Last week Michael Ruhlman tweeted about “The Sandra Bullock Trade,” a New York Times Op-Ed piece by David Brooks. Unless you live under a rock, you know that Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for Best Actress and then, days later, learned that her husband was, in Brooks’ words, “an adulterous jerk.” So Mr. Brooks queried, “would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?” And, he quickly adds, if you take any longer than three seconds to respond to that question, you’re out of your gourd. Money and success aren’t nearly as important as our interpersonal relationships—we know this. And now all kinds of scientific studies are confirming the age-old wisdom. But we are so hard-headed. (It doesn’t help that everything in society stresses cash over community, blue chips over relationships.)
I’m not saying money isn’t important. Andy and I left our jobs back in August before we went to Malawi and didn’t get a paycheck for six months, the first coming just last week. I’ve gotta say: life got a whole lot better once we had money in the bank. But as Brooks points out, “the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being.” That rings true for me. I need money for the basics, but after that, does the over-and-above discretionary cash make me happier? I’m thinking . . . no. Not really.
What, then, makes us really happy? “The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others.” I’ll plead the fifth on the first point, but we’ve just moved to New York City and, come to think of it, we’ve been spending more time with friends after work, and we’ve been having some simple dinners with friends and family. These are happiness no-brainers.
Last Wednesday I had my good friends Steph and Ariel over after work. It wasn’t pre-planned or particularly special, we just opened a bottle of wine and I made a simple spring risotto with salad. On Sunday night we got together with friends, old and new, and had a delicious potluck supper. Easy and casual, but so much fun. (And inexpensive, too, which is a big happiness marker for me.) My joy levels are pretty high these days and I attribute it to seeing my friends more often and eating and drinking together. This is the life. I need my money, but I’d take my friends and family and a simple meal with them any day of the week. (Oh, all right. And sex. Yes.)
When you and Sharon were eight and six, I faced the professional-triumph/personal-blow dilemma. I was the food editor of a trade food publication in NY–head of the section, writing, traveling, hobnobbing.
Except that you all were struggling and so were David and I. Once I realized I could lose the fam, it took me about five minutes on the train home from work one day to decide I needed to quit, and I did.
It also took awhile to see, but I ultimately realized it’s not necessarily either/or. I made the right decision and got you all AND an amazing career to boot!
sink girl says
loved this post. so refreshing. money makes things more “comfortable” but brings me very little genuine happiness.
also, just made a very similar spring risotto two nights ago. yum. thank god for good asparagus once again!
Hey Maggy! Love this blog. I left you all an award on mine. Hope that’s not too weird. ~ Jennifer
Linda Fischer says
I grew up in the Chicago area and we were always getting together with other people. We belonged to church and social groups that created community. I live out west now and it seems that the further west you go, the more independent people are. The more independent people are, the more isolated they make themselves. The attitude it “I don’t need anyone else.” But we do – we all need community. Inviting friends over for a good meal is a great way to create community for ourselves and others. We all need that!