Gretchen Rubin

Why I decided to go to my college reunion – and why it made me happy.

I wasn’t planning to go to my college reunion. I took a year off during college to work, so I graduated a year behind a lot of my friends; this enlarged my circle but also diluted my experience to a degree.

A friend said, “Come on, you have to go! It will be fun. You live so close – you can just take a two-hour train ride to get from New York to New Haven. You should do it.”

And I thought of all my happiness-project resolutions: Connect with my past, “Show up,” “Only connect,” “Embrace novelty,” Spend money on happiness priorities, etc. I also thought of the scientific finding that people are more inclined to regret the things they don’t do than the things they do – which suggested that I’d regret skipping the reunion more than attending.

So I decided to go.

As I took the train up on Saturday, though, I had second thoughts. No one had emailed me to urge me to come. No one had contacted me through Facebook. Would anyone be glad to see me? I’d heard from more than one person that it was important to go to a reunion with at least a few close friends, so you felt anchored – but a lot of my close friends weren’t coming. I worried that I would feel adrift, friendless, and ignored.

But I had an excellent time. From noon until midnight, I stood talking to people, many of whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was great.

I tried to figure out why it was so much fun. I’m not sure I’ve quite put my finger on it, but I think there are several things:

 There’s an ease in relationships that go back a long time, even if they aren’t intense relationships. Somehow, the fact that we’d all known each other for a long time gave a special quality to our interactions.

 I found myself talking to people that I hadn’t seen for years as if I’d seen them last week. It’s nice to realize that I remember these folks, and that they remember me. It makes life seem more continuous. More than one person asked me, “Do you still drink as much Diet Coke?” “Are you still running?” I found that surprisingly reassuring. I’m somehow always astonished to realize that I exist in other people’s minds.

 It was interesting to see how people had changed. From a happiness-project perspective, I noticed two positive trends: first, a lot of people had decided to pursue a career that they were passionate about, and as it turns out, those people are happy with their lives, even if they aren’t always hugely successful in worldly terms; the fact that they’re doing what they love makes them happy. Also, many people have started to re-invent themselves, to tackle something new, and they feel exhilarated, if a little apprehensive, by that. So I was glad to see that a lot of people were made happier by “Embracing novelty and challenge,” “Allowing themselves to enjoy the fun of failure,” and their own personal versions of “Be Gretchen.”

Everyone commented on something: everyone was so nice. That’s one advantage of being older – people tend to have better manners and behave in a more friendly way, and they seem to be less high-strung, generally. And that really does change the atmosphere.

On a less lofty note, I was happy to see that all the boys on whom I once had unrequited crushes were still looking handsome, had interesting jobs, and seemed happy with their lives. Now that I have the best husband in the whole world, and so don’t care about the unrequitedness of said crushes, it was just fun to catch up.

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Several thoughtful people sent me the link to this Q-and-A on Spending on Happiness from the Harvard Business weekly newsletter. Bottom line: people who spent money on other people were happier than when they spent money on themselves. I think this article simplifies the relationship between money and happiness a bit too much, but it's interesting.

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