – sometimes in the form of an addiction, or imprisonment, or job loss, or disease.


And then there is the sick, the loss, and the pain that results in enduring the presence of this unwelcome guest. While these precursors to despair comes to us all – sick, loss and pain is no respecter of persons– they tend to lodge at the door of the senior person more often than not.


Perhaps because, after years of fighting that unwelcome guest, the senior person has lost arsenal and energy?  He or she is weakened and despair seeks to rest rather than visit? Whatever the reason, despair is more of an epidemic – rapidly spreading like an infectious disease – than a random virus, for the senior person.


It knocks, kicks down the door and storms in at the most inopportune times – recent negative medical diagnosis + loss of a spouse. Outliving an adult child, or a lifelong friend, and deciding about moving to a long term care facility because of this loss.


Despair arrives and declares itself the winner, in a life that was spent battling its presence and lingering effects, and how does the weary war torn soldier respond? More often with these four words, “I want to die.”


As health care professionals we hear these four words often, and our trite response is often, a gentle chide, a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, an unrequited hug.


We may even ask family members to talk with a Psychologist, get the senior person on anti-depressants, or if there is no cognitive impairment, suggest talk-therapy with a professional. But what if the senior only wants you, yes you daughter, son, grandchild? What if just your presence – consistent, not sporadic – presence – listening – laughing – sharing – reminiscing, is all that senior person wants?


What if  your presence, and my presence alone, is the stimuli that causes that unwelcome houseguest – despair – to pack-up, and head out the door, or better yet, to forget it ever knew the address for our senior love ones?