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The 2020 Happiness Project

2 Jan

sunflowersNot too long ago, I found what I considered to be a “rock star” parking spot on Boylston Street, just a few feet away from the Copley subway station. It was a Sunday afternoon, and since there’s no charge for parking then, I simply got out of my car and walked away, off to go about my business.

More than an hour later, as I was walking back to my car, I saw a pink something or other on my front window, tucked under the windshield wiper. It looked like a parking ticket. What the hell! Wasn’t parking free today?

Turns out, it wasn’t a parking ticket, but a list of 21 behaviors that would apparently help me find “The Way to Happiness.” I laughed. The source of the information — the L. Ron Hubbard Library — was a bit dubious, but I had to admit, the list had merit: Take care of yourself. Honor and help your parents. Do not steal. Be industrious. Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you. Fulfill your obligations. Do not murder. And so on. You get the idea.

I’m surprised one of the items on the list wasn’t “Show gratitude.” After all, according to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

As you might assume, I was grateful the flyer wasn’t a parking ticket, as I originally thought it was. And I was thankful for the folks who put it on my car, because the realization and the flyer itself both made me smile.

Corny as it may sound, I’ve learned in recent years that the secret to living a happy life is to appreciate things like that, and to document them. To that end, I started my annual “Happiness Project” in 2015 with that very simple premise: At the end of every day, you should write down one thing that made you happy, whether it’s something you did, something you ate, something somebody said, a TV show you watched or movie you saw, a tweet, or something else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that made you smile. (And yes, the name is a nod to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” which started as an experiment and became a best-selling book, and movement.)

Five years later, I can say it works. Continue reading

In Spite of Everything, There Was a Lot to Celebrate in 2019

31 Dec

December sunsetI’ve gotta be honest: 2019 was a very good year.

Sure, in many ways, it was not. There was the toxic state of U.S. politics polluting our mindsets each and every day. The Mueller Report. Impeachment. The tweets. Ugh. There were many mass shootings and hate crimes. Rampant anti-Semitism. Hurricane Dorian and wildfires in the Amazon and California left destruction in their wake. Friends and family members battled cancer and had other health challenges. The Notre Dame fire was a historic tragedy. Multiple people I know lost their jobs and are still looking for work months later. We said goodbye to folks like Luke Perry, Pete Frates, Cokie Roberts, and Bill Buckner. And, much closer to home, I said goodbye to my aunt Leslie just a couple weeks ago.

Indeed, every day seemed to have its share of challenges.

But in spite of all that, and at the risk of being myopic or selfish or narrow-minded, when I look back on the past 12 months, I actually have a lot to be happy about. For example … Continue reading

A Souvenir of My Year So Far, Before the Memories Fade Away

1 Jul

1H 2019 highlightsIn Billy Joel’s 1974 song “Souvenir,” the Piano Man sings about how “every year’s a souvenir that slowly fades away,” suggesting that we should do all we can to savor our time before it’s gone. He cites postcards, folded ticket stubs, play programs, and vacation photographs as the little things we all save to keep alive the memories of our good times.

At just two minutes long, “Souvenir” is a nice, short song. Definitely a lesser-known gem in Billy’s catalog. And he’s right — though I do take issue with the idea of time “slowly” fading away. Maybe time moved more slowly in the mid-’70s, because here at the end of the 20teens (or whatever this decade is called), it’s more of a blur. I mean, it’s only July 1, and yet it feels like an entire year has gone by since New Year’s Day. Hell, it feels like an entire year has gone by since last week!

But all kidding aside, here we are at the halfway point of yet another year that’s moving a bit too quickly. If you’re anything like me — and Billy Joel, apparently — you’re a collector of memories. Continue reading

The 2019 Happiness Project

2 Jan

Photo credit: Jessica Noel/fabcocktail.com

In November 2017, a live-entertainment producer named Jared Paul opened a venue in Chicago called the Happy Place. Dubbed “the most Instagrammable pop-up in America” by Urban Daddy, the bright, colorful, and yes, photogenic playspace was “a themed immersive experience designed to help you escape for a very short time and immerse yourself in happiness,” Paul explained.

The Happy Place sounds like it was a lot of fun. I mean, who wouldn’t love an interactive “exhibit” filled with balloons and gumballs and confetti and rubber duckies and rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches? I was in Chicago twice last July, and I’m sorry I didn’t know about it then. Otherwise, I surely would have checked it out. (Following its nine-month engagement in Chicago, the Happy Place opened in Toronto in November 2018. It has also been in Los Angeles.)

Of course, actual happiness is a bit more elusive. I mean, it’s not exactly a subtle metaphor that Paul’s pop-up is just temporary; I suspect the high from experiencing it is also short-lived. Further, as researchers often point out, the more you try to be happy, the less happy you’ll actually be. In fact, as a recent study revealed, a constant pursuit of happiness can actually increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection. And you can’t really study how to be happy — though apparently, a class does exist (at Yale University, of all places).

On the other hand, there are small things you can do to boost the hormones that lead to happiness, that have a legit, longer-lasting effect on your well-being. One of the most oft-cited by some of those same researchers is regular expressions of gratitude — in a “gratitude journal,” for example. Continue reading

Here’s to My Future. But First, Here’s to My Yesterday!

31 Dec

I have no idea where the time went, but as the calendar reminds us, December 31 means we’ve come to the end of another year.

Americans can’t seem to see eye-to-eye about much these days, but suffice it to say, 2018 was … a year. It was 12 months long. (Those are facts we can all agree on, right?) And as with any year, a lot of good stuff and bad stuff happened, locally and nationally. There’s no need to rehash it all; we all lived through it.

I’m excited for 2019, and all that the next 12 months will (hopefully) bring with it. But, as the Imagine Dragons lyric says, “No tomorrow without a yesterday.” So in that spirit, I’m going to use this last blog post of 2018 to take another look at some of my yesterdays. Specifically, some of my favorite highlights from the past 12 months. Continue reading

My Soundtrack for 2018 Brings Back a Lot of Memories

18 Dec

Every year has its own soundtrack. It’s the collection of songs and sounds that, when you hear them, they remind you of times gone by.

My soundtrack for 2018 does exactly that, recalling the times I spent lazing by the pool aboard a cruise ship, watching the Olympics, celebrating my birthday in New York City, enjoying live music, driving around in the summer with the volume up and my car windows down, and much more.

I like compiling this kind of “time capsule” playlist instead of writing a top-10 (or whatever number) list of the year’s “best” songs and albums because music tends to play such a large role in my life, and I often can remember certain events by what I was listening to at the time. Besides, taste is so subjective, so when looking back on the year gone by, I’d much rather call attention to more music than less. Because tracks wouldn’t have been added to this playlist if I didn’t like them, anyway. Continue reading

Let’s Not Forget These Early Days of 2018 (The Good Ones, Anyway)

29 Jun

It’s hard to believe, but it was just last week that James Corden shared his awesome “Carpool Karaoke” video with Paul McCartney with the world.

Less than a month and a half ago, we were all fighting about whether we heard “Laurel” or “Yanny.” (It’s Yanny. No question.)

Two and a half months ago, Desiree Linden won the Boston Marathon women’s race, by more than four minutes — even after stopping just over an hour into the race to wait while Shalane Flanagan went to the bathroom.

Less than three weeks before that, Brandon Victor Dixon’s performance blew us away in the live TV production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Black Panther, easily the best movie so far this year, came out just four months ago.

And a month before that, we were all cheering when the Minnesota Vikings staged an incredible comeback in the last minute of an NFL playoff game. (Unless you were a New Orleans Saints fan, that is.)

Yes, all of that happened this year. Continue reading

The 2018 Happiness Project

2 Jan

I don’t know much, but I know this: You can’t plan to be happy.

That said, you can make an effort to be mindful and appreciate good things that happen and that make you smile. And those things will make you happier. It’s a simple idea, but it’s an effective one.

And being happy has many benefits — not least of which is that nobody wants to hang around with a perpetual Debbie Downer. But all kidding aside, being happy has multiple health benefits, including increased strength and decreased stress, a stronger immune system, and reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Scientific evidence also suggests that happiness can help you unlock creativity, improve your memory, and make you more productive. So, it’s really not a trite or superficial (or sexist) thing when someone wishes you a “Happy New Year” or “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holiday,” or suggests you smile more. They’re actually wishing you increased wellness and productivity. Continue reading

2017 … No, Really. Where Did the Time Go?

30 Dec

We’re all pretty much in agreement that 2017 was not a good year.

But I’ve gotta be honest: At the risk of sounding like Taylor Swift, I actually had a lot of fun these past 12 months. From the #SocialRoadTrip weekends in Austin and Boston, to a couple Red Sox games, to Memorial Day Weekend in New York City, to concerts, to my vacation in Nashville, to milestone celebrations (like weddings, bat mitzvahs, and baby showers) with good friends, to a week in Chicago for work and play, to a few visits with my niece and nephews, and so on, I had a lot to smile about this year.

And that’s a big reason why 2017 seemed to zoom by faster than a lot of other years have. Continue reading

Looking for the Light in a Very Dark Year

29 Dec

Charlottesville: “We replaced you.” (Photo credit: Casey Kilmartin)

So, let’s just get this out of the way: 2017 sucked.

As bad as 2016 was, 2017 was, in many ways, even worse.

We had a new President*, and he set the tone for the year. Trump used his bully pulpit to anger, frustrate, provoke, frighten, threaten, belittle, and mock ethnic groups, other world leaders, the press, and many others all year long in his tweets and unscripted remarks, and through his actions (or inaction). He undid as much of President Obama’s forward-thinking legacy as he could. And he displayed virtually no warmth, compassion, or leadership — just a lot of callous self-centeredness. As hard as you may have tried to avoid him, he — and the effect he had on everything — was inescapable.

There were events like those in Charlottesville, where newly emboldened hate groups took to the streets and a young resistance protester wound up dead. There were the shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, and no action taken to prevent others in the future. There were deadly and destructive hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico that left many without power, food, or necessary, essential supplies — even now, months later. There were multiple terror attacks in London and elsewhere. And there were all those revelations of sexual harassment and assault by those in Hollywood, the television media, and Congress, among other places.

The political scene and cultural moment this year forced us to do a lot of soul searching. To reckon with parts of ourselves and the country’s wounded psyche we don’t like to deal with, and to confront racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and unsavory acts from people we know, like, trust, and admire. It wasn’t easy, and it was often exhausting.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, we lost legends like Tom Petty and Mary Tyler Moore, among others. At the start of the year, two of my own friends passed away unexpectedly, and way too soon. Over the summer, Ari Schultz, the five-year-old son of two friends of mine, was taken from us. And other friends and colleagues lost family members, friends, and people close to them.

No, by any definition, 2017 was not a good year.

But now that we’ve covered all of that, can we move on? Continue reading