So goes the conclusions from the most recent collection of data from the Harvard Grant Study, one of the longest running studies of its kind. In it, since the 1930s, Harvard has followed men from their sophomore year of college through their lives, prospectively receiving their self reports on the trajectory of their life, as well as collections from blood and interviews. Their 2012 book is a great place to start when talking about the long running truths we’ve learned about happiness.
That is of course if you happen to be a man.
“The past,” Thomas Pynchon writes in Bleeding Edge, “Is an invitation to wine abuse.”
Is it though? One of the fascinating lessons about our memory is how resilient it is, and the way in which we’ve rose colored our pasts proves that memory is much less interested in recalling accurately and much more inclined to remember safely.
Many of the results on the research of happiness are counter-intuitive, and that was largely the theme of the most recent podcast (as of April 11th) from Sam Harris’s Making Sense titled “The Science of Happiness.” One such finding was on the basis of talking to strangers. Turns out that we actually do love the chance to talk to strangers, but there is a very real gap to be crossed, particularly for introverts like myself, in getting us to initiate or sustain those conversations with random people on the street.
But is it hard to imagine this finding now? By this point, half of the world is under a social distancing measure of some kind. You might be feeling the strange depressive loneliness of not buying that latte, and not seeing the face-to-face eye-contact-making experience you typically see on a day-to-day basis. We had no idea how much we needed this until it was gone.
I hope that when this is all over we have a realigning of priorities. The deleterious effects of cell phones is another discussion point in the podcast. Having a cell phone, note even accessing it, can hurt experiences of families in a museum, or even affect smiles in a waiting room. Post-coronavirus life may have me taking a technology fast, instead highly encouraging my friends and I to meet in person as often as possible (once we’re all tested of course).
We have fallen behind as a nation in the World Happiness Report of 2020. Why that is, I am not sure, but I look forward to poring over the results and discovering some macroeconomic answers as to why.
But the microeconomic findings are not hard to find. Each year the Higher Education Research Institution of UCLA posts a report of survey results from incoming freshman. In the latest Brief Report from 2017, it appears that students now spend much more of their time studying than in the past. This has been an upward trend, despite the stagnant wages and heaping amounts of debt college freshmen accrue, casting doubt on the real term results of all this studying. What angers me is the conclusion the report reaches on this upward trend:
As incoming college students continue to spend more time on homework or studying, colleges and universities must ensure their campuses are equipped with proper study spaces to further support students’ academic success.
Don’t address the issue, just give them a nicer prison.
Maybe the real question of helping our young people is to question the systems that force students to sacrifice their chance at happiness now for some future that may or may not exist. And even if they reach their idea of “success,” Laurie Santos tells us in the podcast that the horizon level for our idea of success always pushes out, and does not supplant happiness for very long.
Slowing down in this past month has helped me see just how deep into that rat race I was, and I hope now you’ve been given the opportunity as well. The quickest and most sure fire way to happiness is to love the people near you deeply as much as you can, and to go out (when this is all over) and meet strangers who need that love as well.