A spreadsheet for happiness? Thanks, but I'll take the wine


hat does it take to make you happy?

Apparently, most of us don't know, because there is a ton of scientific research and just plain navel-gazing out there that's supposed to help us figure it out.


Is it the music on your iPod, or an application for your iPhone? Is it a walk in nature, or is it nurture?

Is it talk therapy or music therapy? Is it time for yourself or selflessness? Is it physical exercise - or the exercise of free will?


Can you map it out on a spreadsheet and make a plan with happiness as the goal, or does it "just happen"?

Is happiness, as one researcher suggested, contagious like AIDS: The wider your network of partners, the more likely you are to catch it?

One definition of happiness might be seeing the tail end of 2009 go out the door, taking with it all the economic wreckage of the last year. Certainly the new decade could not be worse, so it must be better, right?

I thought I knew what made me happy - a yoga class to ease my muscles and my mind, wine with a girlfriend, a movie with my husband, a day off with a list of modest errands to get me out the door, garden chores that produce an honest sweat.

Apparently, happiness is much more complicated than that. We just didn't realize how difficult it is to be happy.

Puppies and kittens make people happy. So, apparently, does working with farm animals. Because we don't do it much, caring and feeding such large creatures makes us feel more confident and improves our self-esteem.

People in Hawaii are very happy. But if we all move there to be happy, we will all end up unhappy. Congestion and poor air quality make us unhappy, as evidenced by the level of unhappiness in New York and California, two places where lots of people moved because they thought they would be happy living there.

(We are pretty unhappy in Maryland, too. The state is ranked 40th out of 50 states in the happiness scale, according to British researchers. No word on the happiness level in London, however.)


Gretchen Rubin is very happy, probably because her book, titled "The Happiness Project," has just been published. The former lawyer and clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor makes the case that happiness can be achieved by sitting down with a spreadsheet and a calendar and making a month-by-month plan for achieving happiness that includes goals and subgoals.

I know people who would be happy doing that, but I know a lot more people who would be happy having wine with a girlfriend, if you know what I mean.

The folks at Apple must be happy because they've developed a "Live Happy" application for the iPhone that prompts users to express gratitude, recall a happy moment or an act of kindness and look at happy photos, presumably on their iPhone.

In this case, happiness sells for $9.99 and it comes with a smiley face.

In the same way that having a mildly depressed roommate can ruin your child's freshman year in college, happiness is infectious, according to British and Harvard researchers. And they found the happiest people are those who are at the center of a large social network.

"We know people who are most susceptible to HIV are people who have lots of partners," one of the researchers told the Los Angeles Times. "This is the same thing."


Which is, of course, one way to look at happiness.

They also found that if you have a happy friend living within a half-mile, you are 42 percent more likely to be happy. But if your happy friend lives two miles away, you are only 22 percent happier.

(You know the joke: Now you have to move.)

These same researchers make the case that since people who report themselves to be happy live longer, healthier lives, happiness is a public health issue and there is a role for government in making sure people are happy.

All of which means that yoga classes are going to get really crowded with people the government has ordered to attend. And if California is any example, they will immediately become unhappy yoga students.

Or we will all be getting wine bottles in the mail instead of rebate checks.


That would make me and my girlfriends happy, though I can't speak for you.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays.