Happy 2015! Is anybody happy?
Apparently not, if the results of a recent Harris Poll are to believed. This being the first week of a new year, I’d like to offer a few ideas to increase our collective happiness immediately.
They’re cheaper than a gym membership and easier than giving up sugar or caffeine, which I won’t do because that would make me very unhappy.
This column began percolating (yes, please, with cream!) a few months ago, when I noticed a little chart illustrating the comforting news that the older we get, the happier we are.
People age 65 and older, according to the survey of more than 2,300 Americans, are happier than any other age group. This is likely a bummer for young people, but, to those regularly making bucket lists, it’s kind of a relief.
The problem is that the deeper and more troubling news was buried. (Oh, bad word choice.)
Yes, older Americans are the happiest demographic, but even those 65 and older aren’t overwhelmingly so. Just 41 percent in this age group report being happy.
People ages 50 to 64 are the second happiest group and they’re just (OK, we’re just) 36 percent happy.
The least happy group, at 28 percent, are people in their 30s.
I’m guessing that the happiness dip here is due, in part, to navigating those enriching but difficult years of marriage-adjusting, budget-keeping, child-rearing, sleep-depriving, job-hunting and friendship-shifting. (Hang in there! The kids grow up!)
7 steps to happiness
This brings me back to my original thesis: We’re not a very happy nation, and I think we should be working on this in 2015.
So, for the price of this newspaper, my list:
Get rid of stuff. Did you know that one of the fastest growing businesses is … storage? My colleague Susan Feyder reported recently that the Twin Cities area storage business is booming, due to our Western habit of accumulating all sorts of things we can’t fit into our homes. This is not making us happier. Call your favorite charity or join millions of green-minded people who get rid of stuff at www.free cycle.org or donatestuff.com.
Volunteer. Read, mentor, drive, cook and serve, and you’ll enter a guaranteed happy factory for the few hours a week you can spare.
Hang out with happy people or people who want to be happier. Join the Twin Cities chapter of the Meetup group I Am Happy Project. The project began in California in 2009 and has expanded to 63 cities and 18 countries, with a mission to “spread happiness globally, one person at a time.”
The group’s website (iamhappyproject.org) will make you happy, with its photos of puppies and little girls in pink tutus. You can find a “happy coach” or buy an official “I Am Happy” Pin and wear it around your most cynical friends. So much happiness for only $5!
Stop trying to get rich. Yes, money is crucial for lower income groups, enabling them to find a home and stop worrying about where their next meal is coming from. But the high from cash is fleeting. While people who make $100,000 or more annually are the happiest group, they’re not that much happier than people who make $35,000 to $49,999 (38 percent vs. 32 percent).
Be nicer to people. Being right won’t make you as happy in the long run as being kind. I share this philosophy with a happy friend and loyal reader, Betsy Peak, who tackled this very concept in her “Musings and Hopes for 2015” newsletter:
“Being right takes up too much energy, causes anxiety, causes losses of friends sometimes (however, if they’re toxic people, you’re lucky),” Peak writes. “And immediately taking out their smartphone to see who’s right is tacky!”
Speaking of smartphones, take a deep breath and store them on occasion. I just watched a woman talk mindlessly on her iPhone as two young men behind a coffee counter tried valiantly to get her order, and her attention. She missed an opportunity for happy banter with those two neat young men and the fascinating (and increasingly unhappy) people behind her in line. Ahem.
Refocus on relationships. It is worth noting that, while the Harris happiness survey revealed quite the contrary, there was one clear exception. Fully 90 percent of respondents agreed that, “My relationships with friends bring me happiness.” So call them. Visit them, and I don’t mean in cyberspace. Forgive them their imperfections. Send them a handwritten letter. And make sure that you do the same for relatives, those people who look like us whom we too often take for granted or allow to become estranged.
I recently witnessed a reconciliation in my own extended clan that no one predicted. The weird thing isn’t that each party was exquisitely (albeit guardedly) happy at having reached this unpredicted detente.
It’s that the rest of us also were filled to the brim with happiness.