How to be happy

Forgetting birthdays, a study that's kind of a bummer but makes sense, and a little thing we can do. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

When I was younger, I was really bad at remembering birthdays and anniversaries.

I’m still not the best, although I’m a bit better thanks to smartphones, online calendars and wildly intruisive social networks that know more about me than I probably know about myself.

Still, it got to be a running joke with my best friend from college that he would call me on his birthday every year and remind me to wish him a happy birthday.

Oh, the unflattering stories I tell about myself to make a point.

I saw a headline yesterday in about nine different places that said something along the lines of: “Study: Americans Less Happy Now Than Any Time in 50 Years.”

Dig in and you’ll find that only 14 percent of American adults say they’re “very happy” now. In 2018, the number who called themselves “very happy” was 31 percent.

On the flipside, half of all Americans say they often or sometimes feel isolated; two years ago it was just 23 percent.

From the AP:

The survey, conducted in late May, draws on nearly a half-century of research from the General Social Survey, which has collected data on American attitudes and behaviors at least every other year since 1972.

No less than 29 percent of Americans have ever called themselves very happy in that survey.

OK. I mean, it’s not surprising given that we’re still in the midst of our most ridiculous year, spanning from pandemic and isolation to protest and rage within the space of a season.

And most of us (not all of us, as I’m sure some readers will point out) are still highly restricted. My wife and daughter and I went to one of New Jersey’s recently reopened beaches last week, and when I used the restroom I realized it was the first time I’d set foot in one (well, a public one) in nearly three months.

No wonder we feel isolated. And no wonder that affects our happiness.

Of course, we’ve known this all along. I’ve drummed up a heck of a lot of pageviews on Inc. over the years writing about the Harvard Grant Study, which is a study of human development that focused on the Harvard University class of 1938 and followed its members throughout their lives.

As the modern-day curator, Dr. Robert Waldinger, put it in a TED Talk (of course) about the study a few years back:

"The lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."

More recently, I came across twin studies, from Gallup and — improbably — from the bowling alley company Bowlero, that said one of the most important predictors of whether employees are happy and productive on the job is whether they have good friends at work.

(Admission: The entire reason I noticed these studies was that I was wondering why a bowling alley company was commissioning surveys about workplace efficiency. Then I realized that a big part of their business is — well, maybe was — hosting corporate parties and employee teambuilding events.)

Anyway. Everything is connected now. Relationships, too.

Ever since I quit practicing law and became a full time writer-slash-journalist-guy-who-needs-hypens-to-describe-his-occupation, it’s been hard to know when my professional life ends and my personal life begins.

As a reporter in Washington, I’d sometimes move in circles (focused largely on the military and foreign policy), where I’d make good friends while reporting stories—and then get tips on stories while hanging out with people socially.

I think that kind of thing is true for a lot of people. We wind up friends with people we work with. Sometimes we wind up marrying them. But now, many of us still aren’t going anywhere to go to work.

So my advice: We’re not seeing those people now, so make 10x the normal effort on those kinds of relationships—heck, all of them, for that matter. Work friends, college friends, people who it might feel awkward at first to call or email out of the blue.

(My wife is probably going to read this and think: Really? You’re going to give people advice on how to be happy? Let’s just say I’ve had my moments over the past weeks and months.)

Anyway, part of the reason I keep writing this newsletter is about the reader responses—you guys are my new work friends. Please feel free to reply.

And, I know I have personal friends and work colleagues among the people on this list. So c’mon guys. Especially if we haven’t connected in a while, let’s all give each other a call. Even if you don’t feel like you need it, the person you reach out to might.

Even in a time of coronavirus, I feel like we can do better than 14 percent.

7 other things worth your time

  • I see, and can you describe the gold bars? Swiss police say they’re looking for whoever left $190,000 worth of gold bars on a train last year. (Fox News)

  • Would somebody please sign Colin Kaepernick? The commissioner of the NFL, whose league has done a complete 180, is calling for one of the 32 teams to sign Kaepernick, who last played in 2016, after his keeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. (CBS Local)

  • Miami will pause its plans to go to the next phase of “reopening,” amid reports that Florida just set its single day record for the most new Covid-19 cases, at 2,783. Twenty-two states, almost all in the South and West, are reporting daily increases in the number of cases. (ABC News, Bloomberg)

  • Very good news, although most scientists seem to want to see more data: Health experts in the United Kingdom say a cheap drug called dexamethasone has proven significantly effective at saving the lives of severely ill coronavirus patients. It’s not a literal panacea though; a majority of patients sick enough to need the drug still do not recover. (BBC)

  • 51st state? The House of Representatives will vote next week to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. It’s symbolic since it has no chance of getting through the Republican-controlled Senate. (PBS Newshour)

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, top Republican in the Senate, says he’s “OK with” renaming military bases named for Confederate generals if that’s what the rest of the Senate wants to do. (Associated Press)

  • OK, now this is serious: 7-Eleven cancels Free Slurpee Day due to Covid-19. (I had no idea there was such a thing, but it’s kind of funny.) (10 News San Diego)

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