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.)