A River, Wasted

There’s a significant highway construction project underway in downtown Columbus, just south of downtown. The project has eliminated the path that you formerly could follow south along the Scioto River from the Scioto Mile riverside park area to Audubon Park. Now, instead of the river and some surrounding greenery, there will be towering highway overpasses right next to the river–with the shadows, road noise, truck engine sounds, and graffiti that inevitably accompany highway bridges. You can get a sense of the height of the overpass from the photo above and its location adjacent to the river from the photo below.

I can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity and a waste of riverfront. On nice spring days, like this past weekend, the Scioto Mile area was full of people walking, jogging, cycling, and skateboarding along the river–but when you reach this construction scene at the south end, you either turn around or make a hard left turn and walk through and under the construction zone. When the project is finished, visitors to the Scioto Mile will have to make a similar choice, and go under loud and dystopian underpasses if they want to continue their walks, jogs, or rides. My guess is that most people will turn around, because towering bridges, road noise, and bucolic river settings really don’t mix.

The Scioto River, as it winds through downtown, isn’t the most scenic river in the world– although it may be one of the muddiest. Still, the Scioto Mile project has brought about a vast improvement over the river as it once was, making it narrower, with a faster current and fewer tree limbs and other debris clogging its flow. The green space developed along the river banks has brought people down to the riverfront for the first time in decades. The shallow Scioto River will never be as interesting as the Ohio River or Lake Erie, with their boat traffic, but this decision to shroud the river in shadow from an interstate highway really isn’t giving it a fair chance.

The Low Country

They call the coastal area around Savannah Georgia, extending up the coast to South Carolina, the low country. Crisscrossed with rivers, creeks, and other waterways, it is flat country where the live oak trees sport thick beards of Spanish moss.

This is an area where people pay attention to the tides. This is not surprising when you literally live at sea level, and an especially high tide could wash over the coastal properties. Much of the seaside territory is salt marsh that stretches for miles, as seen in the photo above. At high tide, the reeds are largely submerged; as the tide recess, the reeds are exposed. In the distance you can see the barrier island that separates the area from the open sea.

We live in a big country with lots of different environmental areas and zones. The low country area is a good example of our ecological diversity.

The Personal Cost Of Gridlock

No one–not even the most hardened California or New York City commuter–likes sitting in traffic. It’s frustrating, and annoying, and a colossal waste of time. But what does it mean for you, physically, if you are spending hours every day personally experiencing gridlock?

A recent study from the University of British Columbia suggests that sitting in traffic and breathing in diesel fumes and exhaust is bad for your brain. The study indicates that exposure to traffic pollution produces altered brain network connectivity in humans, and that signs of decreased brain function can start to appear after as little as two hours of exposure.

The UBC study exposed 25 test subjects to either diesel exhaust or filtered air, then used MRI technology to measure brain activity. The results showed that people exposed to diesel exhaust exhibited less activity in the parts of the brain that are involved with internal thoughts and memories. Fortunately, the affects were temporary, and the brains of people exposed to the diesel exhaust were temporary. What hasn’t been tested yet, however, is whether consistent, daily exposure might cause more lasting damage to brain connections.

For some years now I’ve lived close enough to work to walk, and I have been very happy to avoid a long daily commute, sitting in traffic, and the stresses those activities produce. The UBC study just provides further confirmation that prolonged daily exposure to snarled traffic isn’t a good thing. If you have a tough commute, the UBC researchers suggest keeping the windows rolled up and making sure your air filter is a good one. And if you’re a cyclist or a pedestrian, they urge finding a route that keeps you away from diesel exhaust.

We all share a common interest in maintaining our remaining brain connections, such as they are, at peak functionality.

Selling The Bug Diet

With Thanksgiving coming up in two weeks, many Americans have started to think with pleasure about gorging on delicious roast turkey, stuffing, lots of gravy, mashed potatoes, maybe some cranberry relish, and a slice of pie or two. As this traditional and highly food-oriented holiday approaches, however, other people are trying to figure out how to convince Americans to eat insects.

Last week PNAS–the website for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America–carried an article entitled How To Convince People To Eat Insects. The article begins with an anecdote about Pennsylvanians watching mealworms sizzle in a pan as they learned about an insect diet from a naturalist, when a little girl ate a mealworm that popped up from the pan and said it tasted like kettle corn. After this promising, taste-oriented start (which makes you wonder, incidentally, what kind of kettle corn that little tyke has been getting) the article restates arguments for a bug diet that we’ve been hearing for years. It notes that eating insects is a lot more environmentally friendly, because farmed insects are much more efficient than cows in turning feed into “edible weight,” and–as anyone who watched Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom knows–people in other countries have been eating insects as a source of nutrients and protein and a regular part of their diet for centuries.

Then the article gets to the nub of the issue: how do you get Americans to move past their instinctive revulsion at the thought of munching on crickets and actually try some bug-based food–like a pizza covered with mealworms? (Incidentally, if you didn’t shudder inwardly at the idea of a pizza crawling with tiny worms, you’re probably ready to try a cricket energy bar already.) One key part of the process, according to the article, is to make sure that people don’t actually see any identifiable insect parts, like a wing or a grasshopper leg, or know that the cookie they are eating used ground black soldier fly larvae as a flour ingredient. (These are real food examples from the article, folks.) That means not prominently featuring pictures of grasshoppers, locusts, or flies on the packaging for the product.

Marketing the insect diet properly will be a key part of process, too. The article recognizes that Americans haven’t really responded to arguments that eating bugs is better for our planet, healthier, and or a good source of protein, because altruistic behavior doesn’t really motivate food choices for most people–so how do you convince Americans to give insect-based products a try? Celebrity endorsements apparently have made people somewhat more willing to try a bug bite, and making sure that the products taste good and are aesthetically pleasing is important, too. And if you can convince some people to eat bugs and enthusiastically endorse the practice in conversations with their friends, cultural mores may convince more people to give that mealworm pizza a try.

More insect-based food is probably in our future. With food prices going up, it will allow manufacturers to produce cheaper products, and in Ohio some people are predicting that local farms will start to incorporate growing and harvesting insects. But if you really want to get people to eat bugs as a matter of course, I think you need to adopt the kind of high-impact marketing that you find in clickbait articles. For example, bugs like beetles and crickets are low in carbs. Why not advertise “Cricket Crunchers” as a key element of a low-carb diet and a sure-fire way to melt away that stubborn belly fat? Putting them in a brightly colored cellophane bag and featuring an endorsement from an ageless celebrity like Jennifer Aniston would help, too.

Backfire Protests

The primary objective of protests is to call attention to your cause–and to do so in a way that makes people sympathetic to your position. The lunch counter sit-ins and freedom marches of the ’50s and ’60s to protest racism and segregation in the American South, in which peaceful protesters were attacked and manhandled by bigoted authorities and police dogs, were examples of protests that successfully turned public opinion.

The recent protests in which climate activists hurl food at famous paintings and then glue their hands to walls, in contrast, seem ill-suited to achieving that basic goal.

Monet’s magnificent Les Meules, shown above, is the latest painting to endure the indignity of being the target of thrown food, in the form of mashed potatoes. The mashed spuds were tossed by members of “Last Generation,” a group that wants the German government to stop using fossil fuels. The incident followed a similar escapade by members of “Just Stop Oil,” who splattered tomato soup on one of Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings in the National Gallery in London. In both instances, the food tossers then glued their hands to the walls holding the paintings. Fortunately, both the Monet and the Van Gogh were covered by glass, so no permanent damage was done.

There’s no doubt that the protests got media attention, and some people on the political spectrum have dutifully argued that the food-throwing protesters are “totally justified” in their actions due to concerns about climate change. I suspect, however, that a far larger number of people object to converting beautiful works of art into props for acts of political theater and turning quiet art museums into turbulent protest zones. It just seems wrong to throw things at artwork–especially when the paintings have nothing to do with the fossil fuels or climate change that are supposed to be the whole point of the protest. Committing assaults on paintings of flowers and haystacks doesn’t exactly drive home a point about global warming.

Gluing your hands to walls and floors doesn’t make much sense, either. Either the palms of the protesters are going to be painfully de-skinned when police arrive, or they are going to risk being left glued down in the dark overnight, without access to food, water, or the facilities–an unhappy fate which happened to protestors who glued themselves to the floor of a Volkswagen facility recently. Either way, it doesn’t exactly send a message that the protestors have intelligently thought through the potential consequences of their actions.

We’ll see whether the food-tossing, hand-gluing approach to protesting causes a shift in public opinion in a way that favors the protesters cause–or whether it has the opposite effect. People in Europe, and elsewhere, might not be receptive to the intended message as they approach a winter in which there are significant concerns that people won’t have enough fuel to heat their homes.

Hike Ohio: Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve

Yesterday, on a cool and lovely fall morning, we drove to the Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve near Lancaster. It’s about a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbus that takes you on country roads that wind through the heart of some of the beautiful, rolling farmland found throughout the rural areas of central Ohio. The GPS finally deposits you at a small parking lot near the entrance to Oil Mill Road, which you follow back to the entrance to the preserve.

We were in the mood for a peaceful trek through the woods–and at Christmas Rocks that is exactly what we got. It was just over 50 degrees and dry when we started our ramble, which made for ideal hiking weather. We took the orange trail to the blue trail, which will give you several good miles of moderate hiking through very pretty woodland–although there were several uphill and downhill sections where we wished we hadn’t forgotten our walking sticks. (In our experience, at least, walking sticks are seemingly designed to be left behind and forgotten until you see another hiker using them and kick yourself for the oversight.)

There are a few interesting rock formations on the blue trail, like the one above, but for the most part Christmas Rocks is all about trees, glimpses of shimmering sunlight, blue sky, whispering green leaves, and the kind of refreshing, highly oxygenated air that you only get in a forested area. It’s a good place to amble slowly, quietly take in the scenery, cross a mossy wooden bridge over a small stream, and remember what it was like to go into the woods when you were a kid and wonder what you might find there.

We saw the first signs of the fall colors to come, with some leaves already down on the trail and a few sugar maples displaying their trademark scarlet autumnal finery. For the most part, though, the leaves were green on the towering trees. We heard some birdsong as we moved along, following switchbacks up and down and a winding trail that takes you through several gorges.

The blue trail at Christmas Rocks is a loop, and at one point you come to a juncture with Armey Run, a small brook that cuts through the bottom of one of the ravines. You can walk out onto the rocks in the middle of the stream and enjoy that gurgling sound of slowly moving water, which makes for a change from the silence that swallows you up on the rest of the trail. From that point, the trail moves upward, with Armey Run falling away to your left, as you complete the loop.

As we emerged from the tree cover and left the Christmas Rocks property, we were dazzled by the cloudless azure skies, the sparkling sunshine, and the bright green lawn surrounding an old barn positioned close to the entrance to the nature preserve. We agreed that, once again, a Saturday morning hike was a great way to kick off the weekend.

How Green Was My Garden?

In 2007, Gay Street in downtown Columbus was changed from a one-way to a two-way street. As part of the project, about $1 million was spent on environmental improvements, including landscaped median strips that were added at points along the street, as well as “rain gardens.” The rain gardens were designated areas surrounded by cement berms that were supposed to look like an actual garden, with flowers and other plantings. They were intended to serve an important purpose: to absorb and filter storm water runoff from the surrounding area before it found its way back to local rivers.

The switch to a two-way street has worked well for Gay Street. The “rain gardens,” on the other hand, were kept up for a time and were a nice addition to the street; they also were featured in The Rain Gardener newsletter and won awards for the consultants who developed the project. But at some point along the way, whoever was responsible for taking care of the rain gardens stopped doing so. The photo above shows one of the rain gardens as it looked yesterday when I walked by on my way to the library. It’s an unsightly, muddy area, but more importantly it probably doesn’t do much to serve its stated purpose of absorbing and filtering storm water runoff–at least, no more than would be accomplished by untended open ground.

Only the sign below remains to remind passersby of what this area was supposed to be. Interestingly, Columbus’ submission to The Rain Gardener newsletter, linked above, stated that one of the goals of the rain garden project was to educate downtown workers, residents, and others “about the issues that storm water runoff creates.” Now the rain gardens serve a different educational purpose: they show what happens after the awards and the fanfare, when a well-intended “green” project is ignored and you wonder why the money to create it was spent in the first place.

A Weeding Weekend

Stonington, Maine is a great growing climate. Plants seem to thrive here, but unfortunately that includes weeds—lots and lots of weeds. So when I returned after a two-and-a-half month absence, I found on the positive side that my lupines had grown to colossal sizes, but weeds had invaded all the beds and were on the verge of overwhelming our plantings. The photo above is an example of just how overgrown things had become.

So this past weekend featured a lot of weeding, to try to get the growth under control. I dug out countless broadleaf weeds, yanked out creeping vines, chopped back encroaching chokecherry trees, and pulled out unwanted grass. My favorite weed to remove, whose name is unknown to me, has a weird hollow stem, grows rapidly, and has a purple flower on top and very shallow roots. You can extract it with a gentle tug, and it is satisfying to then fling it onto the weed pile.

By the end of the weekend, as the photo below shows, I had got things back to about where they were when I last left in May. In the never-ending War of the Weeds, that’s about all you can hope for.

Assessing The Natural Impact Of The Pandemic Shutdowns

When the COVID pandemic struck in earnest in March 2020 and lockdown orders began to be issued by governments around the world, the impact on human beings was immediate and obvious. Most people stopped traveling by air or by car, tourism abruptly dropped, and many travel destinations closed for months as people huddled in their homes. More than two years later, we’re still dealing with the economic fallout from the shutdowns and assessing the positive and negative impacts on homo sapiens.

But because the COVID shutdowns effectively stopped a lot of human movement, it also affected the natural world–and there, too, scientists are trying to sift through the data and determine the impact. Scientists and environmentalists have dubbed the COVID shutdown period the “anthropause”–“anthro” being the prefix for humans–and are in the process of evaluating information about what it meant for various ecosystems. Their preliminary conclusion, according to an interesting article in the New York Times, basically is: “it’s complicated.” The cessation of a significant chunk of human activity clearly had some positive effects, but it had some negative effects as well.

The positive effects are, perhaps, easier to understand. Because humans weren’t going to certain places, making noise, stirring things up, and interacting with the flora and fauna, the natural world had a brief chance to revert to a non-human equilibrium. For example, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Hawaii, where the photo above was taken, is a popular snorkeling spot. It was closed to all visitors for nine months during the COVID shutdown, which resulted in significantly improved water clarity (without snorkelers kicking up lots of sediment) and increased fish density and diversity (without snorkelers causing a ruckus and causing fish to swim elsewhere). Similar positive effects were seen in other places.

But there were negative effects as well, because in many places humans either are affirmatively acting as protectors of habitats or species, or because human activity has the effect of discouraging predator species. The Times article cites an island off the coast of Sweden that is a popular bird-watching destination, where scientists have found that the reduction in human visitors emboldened eagles whose activities affected the hatching activities of still other birds, causing a 26 percent drop in the breeding activity of that species. In addition, many environmental conservation and monitoring programs were impacted, and in some areas illegal poaching spiked.

In short, because the totality of human interaction with the environment is immensely complex, trying to assess the full impact of the cessation of human interaction also is a difficult question. There are a lot of falling dominoes to evaluate and causal chains to consider, and the ultimate results of the analysis may not be known for years, if at all. What does seem clear is that areas where limitations on human activity had an obvious positive impact are likely to take steps to make sure that some form of limitations remain in place. The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, for example, has imposed new limitations on the number of snorkelers who are permitted and is totally closed two days a week.

It would be nice to think that we could learn something positive, and ultimately helpful to the environment, from the COVID shutdown period.

Green Spaces (IV)

I like the tucked away, somewhat hidden green spaces that you find in downtown Columbus and other urban settings. They show that someone went to the effort and expense of creating a pretty area when they could have simply eschewed grass and trees and turned the area into a soulless, uninviting, and low-maintenance concrete patio instead.

One of these little gems is found just off High Street, on the block north of Nationwide Boulevard. As you head north on the west side of High Street and approach the bridge over some railroad tracks, a sidewalk suddenly appears to the left. If you follow it, the winding path allows you to cut over to Front Street, but also takes you past this sliver of green with grass, trees, and landscaping and a cool view of the Hyatt Regency hotel building. Whoever designed the area did a commendable job, because the row of trees between the area and High Street act as an effective screen against traffic noise, creating a quiet, calm oasis in the middle of a busy city.

This attractive green spot is right next to an office building. I’m sure there are workers who enjoy looking at the windows at it, and also appreciate it as a lunch spot where they can sit under the trees and enjoy some carry-out from the nearby North Market on a sunny day. Whoever created this little area has enriched their work days.

The Kayak Tell

In poker, a “tell” occurs when players exhibit some visible sign that betrays their view of their position. They might touch an ear, or blink, or shift their position in response to a very good hand, or a very bad predicament. The experienced poker player watches for such tells, and profits from them.

“Tells” extend beyond the poker table. Rivers have tells, too. And when I took my walk along the Scioto River today, I saw one of them. In two different places along the river, in the heart of downtown and near the Audubon Park dam, I saw groups of kayaks on the water, as well as a pop-up kayak company along the riverbank near the Main Street bridge.

Kayaks are a significant “tell” for the Scioto River, because they indicate that what the Scioto River project hoped to achieve is, in fact, moving closer to reality. When the project began years ago, the designers hoped that by narrowing the river and removing some of the dams, the river might be transformed from a shallow, muddy, debris-choked mess into a real river, with an actual, discernible current. Kayaks are a pretty good tell that the goal is being achieved, because they move with the current. Even more important, no one would have wanted to be at seated kayak distance from the sluggish, smelly Scioto of days gone by.

The Scioto has a long way to go before it could be viewed as a natural river, but every journey begins with a single step. Kayaks on the water are a good sign.

A Friendly Visit From “Hank The Tank”

South Lake Tahoe, California is, by all accounts, a beautiful community on the shores of bucolic Lake Tahoe, on the state line with Nevada in the Sierra Nevada mountains. You can imagine a happy homeowner sipping from a steaming mug of coffee in the morning, serenely contemplating the coming day in his Tahoe Keys neighborhood as the sunrise gilds the placid surface of the lake . . . when suddenly the peaceful scene is disturbed by the sounds of trash cans rattling and the alarmed homeowner notices that a massive, 500-pound black bear is snuffling around immediately outside the house, looking for a way in.

“Hank the Tank” has decided to drop by for a snack.

“Hank the Tank” is the name the folks in South Lake Tahoe have given to a huge black bear that has broken into dozens of local homes in search of food and is responsible for “152 reports of conflict behavior.” In the most recent reported invasion, Hank broke and then squeezed through a small window to get inside a home. The bear also has used his bulk to break down front doors and garage doors in search of food.

And that’s the problem. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Hank is a “severely food-habituated bear,” which “means that the animal has lost its fear of people and is associating people with access to food.” When a bear has lost his fear of people and is perfectly content to break into houses for food, that doesn’t leave many good options. Wildlife officials are trying to trap the bear to stop the break-ins, and in the meantime they, and a local bear protection non-profit organization called the Bear League, are trying to find an animal sanctuary where Hank can be released. If they can’t find him a safe new home, euthanasia is the only other option.

It appears that the bear’s visits may be a bit of a self-inflicted wound for the Tahoe Keys area that has been Hank’s favorite destination. The neighborhood bans the use of “bear boxes”–free-standing garbage can enclosures that are supposed to be bear-resistant–because they are “unsightly.” The Bear League says that Hank goes to Tahoe Keys because he gets rewarded with garbage in unsecured garages. If there is any positive in this unfortunate situation, it may be that Hank’s visits have caused the homeowners’ association to change the policy and allow “bear boxes,” which may allow this scenario to be avoided in the future.

As between “bear boxes”–“unsightly” though they might be–and a live, 500-pound bear that has lost its fear of people, I’d go with a “bear box” every time.

How Now, Snow Plow?

Walking to work during a Midwestern winter poses many challenges. Storms pelt the pedestrian with snow, sleet, and freezing rain, and frigid temperatures turn the precipitation into sheets of slippery ice ready to produce a fall.

But the most galling challenges of all are man made: the huge snow piles that are plowed into existence after a big storm like the one that hit Columbus last week. They are galling precisely because they demonstrate beyond dispute the second-class citizenship of the walker. The streets are cleared, to allow speedy passage of the almighty cars, buses, and even bicycles, and in so doing new and absurd obstacles are created for those who are hoofing it to work.

At intersections, the plows seem motivated by an evil, anti-walker animus, because they shove the snow into huge piles placed precisely at entrances to crosswalks–like the these piles at the intersection of Fourth and Main that I had to navigate yesterday. You almost need a sherpa to climb them and find just the right pass. And, as the snow piles melt and refreeze, ultimately turning black and filthy with cinders, asphalt pieces, and captured car exhaust, they will pose a new, ever-more disgusting impediment to safe passage for days to come.

Of course, the snow plow operators aren’t motivated by hatred of walkers. Instead, they are oblivious to walkers, and simply don’t care that pedestrians might be inconvenienced by the plowed piles. That’s what makes the piles so galling. No one even thinks of the walkers.

It’s ironic when you think about it. Cities like Columbus make big shows of adopting “green” policies and creating bike lanes and other nods to environmentally conscious forms of transportation, yet at the same time they not only ignore the basic needs of those who commute by the most environmentally friendly method of all, but also create new and totally unnecessary obstacles for them. Columbus’ green policies would have a lot more credibility if snow plow drivers were simply instructed to not create ludicrous barriers at crosswalks.

Bird, Undeterred

Here’s what I consider to be pretty much conclusive evidence that the behavior of creatures is not solely determined by genetics, and that environment has an impact: Caribbean birds. St. Lucia, the southern Caribbean island we are visiting, has many familiar bird species, but the conduct of the birds is definitely different from the conduct of the birds of the Midwest.

This pigeon-like bird rested on the guardrail of our cottage, about a foot away from me, for a long time this morning. Unlike jumpy central Ohio birds, he didn’t flutter off at any movement on my part. Instead, he confidently strutted up and down the railing, eyeing me with apparent disdain because I wasn’t eating anything that would yield a crumb or two for him to seize. His pugnacious attitude reminded me of the tough-guy pigeon gangs you see in New York City, or Paris.

The pigeon’s haughty ‘tude, however, was nothing compared to the sparrow-like birds that hang around the breakfast patio. Those little guys hop closer and closer to the food on the plate, undeterred by repeated shooing, until they finally dare to perch on the side of the plate and take a nibble of a half-eaten pastry. And when guest rise from their table, the birds descend in force and tear away every scrap of food they can get in their beaks like they own the place.

In the Midwest, birds are timid creatures who don’t want any part of interaction with humans. In the Caribbean, birds are aggressive in taking what they want, whether humans are nearby or not. And I have no doubt that if you transported Columbus birds to St. Lucia, they’d get roughed up a bit by the natives at first, but then would quickly learn that if they want to rule the roost, they’d better adopt the Caribbean approach and take what they want.

The Scientific Pursuit Of Happiness

Scientists have been analyzing happiness for a long time–probably for as long as “science” has existed as a discipline separate from philosophy or religion. The basic questions being explored are straightforward: Why do some people seem to be happier than others? How much personal happiness is genetic, and how much is the product of environment or intentional activity? These age-old questions have taken on added urgency recently, with so many people in the modern world struggling with depression, stress, and anxiety–and COVID isn’t exactly helping, either.

A recent article summarized the current scientific landscape on the analysis of happiness. It notes that the modern framework for the analysis was set by a 2005 article in General Psychology called “Pursuing Happiness: The Structure of Sustainable Change.” The summary of that article describes its analysis as follows: “surprisingly little scientific research has focused on the question of how happiness can be increased and then sustained, probably because of pessimism engendered by the concepts of genetic determinism and hedonic adaptation. Nevertheless, emerging sources of optimism exist regarding the possibility of permanent increases in happiness. Drawing on the past well-being literature, the authors propose that a person’s chronic happiness level is governed by 3 major factors: a genetically determined set point for happiness, happiness-relevant circumstantial factors, and happiness-relevant activities and practices.”

Only scientists would use a phrase like “chronic happiness level.” But stripped of the scientific verbiage, the article posited that some element of individual happiness is determined by genetics and therefore beyond your control, another element is based on your environment, and yet another element is based on activities and practices that affect your happiness–activities and practices that you can control. The 2005 article even attributed percentages to each of the three elements, with 50 percent of the variance in happiness attributed to genetics, 10 percent to environment, and 40 percent to activities and practices. This 50-10-40 hypothesis was seen by some as a “happiness pie.”

As with any scientific hypothesis, the “happiness pie” analysis has been criticized, primarily on the ground that it is pretty hard to distinguish genetic factors from environmental factors. One 2019 article in the Journal of Happiness Studies (yes, there evidently is such a publication) noted: “We conclude that there is little empirical evidence for the variance decomposition suggested by the “happiness pie,” and that even if it were valid, it is not necessarily informative with respect to the question of whether individuals can truly exert substantial infuence over their own chronic happiness level.”

It’s the scientific equivalent of the theological argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But there does seem to be consensus on three basic propositions: (1) genetics play a role, and some people are genetically disposed to be in a happier frame of mind than others; (2) your environment has an impact on happiness; and (3) what you are doing at a particular point in time–such as running through a sprinkler on a hot summer day, like the happy kid in the photo above–can affect your happiness.

In view of that, what’s the point of arguing about what percentage of happiness should be assigned to each of those three factors? You can’t control your genes, and you can’t control how your environment shaped you when you were growing up. But you can identify what you enjoy–whether it is exercising, listening to your favorite music, spending time with friends and loved ones, volunteering, or some other activity–and try to work those activities into your day. And, in big-picture terms, you might be able to change your environment going forward to a place or setting that is more likely to make you happy, too. And part of changing your environment is identifying what makes you unhappy–like jerky behavior on social media, for example–and trying to change or avoid it.

So why debate percentages? If trying to structure your day to maximize the conduct and activities that you really like can make you happier–even if it is only an incremental increase–why not do it? What have you got to lose?