Saturday, January 28, 2017

15 Great Perks and Resources for Seniors

Senior Partners

The golden years bring golden opportunities. Many cultural institutions, retailers, supermarkets, and travel companies offer discounts to seniors. There are also many services available to help people navigate tricky issues that can turn this stage of life into a gray area of sorts. Here are 15 discounts and resources that seniors can tap to save money and make their lives easier.

Cultural Experiences

Virtually every museum in the country offers some kind of discount to seniors, and some host days when seniors get in free. For example, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago takes $5 off the suggested admission for seniors. Symphony orchestras, opera companies, and other venues offer discounts on concerts and season passes. Movie theaters usually give seniors a dollar or two off ticket prices, and some offer free matinee tickets. AARP members get $9.50 online tickets to Regal cinemas, a savings of up to 25 percent.

National Parks

The National Park Service offers seniors a 50 percent discount at national parks or park sites. Visitors 62 and older can also buy a lifetime pass that costs $20, although the price will go up to $80 later this year. Since the park system also manages the National Register of Historic Places, the discounts apply to some registered presidential homes, such as those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

Air Travel

Some airlines -- although fewer and fewer -- have discounts for older travelers. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines offer some options for discounted flights but only for certain markets, dates, and destinations. To be sure that discounts are available, it's best to call the airlines. There are so many other travel deals around, however, that a senior fare may not even be a bargain.

Utilities And Cable

Many cable companies offer a discount to seniors. Although this is not generally publicized, speaking to a representative from a cable company often results in a lower price. Additionally, AT&T Wireless customers who are AARP members can get 10 percent off qualified monthly service plans.

Public Transportation

There's almost always a senior discount for public transportation, a great boon to urban dwellers who may have trouble driving. In New York, for example, the senior MetroCard (age 65 and up) is worth half off the regular fare. In San Francisco, a Senior Clipper Card (65 and up) comes with an automatic discount. For those traveling farther afield, Amtrak gives seniors 15 percent off the highest coach fares. Many communities also provide transportation help for seniors through social services departments.

Public Libraries

They are far from extinct. In addition to having tons of free reading material, almost all municipal libraries offer classes -- many specifically for seniors -- on basic computer use, including document creation, email, photo editing, and sometimes even website creation. Some also provide job-hunting help.


Every state has a waiver that provides free or reduced college tuition to seniors, although it's not always publicized. (One place to research what's available is A Senior Citizen's Guide for College.) The minimum age varies from state to state. In some states, seniors must be retired and not working more than part-time. The waiver rarely applies to books and materials.


Several supermarket chains -- such as Publix, Albertsons, Waldbaum's (which owns A&P and Pathmark), and Kroger -- offer discounts of 5 percent or 10 percent for older shoppers (starting at ages 55 to 65, depending on the store). These are usually offered once a week -- always in the middle of the week, when working people are less likely to shop. Apparel chains -- Banana Republic, Clarks shoes, Dress Barn, Kohl's, and Marshalls among others -- offer discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent at their bricks-and-mortar shops, also usually mid-week.

Membership Organizations

AARP and other senior organizations like the conservative Association of Mature American Citizens provide many discounts for members. They charge yearly fees and offer deals on car rental, hotels, dental and vision plans, and Medicare supplemental insurance. AARP also acts as an information center for caregivers, job seekers, and anyone interested in saving money, or maximizing their retirement years.


Social relationships may help forestall the most severe effects of aging, and there are offices within city governments as well as religious institutions that give seniors places for recreation and mingling. In San Antonio, for example, the Department of Human Services runs senior centers that offer art, exercise, and computer classes, as well as field trips and work-search programs.


While Medicare Part D covers prescriptions, it does not cover all prescriptions, nor does it cover all of the cost. For people with a lot of prescriptions, the expense can really mount. Medicare lists drug manufacturers' discounts, and there are also discounts through AARP and from pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS.

Social Services

Social service organizations can help seniors obtain in-home care, assistance for caregivers, counseling, and information about housing alternatives. They sometimes also offer volunteer opportunities. For instance, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, or SAGE, addresses the needs of the aging LGBT community nationwide. The Eldercare Directory lists social services that states provide and links to each state's agency.

City Services

In Seattle, the Gold Card for Healthy Aging, available through the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens, provides discounts on goods and services. A directory of participating businesses also lists nonprofit agencies serving the elderly, and the office provides information and referrals regarding caregiver support, home care, and other needs. New York and other cities have similar offices where the elderly can find discounts and services. Seniors can check to see what's available from the local municipality.

Car Insurance

Many auto insurers offer mature-driver discounts along with discounts for seniors who take defensive-driving courses specifically geared toward them. The courses usually cost about $25 but are good for three years and can save close to $100 a year. Insurance providers offer details. People who no longer drive long distances and use a car only around town can get pay-as-you-go insurance, which usually nets a 5 percent to 10 percent discount.


Tax-wise, there are some advantages to aging. In addition to the standard deduction on federal income taxes, there is an extra deduction of $1,550 for single taxpayers over 65 and $1,250 for married couples. Many states with an income tax also cut seniors a break by exempting all Social Security income, and many also allow some exemption of pension income. Local governments offer senior exemptions that lower property taxes.

Things That Look Scary but Aren't

Keratosis Pilaris

Is it psoriasis? Hives? Some creepy rash you got in the produce section of the supermarket? Relax already. Those rough patches on your skin, the tiny bumps, are just keratosis pilaris, a harmless condition usually found on the upper arms, once in a while on your cheeks, on your thighs or on -- you know -- your other cheeks. A heaping helping of moisturizer helps. And don’t scratch. You’ll be fine.


When something’s up with your eyes, it can be pretty scary. You only have two of them. But a chalazion, a bump on the inside of your eyelid that can get pretty big, looks worse than it is. It’s caused by a blocked oil duct. They often go away by themselves. Don’t try to pop them. Instead, use warm compresses to help unblock that duct. See an eye doctor if it doesn’t get better on its own.

Scrotal Tongue

It’s hard to get grosser than your tongue looking like a dry lake bed in Death Valley. But it’s usually just something called scrotal tongue, a harmless condition that affects between 2% and 5% of Americans. No treatment is needed, but it’s a good idea to brush your tongue to keep junk from settling.

Green Poop

Nothing gets your attention like a shady stool. But if it’s a shade of green, take it easy. Green bowel movements are most often the result of eating a lot of green, leafy veggies (that’s good!) or a lot of green food coloring (not so much). A caution: It might also mean food’s moving through you too quickly (often the case with babies, and no big deal). If your business remains green, check with your doctor.


A benign (noncancerous) tumor made of blood vessels, hemangiomas are common in infants -- up to 10% have them -- so they’re often referred to as birthmarks. They usually can be found on the surface of the skin or just below it, often on the face and neck. They can be just about any size, shape, and color. Most need no treatment, and many will disappear before puberty.

Canker Sore

Not a cold sore or fever blister, canker sores are those whitish, shallow sores that pop up on the inside of your lip or on your gums. Unlike cold sores on your lips, canker sores aren’t contagious. But they can be painful. Most disappear in a week or two without any treatment. If you have one that won’t go away, you keep getting them, or you have a fever with sores, a visit to the doctor might be in order.

Sebaceous Cysts

So you have this little round bump just under your skin. Maybe it’s on your face, neck, or somewhere on your trunk. It might be a little red. It might even be a bit tender, although often it’s not. It may be a sebaceous cyst, known otherwise as an epidermoid cyst, a swelling of a blocked gland or hair follicle. They’re usually harmless, but if yours breaks open, see a doctor.


In some people, scar tissue that forms after an injury gets bigger and bigger and forms red and raised mounds called keloids. About 10% of people get them. One can start from a minor injury to the skin; an ear piercing, tattoo, or even an insect bite. They can be itchy and painful. Corticosteroid shots to flatten the scar are the first avenue of treatment.

12 Good Things That Can Go Bad

1. Exercise

You can do a number on your body if you hit the gym too hard. Overuse can damage joints, tendons, ligaments, and even your heart. Women who exercise too much may start missing periods or speed up the bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. How much is too much? If your workouts leave you exhausted or irritable, or if you have a hard time sleeping, eating, or concentrating, it might be time to scale back.

2. Sleep

If you snooze beyond your typical 40 winks, you could do your body more harm than good. Studies show that more than 8 hours of sleep every night increases your risk of death from heart problems by 34%. You also can have trouble with concentration, weight, and blood sugar levels.

3. Antibiotics

Antibiotics kill many of the bacteria that cause infection and sickness. So what could be the harm in taking some if you have the sniffles? Turns out, bacteria can change if they’re in contact with antibiotics too often. This makes them resistant to the drugs. Take antibiotics only when you’re sure you need them.

4. People-Pleasing

It feels good to make people happy -- but there’s a fine line between being helpful and being a pushover. If you agree with others just to keep the peace or take on too many tasks because you can’t say no, it can make you unhappy.

Just Say No

Practice these turn-down skills to help save your sanity: Ask questions to be sure you know what you’re getting into. Ask yourself this: What’s in it for you? Then answer firmly, and know you don’t have to give a reason for your refusal. “No” can be a complete sentence.

5. Sex

The jury’s still out on whether you can be “addicted” to sex. However, you can have an overactive sex drive. This makes you think about and act on sexual feelings more than the average person. When you focus most of your attention on sex, it can affect your everyday life and relationships in a negative way.

Find Out Why

In some cases, your focus on sex can be caused by other medical problems. Check with your doctor to see if it might stem from medications you take, situations of abuse, or possibly even a brain tumor. Support groups and counseling can also help you get your life back to normal.

6. Handwashing

This is the best way to keep germs at bay. Suds up too often, though, and your hygiene could actually suffer. Studies show that too much can damage your skin and give germs a place to grow and thrive.

7. Healthy Food

You only eat food that’s good for you? Great! But how much do you eat? Overeating causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep problems, and even depression -- no matter what kind of food you put on your plate. And if you take in more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

8. Water

It’s rare, but you can drink too much water. When you do, your kidneys can’t get rid of the extra fluid fast enough. This drops the sodium in your blood to unhealthy levels -- a condition called hyponatremia. It can cause nausea, weakness and fatigue, headache, or, in severe cases, seizures, coma, and death. You’re at higher risk if you’re an athlete who exercises for long stretches of time, like a marathon runner.

9. Work

Do you stay at the office long past quitting time? Maybe you really love what you do -- or maybe you’re a workaholic. If you feel like you should be working all the time and tend to choose work over relationships, that might be you. Remember what they say about all work and no play.

10. Smartphone Time

They make a lot of things easier, but if you can’t stop looking at yours, your smartphone can make your real life harder. It can affect how you relate to people, your mood, your sleep quality, and even your brain chemistry.

Tips to Unplug

Change things up. Schedule different things to do at the times you’re most likely to be on your phone. Set limits on the amount of time you want to spend on it and turn it off when you’re not using it. And seek support -- friends and family can help keep you in check.

11. Vitamins

They’ll keep you and your family healthy, right? Maybe not. Too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting, and if you overdo the vitamin C, it can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Too much vitamin A can cause vision problems, among other things. Excess vitamin D can make muscles weak, and it can even lead to heart problems. And vitamins K and E can cause bleeding issues. You and your family should stick to the daily dose, and nothing more.

12. Friendships

You can never have too many friends, right? Well, maybe. According to some studies, the number of people you can really call “friend” is around 150 to 200. Your brain can’t process more than that. And for best friendships, the number is much lower -- around five. Research is ongoing, though, especially as social media connects people in new and different ways.

Inspirational Quote – January 28, 2017

“As you walk upon the sacred earth, treat each step as a prayer.”

These days our poor planet is certainly being abused and disrespected again and again, whether it be war causing chaos and destruction, the abuse of our forests, the killing of our wildlife, the effects of global warming, it doesn’t paint us in a good light does it? People all over this beautiful plant of ours need to realize that this is the only world we have so we should be thankful and treasure and protect what we have. We need to respect our good earth for the blessings it provides in food, water and shelter. Our flora and fauna. As individuals we can do our bit every day by being thankful for our journey on the earth under our feet and praying that our wonderful world grows and prospers.


Inner Beauty

"Inner beauty always reflects on the outside. This is something we have all heard time and again. But then, do we spend less time in front of the mirror? Do we still pay attention to outward appearances and draw a lot of conclusions based on those? ... What if one day our inner self and physical self were turned inside out? How would that impact our looks and confidence? Would most of us be able to come to terms with what we see?" Here, avid yoga practitioner, writer, and artist Narendra Kini asks these and other thought-provoking questions to guide us through a contemplation on inner and outer beauty, and life's interdependence.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Combat America’s Creativity Crisis

By Michael Ruiz

A new book explains how to recognize and encourage creativity in society—before it's too late.

The United States prides itself on being a beacon of innovation.
But there has been a substantial dive in the nation’s creativity in the last few decades, according to research by educational psychologist KH Kim, author of the new book The Creativity Challenge. Kim has tested more than 270,000 people, from kindergartners to adults, looking at (among other things) their ability to come up with original ideas, think in a detailed and elaborative way, synthesize information, and be open-minded and curious—what she considers creativity. Her research has found that Americans’ creativity rose from 1966 to 1990, but began significantly declining after then.
And that’s a problem. “America has an increasingly limited number of individuals who are capable of finding and implementing solutions to problems the nation faces today,” she writes. “If this trend isn’t reversed soon, America will be unable to tackle the challenges of the future.”
According to Kim’s research, the cause of the creativity crisis is a “gradual, society-wide shift away from the values that were the foundation of the American Creativity.” In the 20th century, global immigration to America brought different perspectives that helped fuel the country’s creativity, she explains. In turn, the American educational system encouraged creativity with its emphasis on intellectual diversity, curiosity, risk taking, and non-conformity. However, economic realities caused a shift in these values: Starting in the 1980s, cultivating creativity didn’t seem like the path to a stable job, and schools shifted to focus on improving standardized test scores in order to get funding, Kim writes.
The Creativity Challenge addresses how to combat this disheartening trend. Her book is a challenge for all of us—particularly those in leadership positions—to create environments that encourage creativity and all of the benefits it brings. 

Eight signs of a creative person

One way to foster creativity is for managers, educators, and parents to understand the kinds of behaviors and attitudes creative people exhibit, and to recognize and support them. In other words, we have to recognize what creativity looks like in the wild—in the people we manage, in our children and students, and even in ourselves. Kim’s book identifies more than twenty behaviors that are common among creative people, based on decades of research that she reviewed. Many of them, particularly the following, can sometimes be misinterpreted as rebelliousness and impracticality.
  • Big-picture-thinking: Creative people think abstractly, looking past the concrete details of the current situation and seeking new solutions. However, with their optimism and curiosity, they are sometimes seen as dreamy and unrealistic.
  • Spontaneous: Creative individuals tend to be flexible and act fast on new opportunities, approaching them with an open mind and a playful perspective—which can come off as impulsive.
  • Playful: Creative people tend to be lighthearted and have a drive to explore the world. On the other hand, this can also be seen as mischievous.
  • Resilient: Creative people can pick themselves up after a failure and bounce back from challenges, refocusing on new ways to overcome adversities. Sometimes, this comes across as combative.
  • Autonomous: Creative people often strive for independence in their thoughts and actions, relying on intrinsic motivation to pursue their goals. At times, such individuals can seem out of control.
  • Defiant: Creative people have a tendency to reject existing norms and authorities in pursuit of their own goals. This allows them to see what others cannot see and develop solutions that push boundaries, which can seem rebellious.
  • Risk-taking: Fueled by their optimism, many creative people are willing to forgo security in favor of uncertain rewards. To the average person, this may come across as reckless.
  • Daydreaming: By daydreaming, creative individuals are able to envision new perspectives and solutions—but along the way, some of their ideas might seem delusional.

How to support creatives

The most challenging aspect of recognizing creativity is that it takes place behind the scenes: You may see someone daydreaming at work and not know whether they’re procrastinating or laying the groundwork for a creative insight. The process of creativity is somewhat invisible, even though its results are powerful.
With that in mind, Kim offers some suggestions for supporting creativity:
  • Offer creatives the resources they need. Innovators are like plants, Kim says; they are hungry for resources so that they can grow and develop. This includes offering them the time and freedom to explore informal activities that might inspire them, from continuing education at work to alternate assignments at school. If an employee wants to spend a work day visiting a new exhibit at a museum, you might let them—perhaps they’ve fallen into a rut and need something to spark their next project idea.
  • Foster diversity. Environments that are multicultural and open to diverse languages, ethnicities, and sexualities make room for different perspectives that challenge our pre-existing thought patterns. Leaders should aim to avoid creating a community that is culturally homogenous and conformity-based.
  • Encourage mentorship. Kim suggests that mentors are beneficial to individuals’ sense of creativity. “They eventually push mentees toward new opportunities to discover their own uniqueness by taking intellectual risks or defying the crowd,” she writes. Leaders can structure their organizations in a way that encourages more experienced workers or students to mentor others.
With these guidelines in mind, we can work to develop environments that are structured to foster creativity, which in turn will benefit organizations and help society confront today’s challenges with much-needed fresh ideas.
“Human beings have an unprecedented ability and potential to create, and many find that in the act of creating they fulfill their true purpose in life,” writes Kim.

Inspirational Quote – January 27, 2017

“The greatest prison that people live in is the fear of what other people think.”

Not caring what everybody else thinks about us is not an easy achievement. In fact, we go through life adhering to rules and regulations (well most of us) so we let the world know we are complying and conforming and being “good”. However, regarding our family, friends, work colleagues, etc., we can be guilty of conforming to their ideas of how we should behave and think. So much so that we stifle the very things that make us who we are therefore denying ourselves the opportunity of thinking and behaving “outside the box”. Why should we care what other people think of us? Would it really affect us that much? Would stifling our creativity and individuality add anything to their lives? Of course not! Always, always, be true to yourself on your life path and take pleasure in being who you are not other peoples’ idea of who you should be.


Quiet Justice & the Mindful Lawyer

"When I tell people that I teach a class in law and meditation at UC Berkeleys law school, I often hear snorts of disbelief. "It's easier to imagine a kindergarten class sitting in silence for half an hour," a friend said to me, than two lawyers sitting together in silence for five minutes." But the class is no joke. In fact, it's part of a ground-breaking movement that has quietly been taking hold in the legal profession over the past two decades: a movement to bring mindfulness-- a meditative, moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, relationships, and external circumstances-- into the practice of law and legal education." Charles Halpern a public interest pioneer and an innovator in legal education shares more in this article.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why Do We Throw Coins in Fountains?

By Peter Wogan 

This simple ritual offers clues about how we experience awe, society, and collective belonging.

Why do so many of us get pleasant, uncanny sensations when we throw a coin in a fountain and see it resting in the water below? What’s the cultural psychology here? What do such coins have to do, for example, with rock concerts and the movie It’s a Wonderful Life?
It’s best to start by reviewing the shift in perspective that occurs when the coin moves out of our hands and into the fountain (or pond…but fountains make better pictures). When we grip that penny or other coin in our hands, we’re totally in control. The coin is literally “in the palm of our hands.”
Kevin Krejci / CC BY-SA 2.0
It’s also intimately connected with us through what anthropologists call “contagious magic,” the principle that physical contact creates a bond between people and objects, a principle that’s affirmed every time someone pays thousands of dollars for a piece of clothing worn by Jackie Robinson or John Lennon, or avoids the chair recently used by someone they don’t like.
The same principle applies at the edge of the fountain. We’ve kept our coins close to our bodies in our pockets and purses, and now we’re holding them in our hands. Through physical contact, these coins have become an extension of ourselves—a light-hearted, personal avatar.
Then we throw the coin in the water and the whole picture changes. We lose control. We let go of our avatar, and suddenly it looks tiny in the water, much smaller than it did in our fingers a second ago. Often we can’t even be sure which coin is ours, lying there among all the others. Our individual coin is now just one of many. What do you call this reversal in perspective?
In a word: awe.
The essence of awe is marveling at a force greater than oneself, like looking up at the sky or ocean. Through the sudden miniaturization of the coin thrown in the fountain, we experience a hint of awe at the vastness of nature (water), which adds to our uncanny, magical sensations.
Most people probably wouldn’t initially think of this coin throw as an experience of “awe” because it lacks the grand scale typically associated with that word, in contrast to panoramic views from high mountaintops. In fact, social psychologists studying awe have tended to use large-scale stimuli in their experiments: A 2015 study, for example, showed that subjects who watched videos of nature or gazed up at trees over 200 feet high, the tallest hardwoods in North America, were more likely to report feelings of awe and “the presence of something greater than myself” than control groups.
Still, a few years ago, when I asked Dacher Keltner, a leader of this research movement and founding director of the GGSC, if the same awe principle could be scaled down and applied to wishing wells, he agreed it could. And his statement was consistent with the position that he and co-author Jonathan Haidt took in their foundational paper on awe, where they noted that awe can also be elicited by beautiful art or music. The key point, they argued, is that true awe doesn’t just involve physical or even mental vastness, it also involves mystery—an element of incomprehension. For a real experience of awe, like looking at a sublime work of art, we have to confront something that we can’t quite wrap our minds around.
If fountain coins contain such a mystery, what is it?
In another word: society.
Mass society is simply too big for any of us to fully comprehend. You hear people talk about this thing called “American culture,” but you will never personally know the 300+ million people who make up this sprawling abstraction. (The United States is my primary example because that’s the place I’ve studied the most, but these explanations could also be applied to other mass societies.) It’s not even possible to imagine all those people sitting in the same place. Yet when the coins from numerous strangers rest together in the fountain, we get to visualize the U.S. and our connection with each other.
It’s not a coincidence that the visualization combines water and money. Money only works if we trust each other, as anybody who has ever experienced a bank run can attest. And water is the life force that runs through our bodies and our entire planet. In an extended form of contagious magic, water physically envelopes and connects all those coin-avatars lying in the fountain. Seeing all that money in water, then, is like seeing American society, or whichever social group is most relevant to the coin throwers.
In movie terms, the fountain coin pulls off the same feat accomplished by It’s a Wonderful Life: It infuses cold money with a sense of love and communal belonging, like that famous scene that makes practically everyone tear up, the final scene where the people of Bedford Falls shower George Bailey with their personal savings and save the bank.
The difference is that these bills connected George Bailey with family and friends, whereas the fountain coins connect us with strangers. Fountains are more like “pay it forward” purchases for the next person in line, or like a sports event, rock concert, or political rally. In the best cases, being surrounded by all those strangers gives you a slight buzz, a giddy feeling, what the sociologist Émile Durkheim long ago called “collective effervescence.” Fountain coins similarly provide collective effervescence, though, again, in a mild, controlled fashion.
Here, too, psychological experiments have given new life to anthropological insights. Keltner and his colleagues have shown, for example, that those research subjects who watched the nature videos or gazed at the tall trees were more likely to agree with statements like “I feel part of some greater entity.” And that greater entity wasn’t just nature, it was also society. Subjects experiencing awe were more likely to act generously while later playing a game, and to help someone pick up the pens they dropped on the ground. In multiple experiments, these social psychologists have shown that awe correlates statistically with “pro-social behavior.”
I would include throwing coins in fountains as “pro-social behavior,” and the many students I’ve worked with tend to agree. For example, over 90 percent of my undergraduate students, hailing from states all over the Western and Midwestern U.S. and in multiple classes I’ve taught over the past three years, have reported that they would rather throw a coin in a fountain with many other coins already lying there, rather than one with just a few coins. And they said that in their lives they have only thrown coins in fountains or ponds where they could see the coin resting in the water, not oceans, rivers, or lakes. This premium on seeing numerous coins positioned side by side supports the argument about the coins being an image of collective belonging.
After seeing this essay, Dacher Keltner pointed out that the consistency in the physical motion of throwing the coins in fountains also brings about an integration of the individual with the collective, like the first move in a folk dance. Keltner’s fantastic point is completely supported by my students. For example, the vast majority, 16 out of 19 students in one class, reported throwing coins in the fountain with the exact same motion: a gentle underhanded toss. The only exceptions to this rule all fell into another clear cultural pattern: throwing the coin over the shoulder, as they’ve seen done in Disney cartoons and movies. And when I have observed students and others throwing coins into fountains in Salem and Portland, Oregon, these same patterns prevailed. I’ve never seen someone throw a coin in with a hook shot.
Google searches suggest that these people are not alone. The same two verbs, “throwing” and “tossing,” account for almost all the results under searches for the phrase “[verb] + ‘coins in a fountain’”: 5,360 for “throwing” and 2,590 for “tossing.” Alternative verbs, such as “dropping” or “chucking,” got fewer than 10 results, and verbs like “pitching,” “depositing,” and “lobbing” didn’t get any. This remarkable consistency, in throwing motions and words used to describe them, indicates that the merging of our individuality into a social collective begins even before we see the coins resting together in the fountain.
Of course, most people don’t walk around saying, “Look at all those coins in the fountain…What a great visual metaphor for society!” The resonance, if there is any, usually occurs at a hidden, unconscious level. Throwing a coin in a fountain just feels good and right, like enjoying a movie without having to consciously articulate why it moves you. What starts out as an individual act to attain private wishes ends up being a celebration of nature and community, and the positive feelings created through this act help explain its ongoing appeal all these years after most of us (including Southern Californians) stopped believing in water deities.
A coin treeA coin treeEthan Doyle White / CC BY-SA 3.0
Naturally, there are variations in everything from culture areas to individual personalities. It would be interesting, for example, to investigate whether people in the United Kingdom have traditionally been more prone to throw coins in rivers and wells, where the coins disappear out of sight, because those bodies of water have more religious associations than the typically secular sites used in the United States, such as fountains or ponds in shopping malls and state parks. Conversely, can the rising popularity in the United Kingdom of “coin-trees” be tied to increasing alienation and growing desires to visualize social connections?
Certainly these coins are highly visible, like the coins in American fountains, and archaeologist Ceri Houlbrook’s superb arguments about the participants’ “captivation” by coin patterns that they can’t fully explain dovetail nicely with the above points about awe and collective effervescence.
It would also be worth investigating the way all these coin customs express ambivalence about major forces in modern life: capitalism (after all, the custom consists of throwing away money), government (that discarded money is government property), and science (we’re thumbing our noses at laws of cause and effect by toying with “superstitious” beliefs).
Obviously, there’s a lot of good further research to be done, but one thing is clear: Experiencing awe and community for a penny is a pretty good deal.