I'm pretty sure that the people who pay attention to happiness research are actually happier people. And happiness begets happiness. So I have a feeling that me just writing a post about happiness, and you reading it makes us all happier.
Here is why I think that:
Let me tell you now, I am not a huge fan of the book. She is writing about her life, but her life is not all that interesting. The thing about reading stories about people’s lives is that we like conflict. That's what every novel is, it's what every memoir is. If there's no conflict then there is no path to follow in a story line.
Gretchen's conflict in this story about her is how can she be happier. Gretchen reports that she is already happy. She has an investment banker husband, two seemingly just fine daughters, a nice apartment in Manhattan, former-model good looks, etc. She basically (as she says in her forward to the book) needs something to talk about at cocktail parties. So she is writing a book so she can talk about it.
What I realized, though, is that while Gretchen’s conflict doesn't make for great reading, it is good to surround yourself with people like Gretchen: People who are basically happy and want to talk about it. Because happiness is contagious. So I kept reading the book. And, you know what? I didn’t love the book, but I love that it made me think a lot more about the stuff she wrote about.
(Not that New York City is the place to be happy, by the way. It's not. It's not because people in NYC value being interesting over being happy — which probably presents a special problem to Gretchen at cocktail parties, but I won't go into that. Also, it's clear that happy people attract happy people because Live Science reports that people in New York City are more unhappy than the rest of the country.)
Tiziana Casciaro, professor at University of Toronto, does really interesting research about social skills. And one thing she told me is that it’s very hard to gauge your own progress in the social skills department, but if you are making a conscious effort to improve your social skills then it is a safe bet that they are, on some level, improving.
I think the same is true about happiness. If you pay attention to the research, whether or not you consciously implement it, the mere act of accessing the information is commitment enough to instigate change in your happiness level. (You can type “happiness” into the search box on the sidebar of my blog to find the results of my own obsessive collection of research on this topic.)
The other thing that should make you want to talk about happiness and read about happiness is that to think that you can affect your own happiness is a fundamentally positive step. Optimism about the future is a keystone of happiness. And people who think they have control over the outcome of their life — that they are the locus of control — are happier.
If you say all the happiness research is tiresome and circular — which I have said before — it might be true, but thinking that way actually does not improve your happiness. (Although it does probably make your more interesting, because conflict and cynicism are interesting.)
Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, wrote a great book on all the tiny little things you can do to make yourself happier on a daily basis. The book is The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. It’s an inspiring book because the things we can do are so small, like, give someone a surprise compliment. But you don’t need to do that today. And neither do I. Because I think, for today, getting to the end of this post counts.