Applying happiness-project resolutions in Paris.

A friend of mine was in Paris recently, and he wrote me an email about how, while sitting in a café, and, as it happens, helping me out by editing a draft of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT book, he decided to apply his own happiness resolutions.

I asked him if I could reprint his email, because I thought it was a great example of how keeping your resolutions active in your mind can help you make small choices that boost everyone’s happiness.

I was in the café across from my hotel. It was kind of overcast and rainy. Next to me were an American mother and her teenage/college-ish daughter. They were not having a good interaction. The mom was saying things like “never mind,” in an irritated tone and the daughter was clicking her tongue and rolling her eyes.

My first impulse was to say, “you two should enjoy Paris — how often are you going to be in Paris?” but I thought that was not necessarily going to help things. So I thought of two things: (1) how I’m very good at providing good energy to other people and (2) how much happier I am when I talk to people when I travel (I am such an extravert that I can almost feel a direct energy infusion when I have an actual conversation with people — and because I can sort of but not really speak French, I sometimes don’t talk much there).

So I turned to them and asked, “Are you guys American?” “Yes we are.” “Is this your first time in Paris?” “The second.” la la la. We agreed that the most fun way to see Paris is just to sit in cafes every day. The daughter was very intrigued by the manuscript. “Are you editing?” I explained that it was my friend’s book on happiness, that she used to be a lawyer but is now a happiness blogger, and basically gave her the whole premise.

So then we went back to our respective things and we were all happier. I felt energized, and I could tell that they had broken through their low moment in mother-daughter relations.

My resolutions include “Reach out,” “Always say hello,” and “Make three new friends,” but this kind of encounter would be very tough for me. A paramount resolution is to “Be Gretchen,” and striking up a conversation with strangers would drain, not energize, me. But for my friend, a short, friendly encounter provides a big boost – and also boosted the happiness of the people he met.

Via the commments to a post on the always-interesting Freakonomics blog, I found a super-fun tool on BabyNameWizard that allows you to enter a name and see a graph that shows how its popularity has changed over the last century. It’s interesting information — and also a great example of data beautifully and meaningfully presented.

Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • My mom and I traveled extensively when I was a kid (usually tagging along whenever my dad had a conference), and we always talked to people, and it was always interesting. Then, in college, I started to travel by myself, and I learned something: it was my mom who was initiating all those conversations. An introvert traveling alone can get VERY lonely.

  • I once drove a 14-hour trip with a friend of a friend from church. She was so fascinating. One of her thoughts on life is that everyone has a story – and her goal was to pull that story out of people. She was a master at this & it was fun to watch her in action. I am a friendly person but she made it into an art-form.

  • It’s interesting how what worked for your friend in Paris – striking up a conversation w/strangers – might not work for you. What I like about your research and blog is that you explore so many avenues to happiness, that if one doesn’t work, you can surely find another!

  • MJ

    Ultra extroverts are fascinating. I’m an introvert and while I would be happy to chat briefly with someone in Paris, someone talking to me on a plane or car ride would be the utmost in misery. I had one marketing trip to a client years ago with an ultra extrovert manager who talked all the way there, and all the way back. I’m not sure he took breathing or swallowing breaks, and I had a migraine for days. I really prefer about 85% silence in my life.
    It’s just an interesting personality gulf. My ultra extrovert sis in law has no books at home and about 95% of her interest is in socializing. She tells me that I must be miserable and lonely when I’m not in a group of people. I have about 3000 books at home (I’ve culled the herd recently) and tell her no, I’m miserable and lonely IN a crowd if I can’t get silence, a break, or someone I can relate to. Loneliness isn’t about being alone, its about having no one to relate to. Introverts can relate to themselves just fine.

  • I almost always am the one to make the 1st contact. People by a large degree act more my introverts than extroverts.
    I too get energized by human contact, in general. But there is a time for everything-including silence & aloneness.

  • My father is very outgoing and jolly. Whenever I go anywhere with him he strikes up conversations with various strangers. He makes jokes and has a big jolly laugh that makes other people laugh too. I’ve always liked the way he brightens the moods of strangers.
    I think I’ll start trying to talk to more people too.

  • MJ

    It is worth remembering that a lot of people don’t enjoy talking to strangers, or being talked to – mileage may vary here and that is OK and should be respected. I’m usually horrified when strangers talk to me (especially on vacation – GO AWAY) but I try to be polite until I can escape. So if all of your efforts to be friendlier are not enthusiastically embraced, don’t take it personally, you might just be talking to someone who really, truly prefers to be left alone.