Cameron, How One Half lives

Cameron bought a Sullivan’s Gulch duplex with his sister Cat and brother-in-law Ben. Cameron gave it to us straight, discussing his views on happiness and possessions, travel, sunlight, and social justice. He even threw in a great story about a park bench….

Back in 2006, the market was pretty strong. It seemed like my sister and I could both get a much nicer place by pooling our resources than we could by buying separate condos. We get along great as family, and I was sick of weird roommates. Additionally, Cat and Ben are very good with details and process, and I am not as much, so I had a selfish interest. :)

Cameron on a recent trip to Myanmar

Cameron on a recent trip to Myanmar

I think real estate as an investment is often a big mistake. We have sold our society this myth that if you rent, you are irresponsible, because real estate is a good investment and it always goes up. This is simply not true historically at all. The US had a very, very good stretch from the 40s on, but the 2008 “reset” sure showed that real estate does not always go up as sure as the sun rises every morning.

Cameron's mother painted this and other artworks in the house.

Cameron's mother painted this and other artworks in the house.

If you look around the world, you see how the US is even more of an anomaly, and real estate can in fact be the worst investment you make. Now, I obviously bought a house, so I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do, but I think the conventional wisdom around buying a house is dead wrong and very dangerous—which is almost always the case with conventional wisdom. I think a house is a reasonable investment to make, among many different options. But it is also a ball and chain, limiting flexibility, and a potentially catastrophic investment if you haven’t planned really well (adjustable rate mortgages, anyone?).

So my take on this, as with everything is: be intentional about the decisions you make in life and focus on your personal fulfillment and happiness, not what some stupid media outlet is telling you, because they just want to sell advertising.

Myanmar Ethiopia

Myanmar Ethiopia

I think in general, the more things we own, the more worries we have. I think this comes both from my parents and their values, as well as traveling all over the world and meeting so many very happy people who have very little. The research is quite good on this: buying things gives us a quick “hit” of happiness, but it wears off quite quickly. Then you’re stressed about maintaining the thing you bought.

Cameron and friends, playing bubble soccer for his birthday.

Experiences lead to a much better improvement in happiness. In the book Happy Money, the authors do a nice job of summarizing how money can lead to happiness. Another key thing they touch on related to buying a house, is that the length of your commute is one of the biggest factors in your happiness (longer = less happy). And buying a house way out in the sticks because it has more square footage can be a terrible decision for your happiness.

So, yeah, I’m not anti-materialism, but I am very, very careful about how I spend my money. I believe that it is the easiest thing in the world to raise your expected regular level of spending, but it is brutally difficult to lower it (hedonic adaptation, for the psych folks out there). And so many of the things we buy come with strings attached in terms of future spending.

I hate the dark, cold winters here, and I realized just how much it affected my mood when I went to college in California and was much happier in the winters. Having lived here for most of my life, I have a pretty simple prescription for my happiness:

Myanmar Ethiopia

Myanmar Ethiopia

  • Take a trip to somewhere really warm and sunny for at least 2 weeks every winter before January 1 ... I get most depressed before the new year.
  • Run or bike to work every day
  • Try to sneak in 1-2 additional short trips to anywhere in the US that is south of here before March. Usually work will give me a reason, which is a nice bonus.
  • Do a morning routine for ~30 minutes every minutes. Meditation, affirmations, visualization, intense exercise.

I fell in love with travel when I spent 3 months in Spain to study Spanish at age 20. I then spent 6 months in Cuba studying music, and I met a fellow traveler who told me that she defined travel as having visited more countries than your age. It was a goal I took to heart, and I passed it a few years back ... but I keep getting older! So every year I need to visit at least one more country.

I started working on behalf of illegally detained refugees after I ran into an old friend (Stephen Manning) at a coffee shop who is an immigration attorney. He started telling me about the secret prisons down in the desert in New Mexico for Central American mothers and their children. We got lunch a week later, and I couldn’t believe how bad the situation was.

He and several amazing colleagues set up a crowd-sourced volunteer effort to represent every woman in prison in their asylum claim. (For more information, visit

Cameron has written extensively about his visits to the detention centers. Articles can be found  here  and  here . You can follow Cameron Madill on

Cameron has written extensively about his visits to the detention centers. Articles can be found here and here.
You can follow Cameron Madill on

I visited for a week in June of 2015, and it was a kind of an awakening for me. I’m not particularly religious, but it was akin to the kind of experience I hear born again Christians describe. Life became more real, colors became more vivid, and I felt the intensity of our short existence on this planet more than ever before. Since then, I have visited another 5 times, and I am involved in efforts to support the women and their children after their release, including a class action lawsuit against the two most racist courts in the country: Charlotte and Atlanta.

Although I am the founder of PixelSpoke, I don’t really feel like I am juggling anything between and work, travel, and assisting the refugees. I pursue my passions and things just seem to work out. I have a great business coach who helps me to be intentional about all the cause work I believe in, the fantastic team we have at PixelSpoke and my work there, my hobbies, and my love of travel. The older I get, the more my many interests and passions seem to overlap and actually accentuate each other.

I love Forest Park. One of my goals for the year in 2014 was to hike every trail in the park—80 miles! Once I finished, I figured I had to celebrate in some way, so I decided hiking all 30 miles of Wildwood Trail in one day would be an interesting experience.

Since then I’ve continued to go back regularly. One of my few complaints was the lack of park benches in some of the more remote areas of the park, which is exactly where I would want a place to rest. So I started bringing park benches into the park a few months back, and we have 4 that we have added since then and another 2 I would like to add before the end of the year. I’m not sure if this is illegal, but it sure would be fun to get arrested for donating park benches to Forest Park.

Sullivan’s Gulch is a lovely neighborhood. When I moved in, I thought it would be less nice because of its proximity to Lloyd Center and NE Broadway (one of the few sections of Portland that is overrun by chains), but it’s actually very walkable, very central to everything, and quiet and peaceful. I love it. I think it’s facing all of the pressures that everywhere else in Portland is facing, but the lack of glamour about the location leaves me hopeful that it will change less extensively than other neighborhoods.

D. Larson, Editor