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TODAY IS THE DAY FAMILY'S VALUE IS MOST APPARENT

There is perhaps no day of the year when family matters more to us than today.

And there probably is not another day in the yearly cycle when our addiction to stuff will be more ostentatious.

As citizens of the wealthiest nation on Earth and maybe in all of history, things come easily to us. It's in relationships that our wants so often exceed our grasps. That could explain why a happy family life tops so many people's wish list.

When Americans, along with people in 59 other countries, were asked recently what matters most in life, more than half said a happy family life. They were in step with the majority of the 50,000 people responding to the international Millennium Survey conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch and GIA, international market research companies.< Americans also value their freedom and their health, each of which was ranked most important by more than 30 percent of participants.

What is shocking in this survey is how little value Americans placed on material goods. Only 8 percent said having a good standard of living was the most important thing in their lives. Conversely, a good standard of living was at the top of a list of things that mattered the least to them.

The economy must be in great shape, since having a good job was not considered very important either.

In poorer countries and in those with histories of war and civil strife, economic and security issues were ranked most important.

Religion ranked fourth among life's values for Americans, higher than in most other countries, except where Muslims predominate. There, keeping the faith is a No. 1 priority.

In this nation of consumers where malls have displaced temples, religion still is the most important factor in the lives of almost a quarter of the people.

To many Americans a good standard of living is as natural and expected as a January snowfall in Buffalo. You don't have to wish for it, it'll be there.

But some of the things we do to maintain that affluence interfere with what we say is the good life.

As we spend an increasing amount of time earning the cash to acquire the accouterments of the high standard of living, which we say is not important to us, we have fewer hours and less energy to pursue what we profess to be really important. Either Americans are deceiving themselves or the purveyors of commerce have put something in the water.

The international research results show there is no real gender gap on the importance of family life even though American women yearn for a happy home slightly more than do men, possibly because they feel responsible for creating it.

Family and relationships have turned up as the top priority of women on more than a dozen recent surveys at a time when more than 60 percent of married women also hold jobs outside the home.

Workplace stress and the constant tug of war between home and office creates burdens that more often than not fall on the woman. Some women dance around the problem with the ease and grace of the swan gliding over a serene pond. Young women charge into the fray expecting all problems to evaporate. But the majority wave their batons frantically with the hope that occasionally they will create perfect harmony.

With any luck, that will happen for all of you today.

Australia's women's soccer players think displaying a sports bra is pretty tame stuff. They're into the full monty. The Matildas, who finished 11th in last summer's Women's World Cup competition in the United States, posed nude for a calendar released recently at a "standing room only" press conference in Sydney.

Pre-publication publicity for the calendar, which features several full-frontal shots and pictures of two teammates together, all described as "tasteful," resulted in a press run jump from 5,000 to 45,000.

To critics who found the publicity stunt depressing, the president of the Australian Women's Soccer Association said it was the only way to increase the profile of the team in a country where women's sport is still considered second rate.

Playing soccer wasn't enough to give the women "the recognition they deserve," she added.

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