It’s a season of joy, right? You are probably thinking that you can count on my blog posts to be a respite from seasonal joy. But still, I’m susceptible to peer pressure. Mostly because I think it’s an obligation of a friend to be sort of cheery. Because cheeriness is contagious. And on some level, I want to be your friend.
I have always thought a good mood is contagious, but now there’s more proof, in a study published last week in the British Medical Journal, (and in the Los Angeles Times, for those of us who like our research sliced in candy-sized bites.) The researchers followed 5000 people for decades and found that if you hang out with people who say they are happy then you are more likely to report that you are happy, too.
This might be a peer pressure thing, except it’s really a moot point. Because if you say you are happy, you get all the health benefits of being happy (image hosting). And, of course, those benefits are huge. It doesn’t really matter that it is irrational to be happy—you will mentally and physically in better shape if you go down that irrational path.
So even though I tend to choose rational discourse over cheery conversation, today we can have both. Here are three places where I found happiness and work intersecting.
1. This is my favorite time of year for news. Because there isn’t any.
We are entering the slowest news time of the year, yet the December 8 issue of Time magazine is great. When the world would stops generating big, huge, overwhelming news like world peace, world hunger, and world war, then Time magazine reporters spend their time finding the workplace angle on stories I care about.
One article that is great is How to Fix America’s Schools. Michelle Rhee came to DC to overhaul the school system and in eighteen months she fired 270 teachers. Surely we can each pick out the worst teacher of our lives and fantasize that she is one of the ones. But that’s not the happy part of this story.
The happy part is that the Rhee got offered the job when she was separated from her husband, sharing joint custody of two grade-school girls, in Colorado. And here’s what I love. Her sort-of-not-husband relocated so that she could take the job. Of course I love that she has a sort-of-not-husband, because so do I. And it seems so hard to explain to someone I want to date, but it seems so straightforward the way Time magazine reports it. So that makes me happy.
2. Even former spouses can work together to change the world.
But here’s really what makes me happy. The sort-of-not-husband said, “Moving did not seem like a whole lot of fun. But I genuinely believed that she had the potential to be the best superintendent in the country. Michelle will compromise with no one when it comes to making sure kids get what they deserve.”
Here is a marriage falling apart, but the people are so much bigger than the failing marriage. They are staying together, in an odd sort of way, for the kids—not even their own children—and thus are supporting a career to change the world. That a spouse in a failed marriage will relocate to support the other’s career seems big to me. Maybe this happens all the time, but I think this must be rare. Because so many things have to line up: two people that understand how a divorce can destroy kids, a man who can be secondary to a woman’s career, and a woman who can risk a lot for her career. And not get killed for it in the media. This all makes me happy.
3. Telling people what makes you happy is a high form of generosity.
And here’s another thing plucked from that issue of Time magazine: Joel Stein’s column on The Cupcake Kings. He writes about how he gave money to kiva.org, a web site that allows everyone to participate in microfinance. It’s a good way to assuage a heart that’s guilty of wanting to help more people make change in their life, but not doing so. Or, it’s a good way for the greedy who have been bounced off Wall Street to think they are still making investment decisions by sending $50 to the Ivory Coast to launch a pottery barn.
In Joel’s case, he chose to send the startup costs—$25—to a baker in Nicaragua. And then, because Joel is not only a columnist but a nut case, he called the guy—with a Kiva.org translator—to bug him about how to run his business. (Which, by the way, is how US investors function as well, though the stakes are higher—more money and more annoying phone calls.)
Here’s a great quote: “My first suggestion was to change the name of the place from the Little Mango Bakery to the far more compelling Joel and Freddy’s Extreme Cupcakery.” And, “Before I got off the phone, I asked the translator to quietly try one of Freddy’s pastries to make sure I didn’t have to bring in a new head chef.” (They were delicious.)
The things that make me happy are that Joel’s writing is so exuberant, and also that he’s plugging a great cause. Which is what we can all do to spread a little happiness: Tell people the stuff that makes you happy. Because happiness is contagious.