…for friends available on a moment’s notice

January 31, 2011

I had a volunteer meeting I was going to tonight, so I showered, got all pretty, and fought traffic to get there.

Only to find a note on the door that the meeting had been rescheduled due to a power outage.

Now I was all dressed up with no place to go.  So I called a friend, and we went and had drinks.

Good times, good times.

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How to be happy – a sidenote

What does it take to be happy?  Love?  Kids?  A good job?  Money?  Does what you do for a living make a difference?  What about where you live?

This blog was started as a way to recognize happiness in every day, but I also intended to share snippets of wisdom, articles, and book reviews.  Today is the first of those “sidenotes.”

Today, Oprah had Goldie Hawn on the show, and they were talking happiness.  It turned out to be a good all-around happiness round-up, along with a fun quiz.  Everything below is taken from the show, which of course they have documented sources for.  I’ve put quotes around some things, not around others, but none of this (except comments in parentheses) are mine, they all came straight from the show.  Please visit Oprah.com for more information.

In the last couple of years, over 4000 books have been written on happiness and how to be happy.  (I read an article somewhere a while back that said that ten years ago, there were less than something like 100 books on happiness.  Obviously, people are interested in being happier these days.)  The folks at Oprah came up with a quiz based on this research to gauge happiness.

Question 1.  Do you consider yourself happy? Surveys show that 57% of Americans say they are happy, 40% are trying to be happy, 3% say they are suffering.

Question 2.  Do you think happiness is genetic?  Are you born with it? Research shows 50% of our happiness is based on genetics, what we are born with.  40% of our happiness can be learned.  (Where the other 10% went, I don’t know.)

Question 3.  Do you make time in your day for complete silence? Studies show that spending 10 minutes each day sitting quietly increases happiness.  You don’t have to call it meditation, call it your silent time.  Can’t do 10 minutes?  Do 2 minutes.  Go into the bathroom, shut the door, put the toilet lid down, sit in silence, and BREATHE.  Do a minute or two several times throughout the day.  Breath has a direct connection to the neurological system, which calms things down, according to Goldie.

Question 4.  How often do you have sex? Studies show that the more sex you have, the happier you will be.  Women rated sex as the activity that makes them happiest.  It releases the hormone oxytocin – it’s like looking at a baby or a puppy.  It makes you feel warm, connected.  Happy.

Question 5.  Does having children make people happier? Dan Buettner, author of Thrive:  Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, says that according to research, having kids causes stress – the cost of raising a kid, the sleep deprivation, the blow to relationships, but when the kids hit 18, parental happiness goes up.  Having a kid is harder on women then it is on men.  It probably brings you net happiness, but having children does not make thing better if they are bad, it only makes it worse.

Question 6.  How well do you know your neighbors? Researchers found that the more neighbors you know, the happier and safer you feel.  And, if your neighbor is happy, it increases your own happiness by 34%.

Question 7.  Which of these is the happiest job in America?  Travel Agent, Clergy, Special Education Teacher, Firefighter. The answer:  All of them.  According to Buettner, the happiest people get 8 hours of social interaction a day.   These careers (travel agent, clergy, teacher, firefighter) are in a an environment where they’re constantly interacting.  “When it comes to work, you want to go after what gives you bliss, not what gives you bucks.”

Question 8.  If you had more money, would you be happier? Studies show money can buy you happiness, but only up to a point.  Happiness maxes out at $75k/year for a family of four.  Once you hit that point, you shouldn’t spend any more time working on making money, you should spend it on more authentic sources.  Oprah asked Buettner about this – where does this number come from?  According to Buettner, when it comes to happiness, we need to take care of our basic needs:  food, shelter, health care, mobility.  “But after that…there’s something called the hedonic treadmill.  We think we want something – a nicer house, a better car, and we often get it.  But the reality is, we overestimate how much joy it will give us, and we overestimate the duration.  The reality is, that new stuff wears out pretty quickly.  The stuff that matters is what we’re doing right now….For the average person in America who makes $75k a year, on a day to day basis, they’re experiencing as much happiness as the guy who’s making a million.”

Other Tidbits from the show:

Are you a glass-half-empty kind of person?  Think of yourself as a critical thinker instead, recommends Goldie.

The happiest place in America is San Luis Obispo, CA. The town shut down the main road through town 40 years ago in an attempt to make it a more pedestrian community.  Experts say that if a town has wide sidewalks around a town square, you’re much more likely to be happy.  San Luis Obispo does not allow drive through fast food.  They were the first place in the world to ban public smoking.  They have miles and miles of hiking and biking trails (they even have bike valets at restaurants and signs that thank you for riding your bike instead of driving).  Biking, of course, release endorphins, which cause happiness.  Nearly a quarter of the people work for themselves, and they often use the barter system.  They know all their neighbors.  The average income is $60k/year, the average house is $400k.  In talking to the residents of San Luis Obispo, Jenny McCarthy said that it wasn’t one particular thing that made them happy, it was a sum of things – their health, being happy in their job, being happy in their marriage.  Buettner points out that San Luis Obispo made the decision and changed things, setting up an infrastructure so it was easy to meet your neighbors.  People need to make the decision and collectively change the community.  The power is in your hands.

A recent study shows that a big trigger for unhappiness is commuting, especially if it takes more than an hour to get to work. According to Buettner, you need to make an additional $40k a year to make up for an hour commute each way every day.  You should pick your job close to where you live.  The commute is the second thing, next to housework, that Americans hate most on a day to day basis.

According to Buettner, new research shows that joining a club that makes you show up once a month has the same impact on your happiness as doubling your income. (How insane is that?!)  This widens your social circle in an authentic way.

Things don’t make you happier. Buettner says “the impact of a new thing only lasts about 9 months, no matter what the thing is.  An experience is a memory that will increase happiness for the long term.”  Give experience instead of things as gifts.

Having connections makes us happy.  We can’t connect to things – if you buy more things to make you happy, you will never be happier.  Things can’t give anything back to you.

“If happiness is a cake recipe,” Buettner says, “the most important ingredients are, do I have a good job, did I marry the right person, do I have engaging work, do I volunteer in a way where I get a feeling that I’m giving back, but the biggest thing is where you live.”

…for my dinner club group

January 26, 2011

A few years ago, I started organizing monthly dinner clubs, to try new restaurants around town.  It’s been a great success, and we’ve eaten some great food.  Tonight we went to The Liberty Gastropub, and I had the most insanely delicious thing I think I’ve ever had – a salted caramel budino.  I might be back every night for dessert for the rest of my life…