Americans are relentless in our pursuit of happiness, and there's been no shortage of books over recent years telling us how to succeed in that pursuit. While most of these books advise us to look inward to find our happy place, Ruth Whippman takes a different tack: true happiness, she says, comes from our interactions with others.
In her book America the Anxious: Why the Pursuit of Happiness Is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It for Real, Whippman, a Brit now living in the U.S., makes the argument that the self-help books we love so much are leading us astray. In our self-reliant American way, we try to tap into our own inner wellsprings of happiness, but what we should really be doing, Whippman suggests (with studies and research to back her up), is finding our bliss via meaningful relationships with others.
In a recent article in the New York Times, Whippman writes, "[W]hile placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people. Nearly half of all meals eaten in this country are now eaten alone. ... The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Time Use Survey shows that the average American now spends less than four minutes a day 'hosting and attending social events,' a category that covers all types of parties and other organized social occasions. That’s 24 hours a year, barely enough to cover Thanksgiving dinner, and your own child’s birthday party."
The antidote? Less time making that attempt at happiness a solo pursuit and more time with others. While there are, of course, endless ways of being with your tribe, I am duty-bound to suggest having folks over for cocktails as one of the best.
Go wild and have a full-blown cocktail party, complete with hors d'oeuvres and fancy drinks. Text a few friends to come over on Friday for whatever you feel like mixing up, accompanied by some chips and dip. Gather your housemates, set down your phones, and raise a glass. And if you're far from the people you want to have a drink with? Round them up on Skype or Hangouts or FaceTime, grab your drink of choice, and connect with them virtually.
It doesn't matter how simple or elaborate your gathering is, or whether you're clinking glasses in person or via webcam; what matters is that you gather. These connections, these interactions with others—these, says Ruth Whippman, are the true key to happiness.