Tag Archives: happiness

Joy in doing something you love, badly

August 13, 2016

This is not a movie review. It is a tribute to not caring about the critics and doing what makes you happy.

I had never heard of Florence Foster Jenkins before my older daughter mentioned her at dinner, and I found out this stranger was one of my daughter’s personal heroes and role models.

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant star in Florence Foster Jenkins, a 2016 British-French biographical comedy-drama film, directed by Stephen Frears and written by Nicholas Martin. It debuted last spring in Britain, and opened in August in the U.S. Publicity photo

Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant star in Florence Foster Jenkins, a 2016 British-French biographical comedy-drama that premiered  in April in London, and recently opened in the U.S. Publicity photo

Foster Jenkins, born in 1868 in Wilkes-Barre PA, spent most of her later life in New York.  When her father died, she inherited a sizeable trust, and she largely spent it on her life-long passion for music, in particular, singing.

She loved to sing and give public performances. The only problem was, that she did it rather badly. She thought, however, that she sang well,  was convinced at her recitals that laughter from the audience came from “people planted by her rivals.”

She was in public demand, but would perform only at small venues and clubs. In 1944 she relented, though, and booked Carnegie Hall, where tickets sold out weeks in advance. It  meant that for the first time critics could attend, and they savaged her performance.

She was heart-broken. She had a heart attack two days after, and died a month later at the age of 76.

Foster Jenkins and her amazing career have been the subject of four plays including the much-acclaimed Glorious!, books including Florence, The Nightingale?, documentaries such as Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own), and now a new movie starring Meryl Streep.

She had a very interesting career. But why was she a role model for my daughter?

“Because she didn’t care,” my daughter told me. “She knew people thought she was terrible. But that wasn’t going to stop her. She did what she loved. She just loved to sing, and even if she did it badly, she wasn’t going to stop because it made her so happy.”

Noeline Brown, who played Foster Jenkins in a production of Glorious! at the Sydney Opera House in 2007,  found her joy at singing remarkable. She said, “That was how the whole thing worked. She didn’t really hear the laughing. She only heard the applause. It’s kind of like a parable of life. If you can ignore all the jeers and just hear the cheering you’re going to be a happy person.”

This perhaps explains why this unusual woman has been the subject of so much attention: Doing what you love and makes you happy, even if you’re not very good at it.

Growing up in North America, probably in any first world country, you are taught almost from the moment of birth to only do what you’re good at. Sports (in particular), music, drama, studies at school, you name it, we’re told relentlessly that if we’re no good at something, even if we like doing it, to do something else.

We are, at this moment, in the midst of an orgiastic celebration of the best in the sporting world, at the Olympic summer games in Rio. But the truth is, most of the athletes competing at the Olympic Games will never make the medal podium. They know it but, like Florence, they put in the hours because they love their sport.

This is why my daughter loves Foster Jenkins. She found joy in what others regarded as failure and didn’t care, because the most important thing was the joy itself.

“It helps me remember that even when I don’t do things really well, but I really like to do them, not to listen to all those inner voices that tell you how bad you are and that you should stop,” my daughter added. “Just do what you love doing.”

I’m not saying that we should abandon what we do well and what helps us earn a living, even if we don’t totally ‘love’ it. Remember, Foster Jenkins lived off the proceeds of her trust fund, and so could indulge her passions in a way that most people can’t.

But there is much to be learned from how she did live. The idea that doing what you love, and what makes you happy, regardless of the relentless critics, is a great message.

Maybe the film Florence Foster Jenkins can help bring it back again.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com


Wikipedia page for Florence Foster Jenkins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Foster_Jenkins


Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 



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On the psychology of materialism, and Christmas

Photo by Ian Muttoo, Creative Commons

Shoppers at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, Canada Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr, Creative Commons

Tim Kasser, an American psychology professor who specializes in materialism and well being, has some thoughts on consumerism, Christmas, and well-being.

 On why materialism is sometimes considered a negative, and affects people differently:

To be materialistic means to have values that put a relatively high priority on making a lot of money and having many possessions, as well as on image and popularity, which are almost always expressed via money and possessions. 

I think materialism is viewed in a negative light because people may have had unpleasant experiences with materialistic people. We know from research that materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. Such behavior is usually not appreciated by the average person, although it is encouraged by some aspects of our capitalist economic system. 

Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values. First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. Second, and somewhat less obvious — people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears, or thoughts of their own death.

On the impact of media on materialism:

The research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values are. That’s probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products. 

A study I recently published with psychologist Jean Twenge tracked how materialism has changed in U.S. high school seniors over a few decades and connected those changes with national advertising expenditures. We found that the extent to which a given year’s class of high school seniors cared about materialistic pursuits was predictable on the basis of how much of the U.S. economy came from advertising and marketing expenditures — the more that advertising dominated the economy, the more materialistic youth were.

One study of American and Arab youth found that materialism is higher as social media use increases. The findings suggest that, just as television use is associated with more materialism, so is use of social media. That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how the social media companies make a profit.

On extreme materialism and compulsive shopping:

Materialism is about values and desire for money, possessions and the like. Compulsive consumption is when a person feels unable to control the desire to consume, often because she or he is trying to fill some emptiness or overcome anxiety. Materialism and compulsive consumption are related to each other. In a recent meta-analysis of the association between materialism and people’s well-being, we found that the correlation between people’s materialism and the extent they reported problems with compulsive consumption was strong and consistent across many studies.

 While materialism is a risk factor for compulsive consumption, they are not the same thing. Another psychologist, Miriam Tatzel, suggests that some materialists are “loose” with their money and some are “tight.” Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge or Silas Marner, trying to accumulate wealth.

On the bad and good of materialism:

We know from the literature that materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes. It also is associated with more spending problems and debt. From my perspective, all of those are negative outcomes. 

But from the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation, and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive.

On links between materialism and happiness:

The connection between materialism and well-being is the longest-standing strand of research in the materialism literature. My colleagues at the University of Sussex and I recently published a meta-analysis that showed the negative relationship between materialism and well-being was consistent across all kinds of measures of materialism, types of people, and cultures. We found that the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives. 

The most supported explanation for why well-being is lower when materialism is high concerns psychological needs. Specifically, materialistic values are associated with living one’s life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

On religion and materialism:

A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits. That is, research on how people’s values are organized has shown that some goals are easy to simultaneously pursue, but others are in tension or conflict with each other. For example, it is relatively easy to focus on goals for money at the same time one focuses on goals for image and popularity, as those goals all are related and facilitate each other. The research shows there is a tension between materialistic goals and religious pursuits, just as Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Lao Tze and many other religious thinkers have long suggested. It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.

One study has shown that this plays out during Christmas, too. Psychologist Ken Sheldon and I co-authored a study that found that to the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims. We also found that people reported “merrier” Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.


— Adapted from a Q&A from the American Psychological Association

Tim Kasser is a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, specializing in materialism and well-being. He is the author of The High Price of Materialism, and Psychology and Consumer Culture. A former associate editor of APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Kasser earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester.




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