Community and Happiness

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment


DISCLAIMER:  Dear Progressive friends, I have not sold out!  I still believe in economic justice and I remain painfully aware of the racialized outcomes of poverty.

I feel like part of my mission in life is to expand the lens with which we look at our quest for social transformation.  One of the points I keep harping on is the point that happiness matters.  And this is why a recent David Brooks column caught my attention.

In “The Sandra Bullock Trade,” Brooks refers to recent research on happiness to remind us that “the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous.”  Most of us probably understand this at some guttural level, deep in a place we often forget.  But what I found powerfully affirming was the list of activities that do produce happiness:

  • Sex
  • Socializing after work, and
  • Having dinner with others

Most interesting of all, for those of us who believe in the power of community, is that:

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

When I say let’s expand our lens, I’m not suggesting that we forget about struggle and a real fight for economic justice, but I do mean “to expand,” to do what we do and enlarge our focus.  Couldn’t we bring relationship support groups to our communities?  Research shows that “being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year,” and this would help with the “sex” objective wouldn’t it?

What if we created spaces, projects and organizations that made it significantly easier for the people that we serve to “socialize after work?”  What if we stopped working long enough to do some of that ourselves?  And what if our organizing projects always included our authentically “having dinner with others?”  (Here I’m not talking about eating cold pizza in a stuffy meeting room!)  How do we concern ourselves with the acts that build community?  How do we begin to understand that a movement concerned with economic justice must also concern itself with bringing people together in ways that truly matter?  How do we create, nurture and hold the spaces where we can truly come together?

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  • Curtis says:

    Great questions, G! I’m right with you. This is so timely given the number of conversations I’ve had with people with smiles on their faces the past few days who are happy, yes in part because of the spring (or almost summer-like) weather, but also because these conditions have been an inspiration to stop working so hard, tune in to neighbors, play with children outside, go for a walk with a loved one, sip win on the front steps. Our new neighbors spontaneously pulled out the grill on Saturday and voila – block party! You wonder why sometimes we wait until the weather warms to warm up to one another.

    I’m also just coming off of a conversation with one of our colleagues who recently got back from Paris, where she walked everywhere and marveled at how much space is created for people to meet, mingle, socialize, etc. It’s clear from these arrangements what matters most. “I could really live like that,” she said. That’s what I love about the town where Em and I live. We can walk everywhere. We are constantly bumping into people, having conversations at the local parks, seeing familiar faces at cafes. There is an appealing social density and direction to the place. Smart growth meets social intention. How can we bring this spirit to our social change initiatives?

    I was also reminded of something in the “Focusing” workshop I attended over the weekend. The most enduring happiness is found in relationships, intimacy, generativity, and spirituality/religion. It can also be found in shorter term pleasures so long as they are SAVORED. That means slowing down, taking time, paying attention. No reason we can’t build this practice into our work.

    I’m ready!

  • I thought this quote aligned nicely with the three activities listed in the original post:

    “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

    Jim Valvano quotes (American basketball coach, Coach of North Carolina State U., 1980-1990; won NCAA championship, 1983 1946-1993)

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