Ouija Boards, Gratitude, and Dogs

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December 10, 2019 by libroshombre

After my column about Ouija Boards, a curious reader asked me to elaborate on the name’s origin. Smithsonianmag.com wrote, “Contrary to popular belief, ‘Ouija’ is not a combination of the French for ‘yes,’ oui, and the German ja … It was Bond’s [an investor’s] sister-in-law, Helen Peters (who was, Bond said, a ‘strong medium’) who supplied the now instantly recognizable handle. Sitting around the table, they asked the board what they should call it; the name ‘Ouija’ came through, and then they asked what that meant, the board replied ‘Good luck.’ Eerie and cryptic – but for the fact that Peters acknowledged that she was wearing a locket bearing the picture of a woman, the name ‘Ouija’ above her head … it’s very possible tht the woman in the locket was famous author and popular women’s rights activist Ouida, whom Peters admired.”

I looked up Ouida in my 200+ volume Dictionary of Literary Biography, and found that’s the penname for Marie Louise Rame, or, as she preferred, Marie Louise de la Ramee. She wrote as Ouida, the way she pronounced “Louise” in infancy. Little-known today, she was a popular Victorian era author, cranking out about a forgettable book a year from 1863 until 1900. She disliked her native England and “lived for most of her career and died in Italy, a few miles from Pisa, surrounded by the dogs whose company she came to enjoy more than that of many humans … Her main monument in England is a drinking fountain for dogs.”

Ouida wrote on purple paper and affected a number of other eccentricities that helped popularize her historical romances (which make pretty turgid reading these days), but it’s her affection for dogs that caught my eye after reading a NYTimes.com article titled, “Dog Owners Are Much Happier Than Cat Owners.” In 2018 the General Social Survey, a respected annual survey from the University of Chicago, included a series of questions about pet ownership, including how pet ownership relates to personal happiness. There is “little difference between pet owners and non-pet owners when it comes to happiness … But when you break the data down by pet type – cats, dogs, or both – a stunning divide emerges: Dog owners are about twice as likely as cat owners to say they’re very happy, with people owning both falling somewhere in between. Dog owners, in other words, are slightly happier than those without any pets. Those in thecat camp, on the other hand, are significantly less happy than the pet-less. And having both appears to cancel each other out happiness-wise.” Moreover, “Dog owners tended to be more agreeable, more extroverted, and less neurotic than cat owners.”

We’re mighty grateful to have a dogboy in our agreeable Hill household, and that’s a double happiness bonus based on a University of Miami study that being truly grateful, – really meaning it, not just giving it lip-service – makes you happier and healthier, according to DailyHealthPost.com. Moreover, “gratitude activates the hypothalamus” which “regulates hormones responsible for many critical functions, such as body temperature, emotional responses, and survival functions like appetite and sleep.” Moreover, “feeling grateful can improve your sleep quality and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression … and less fatigue and inflammation.”

There’s lots of gratitude floating around Chicago’s public libraries since they stopped charging overdue fines.   Guess what? The number of overdue books being returned jumped 240 percent. Chicago Library Commissioner Andrea Telli “noted that foregoing library fines is a national trend,” according to the Chicago.SunTimes.com, because fines act as “a barrier to library use, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods.”

Our local libraries haven’t charged overdue fines since at least the early 1970s. In the late 1990s some Assemblypersons interested more in creating additional revenue streams than impeding library use asked the library administration to prove the cost-effectiveness of not charging fines. We cited studies showing that not charging late fees results in a .4% increase in long term book retention, in addition to the cost of collecting fines and reduced public gratitude. .4% appears a small number until multiplied by the public’s hundreds of thousands of library checkouts annually; locally it amounted to around $100,000.to replace lost books, even if they’re in print.

As Ouida put it, “Petty laws breed great crimes.”

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