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Brian And I Went To A “Happiness Conference” And Here’s What We Learned…

I hadn’t been so excited about something in years. Picture how a massive superhero fan feels going to Comic-Con or a football fan going to the Super Bowl – I get a real dopamine rush from the idea of spending two days at a conference all about philosophy, sociology, psychology, science, and yes, self-improvement. It’s self-indulgent, of course, but I’ll take all the things when it comes to deepening spiritually, becoming a better leader/boss, a healthier lady, a better mom/wife, or even a more grounded public figure (ha). I’m into it all.  Brené Brown, Adam Grant, Dan Harris, Sam Harris, Armchair Expert, Dr. Becky, etc. It’s a hobby that fills me up, especially when I’m at my most drained. So today, if you are ready to choose curiosity over judgment keep reading and I’ll walk you through what exactly a “happiness conference” entails. Here we go… 

When I saw an advertisement for the In Pursuit to Happiness conference, put on by The Atlantic (my favorite magazine that I read cover to cover monthly), I immediately pitched it to Brian as a weekend away, at an awesome hotel, for “work”. He said yes, figuring that if nothing else he’d do research for the novel he’s writing and get likely alone time with me. In the middle of what was an already over-scheduled month what with my book coming out and the farmhouse renovation blowing up, I cleared my calendar so we could leave our kids and head off to Half Moon Bay for the Sunday – Tuesday “weekend.” After years of me talking in Brian’s ear about this happiness science stuff he was actually really interested, which made the whole endeavor so exciting. 

Like anything, there are multiple ways of looking at this “Happiness Conference.” A more pessimistic perspective is to quickly judge everyone who attended – the irony is almost too obvious to say aloud, but I will, just to bring you along the “journey” and get ahead of what you might be thinking. Yes. It was a bunch of wealthy people at The Ritz-Carlton, a cliffside hotel, holding $22 martinis, paying a lot of money to learn how to be happier from other likely wealthy folks with a lot of hyphenates during a time in the world that can often feel anything but happy. Even writing this after the week of insane news feels weird and gross, but multiple things can be true at the same time so I’ll continue. If you were to go to a fitness conference you’d get a lot of fit people learning how to be more fit or teach about fitness, or a gardening conference would teach gardeners new ways to improve their gardens. It’s the nature of a conference – immersing yourself in a singular subject with the goal to come out more informed on it. And it’s a privilege to be at any conference about “happiness” because you get to get away from your life to focus on one thing – either to better your life, business, or family. It’s specific for a reason and they have to be expensive in order to pay the speakers/experts for their time and cover the production of the event. So if you are judging the people and the spirit of it – simply don’t go. It’s likely not for you – (or maybe it is for you:)). Maybe read this article instead. It’s the most recent one I’ve been sharing that might help you understand the intent. If you are turned off by self-improvement culture I get that – but I think that “turn-off” is more about the people, less about the ideas which most have been around for centuries or millennia. I get it all, but with an open mind and engaging with people with whom you connect, I think there is universal value.

A more open perspective (which is the one we took) is to learn more about how to navigate this life with more purpose and meaning, less pathologies, and for some of us, take back info and tools to our communities or our teams. Often new philosophies are resisted at first, but the science behind happiness is so hard to resist or negate – it’s common sense, folded in with data and research but we all know is true. A conference on happiness has the intention of creating more of it, and that is a good thing both personally and as a whole society.

In true Emily fashion, I leaned into the spirit and the intent of the conference, embraced it all, and LOVED IT. The first night was a meet and greet, everyone wearing their finest (do I dress cool? Professional? Serious? What message do I want to send?), trying to impress the unknown. We aren’t big “networkers” but connecting with others in this setting is just fun and part of the whole experience so I forced it and Brian followed. You simply go up to other people in a group and say, “Hi. What brings you to this happiness conference?” With a bit of a wink (and self-congratulatory irony of course) and you meet your conference buddies that become touchpoints for the next 2 days. I was quickly surprised by the crowd. We met a professional dating coach, an estate attorney (a long-time reader! Hi Colleen!), a lot of executive coaches who gave me names of shamans in Oregon (forest bathing!), a podiatrist, and a few VC investors. We even met a group of 70-year-old dads who have been best friends since they were in kindergarten and are just now exploring their inner life because as typical cis-male-dominant-earners they hadn’t given themselves permission to dive in before this. There were business leaders, entrepreneurs, and a lot of people in the second half of their life who have realized that the happiness they were promised through “success” fell short. They read Arthur C. Brooks’s book, from Strength to Strength, and came to meet him. 

Brian’s goal was to come out of it with a good story, some anecdotes for his novel, and of course, have some fun (he’s very open to it and we both love social experiments). My goal was to learn more tools to take back to my life and simply be a better mom, business owner, wife, friend, writer, leader, and citizen. On the happiness scale I’m pretty good (born this way), so I was just hoping that Brian (more of the skeptic) would come up with ways to reframe and we would have days and days of stories to tell, which we do. 

So here are the biggest takeaways:

  1. Typically happiness goes up and down throughout life, with some very common patterns (as you can see in the graph above). Peaking early can be hard and how you respond to that rise, and in my case stagnation, will affect your happiness for the rest of your life. A lot of us, called “strivers” succeed early and while that sounds awesome, the pressure to continue to outdo our past selves in the field that we peaked in is daunting and as our brains age, it’s almost impossible. Many, like Darwin for instance, lived the last 30 years of his life despondent, not able to do the same level of research he accomplished for his fame. He wanted to end his life because he felt like a failure not being able to live up to his former self and the collective hype and fame. Arthur C. Brooks – the social scientist who founded this conference – collected a lot of data from polling people and decades of research to empower people to frame the second half of their life so that they can use their crystalized wisdom to add value to the world, to teach, empower, impart information. Those that do are wildly happier than those who chase their peak. 
  2. “The key to happiness is not to have what you want, it’s to want what you have” – the Dalai Lama. Just say that over and over – which is not always easy, but you get the general sentiment. Arthur C. Brooks told this story about the Chinese art of sculpture and how they believe that a piece of art doesn’t start from a blank canvas – opposite. It’s created by sculpting a block of jade, shedding what isn’t necessary, peeling back layer after layering, chipping away at the stone to reveal what we really are (and have always been) at the center. Michelangelo said the same thing with his David Sculpture. It’s all inside of us – we just have to shed the layers, do less, have less, and need less in order to find it. He reinforced that America is one of the only countries where it’s societally normal to collect and collect and collect, more and more and more – in Buddhism they try to shed, reduce, and hone so that by the end it’s just the important stuff. We have a lot of re-programming to do.
  3. Wait, what is the important stuff? While this is relatively common sense, Arthur C. Brooks has distilled it down to four pillars – faith, family, community, and meaningful work (which he defines can be earned or is service-based). In his research (and yes, there are a lot of graphs) people who are the “happiest” have prioritized those four things. Of course, my natural reaction to that is “well, we live in a capitalist society and the real stressors of life for a lot of the population include needing to be able to feed themselves and yes, need money.” While we all know that wealth doesn’t equal happiness, we can all agree that having enough to be comfortable is a huge part of happiness, especially in a big city (which is one of the reasons we left – in hopes of a less expensive life, we could hustle less and feel more comfortable long term). He goes into this more in his book (local here and kindle here) but all in all it’s really hard to argue with those four pillars.
  4. Music. We all know the emotional power of music, but in one seminar there was a scientist, Charles J. Limb, who showed us what it does to our brains that other languages or art forms can’t. It wasn’t just about self-expression, it was more scientific and granular than that. It’s like your brain taps into a collective wave that makes us all feel less alone, more connected. We all know this but being reminded how important it is to create music, not just enjoy it, can rewire your brain and create new pathways that can be totally life-changing. I remembered when I went back to church a few years ago, singing with the 30 strangers in the congregation was at first so uncomfortable but once we hit the chorus I was projecting aloud, I felt a level of euphoria that I hadn’t in a long time – to the point of weeping (a heavy dose of nostalgia was involved). You don’t need to play an instrument, we all need to sing more. It’s like exercise – a natural anti-depressant. 
  5. Big brands can do cool things. Titos (the vodka company) was the underwriter for the conference which we thought was another layer of irony because there is a severe alcoholism problem in America. Extreme drinking is pretty normalized and it’s certainly not making people happier. But I will say this – when the Chief Joyologist spoke about their business model I choked up – water filled my eyes. They flipped the typical business triangle – putting people and passion at the top and profit at the bottom. Bert Beveridge (you can’t write this stuff, I’m not joking) is apparently a wonderful business leader and person who puts service at the forefront of their company – leading many monthly company-wide, nationwide service projects as well as giving their employees a “joy budget” for them to donate to the charities of their choice every month. Brian and I were both very, very inspired. When businesses flip the script and give a shit I think maybe I do want to grow my business, that there are good models out there that have purpose when other days the social media world makes me wonder what good growing would actually create. Maybe I need to buy a distillery:) 
  6. The Creator Hour. Tara Nicholle Kirk, founder of SoulTour spoke during one of the break out sessions and I loved her concrete tips. She calls it the “creator’s hour”. Every morning starts with a sitting (meditation), journaling away your “ughs” (I love this), and a few other steps followed by moving your body. I’m very tempted to sign up myself and my team for her $97 21-day program.
  7. “Inspire don’t require”. I LOVE it when a very simple flip of a word can help you approach life differently. This is great in work and parenting – don’t “require” them to do something, instead figure out how you can inspire them to do it. Inspire means “fill with spirit” which I hadn’t really thought about before. Now I’m not saying I’m going to try to inspire my kids to unload the dishwasher without complaining, I’m not a fool, but when it comes to projects at work or even larger family projects, how can I create a space and communicate in a way that helps everyone feel inspired to meet the goals rather than have it a requirement? It’s a helpful re-frame.  
  8. Social media is now proven to be very negative for our happiness. The data is in folks. It’s no longer correlation/causation. The evidence is that it has made us much less happy. If you don’t believe me please read this article by Jonathan Haidt. This was a big topic at the conference, which I’ve already read a ton about, but the takeaway is to be very, very careful with our kids.
  9. Helicopter parenting and over-accommodating is doing a huge disservice to our kid’s future happiness – again, that data is in. Brian went to a session with the author Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote How to Raise an Adult (local here and kindle here) and he really, really loved her. He wished she had spoken longer because she was so insightful, engaging, and relatable. The thesis is that shielding our kids from the stressors can create anxiety and depression later because their nervous system literally doesn’t know what to do with stress or negativity. The years specifically from 7-12 are meant for them to face challenges in a safe space, prepping them for adulthood and through helicoptering, they aren’t doing that. If you want to know more read this book (local here and kindle here) and this article. But the common-sense practice of this is to let our kids confront and solve every problem on their own. Ask questions, support, guide when asked, encourage positive behavior and choices – that’s it. I felt very validated in my non-supervisory approach (remember this post?). Free reign parenting FTW! 

What I Would Do Differently For Next Year’s Happiness Conference?

Listen it’s their first year doing this and we both thought it was super well produced, organized, and overall a great experience. I met the COO, CEO, and many of the marketing people at The Atlantic – of which I was fairly star struck – I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I read it cover to cover monthly for years. The COO is a long-time reader (I haven’t felt that good since Melissa McCarthy stopped me on the street to tell me) and she asked me for my honest feedback. I wanted time to think and process. In true Brené Brown fashion, there needs to be a space between “stimuli” and “reaction” – it’s a formula that looks like this: S (    ) R,  – you need the time in the middle to process the best reaction. So after two weeks, here is mine: 

  1. The conference itself had a bit of an identity crisis – which lord knows I can understand as someone who doesn’t know if I’m a person or a brand. I think it didn’t know if it should be self-help or science. I like both, but we were there more for the science/data and learning tools to take back to our family, my company, and you. There were some speakers who gave tools and some hard data, but there were also others that felt full of platitudes and catchy headlines. Which is fine, but it felt like a lot of preaching to the choir – those of us already into this stuff enough to be at this conference likely know the baseline ideas around happiness so I personally wanted more tools to implement, less good retweets, and fewer soundbites. (There were some that gave great tools – Lori Gottlieb, Arthur C. Brooks, Dacher Keltner, Gretchen Sharp – It should be noted many sessions were at the same time so I couldn’t go to all of them). Also shout out to Jeffrey Goldberg (EIC of The Atlantic) for being funny, warm, and asking really pointed direct questions.
  2. There needed to be more talk about spirituality and faith. One of the main pillars of happiness, based on Brooks’ research, is “faith” and yet there was only about 5% conversation about it. I think this is because liberals get scared to talk about religion for fear of being seen as conservative or Trumpy. Faith and spirituality don’t have a denomination or a political party. It really just means a transcendent relationship with the world, each other, the universe, a God, the planet, etc. It can be anything, just this connection to something bigger. I can get super woo woo and didn’t necessarily want that for Brian, but even he was very, very interested in that aspect because since I’ve tapped into that world 4 years ago it’s shifted my perspective a lot. I’ve been happier/lighter and he wants to find the same thing. So we were disappointed it wasn’t a larger conversation, especially because I felt that the experts associated with The Atlantic would have done it in a way that felt non-indoctrinating. Arthur C. Brooks is a conservative Catholic which I frankly love – I’m so sick of my bubble and love the more centrists perspectives out there. I wish there were more of that. I love that The Atlantic can frame sensitive topics in a more objective way so I’d love to know how they would approach faith. 
  3. More give back and service components. When you have so many wealthy people in a room I always feel like it’s a missed opportunity to create a larger conversation around service (there were two sessions on it, to be fair). I also spoke to so many people there who were highly involved in many charities or had quit their jobs to dedicate their lives to adding more value to the world. And like the Goop conference article, I have to remind myself that it’s not someone else’s job to help me be a good person or to mitigate my guilt for being at a conference full of likely privileged people. That’s on you, Emily. But if I were in charge of it next year I would A. Charge more and give a portion of the sales to a vetted charity – for me something children-related because I’m always wanting to go upstream to prevent the problems. And B. Bring heads of non-profits to be able to network with all these wealthier folks who are here to become happier people which is highly linked to service. Actually connecting with organizations that we can help support, consult for, or be on boards for would be amazing. The scientific link between service and happiness is indisputable and something I really want to focus some of my future on – so why not make that a bigger component here? 
  4. Invite more government officials, superintendents, or principals of schools as guests. So much of the data we know shows us that “achievement testing” is absolutely misguided and pretty damaging. We need to change our educational system, again going more upstream to help the next generation be less obsessed with “more” and achievement, but instead fostering their self-worth through community service, self-reliance, teamwork, hard work, and of course, kindness. A conference has limited capacity, so next time I would love to see more industry leaders in the public sector so that they could bring it back to their team and change/improve their communities. 
  5. More GREAT speakers with concrete takeaways – less yelling into the echo chamber — I wanted to hear more from Olga Khazan about how she changed her personality in 3 months, and more from Kate Julian about her parenting articles. In fact, more parenting would be AWESOME. Brian requested that, too :). Lisa Osborne Ross spoke about changing her role from CEO to “Chief Empathy Officer” – which sounds great, but I want to know how they structure their managerial system to scale “listening” in a way that is both emotionally supportive and successful for the business. I’m learning every day that parenting and running a business/team are strangely similar – you need to be consistent and kind, set boundaries, be clear with expectations, and then allow autonomy, creativity, and individuality in a safe space for everyone to thrive. But I only have 5 employees. I want more tools if I were to grow my team again to make sure it stays healthy. I love Brené Brown who gives really great tools like the 2-word check-in every day. So if there are leadership seminars I’d love to hear more tools, takeaways, learnings, examples of HR policies, etc.

The Recap…

Brian and I were so glad we went – Again, I think the experience as a whole was extremely well-produced and programmed. If you want an abridged version of the conference read this article (it’s excellent). I feel like I’m the last print magazine reader, but for the ones I love I need to hold them in my hands, curl up for hours, and soak it all in. If I can give my quick endorsement for The Atlantic it would be this – this magazine feels more centrist and objective. They call out the liberal left a lot, not editorializing but just stating and analyzing what we all can observe if we open our eyes. Progressivism isn’t always progressive. Shouting into our echo chamber has become deafening and it’s very important to step out of our bubble and communicate.

While a lot of what we learned can be common sense, when it’s framed within science-backed research and data it makes it feel even more empowering. More of an “if you do this, you can feel that” sort of thing and yes, you can argue about privilege which I absolutely agree with you. But privileged or not, reframing your life to focus on the four pillars (family, faith, community, and meaningful work) can help you align your life with your values. I fully recognize the “easy for you to say” retort, I’ve already said it to myself, but it doesn’t change the philosophy of striving towards wanting what we have, instead of having what we want. It’s really just the basics, before life got so messy the last 100 years and we reached for external help to solve internal holes – many people, like my parents, have been living the four pillars their entire lives and they are pretty darn happy. So this may not be anything new to some of you (lucky you:)) but for many of us who don’t have those pillars locked in, seeking achievement, wealth, and “success” might find that it’s making it harder to feel enjoyment, contentment, and fulfillment (where I was 3 years ago). So if you are interested in it trust me that reading this stuff can empower you to make simple (or hard) decisions that might have some positive outcomes leading towards more purpose, meaning, and yes, happiness.

Extra Resources For Those Of You Interested

If you are resistant to self-help and wellness culture, I hear you. I think there is a way to still dabble without going full “Goop” if it doesn’t always sit right with you. I was glad that the conference was only a day and a half of programming because self-improvement/reflection can quickly go into self-indulgence and you can leave feeling gross. So if you are still here and curious below is a list of articles or books that I have found helpful or inspiring (I’m NOT trying to indoctrinate anyone but if you’ve related to me over the years and have felt similar feelings about life then hopefully you’ll trust that I’ll only recommend stuff I have found helpful and actionable):

Brené Brown – A real favorite amongst those of us, especially in the business world. Podcast Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us (She just took a 4-month creative sabbatical btw – Go Brené!).
Dan Harris10% Happier (He’s the one that had a panic attack/nervous breakdown on live TV as a news anchor and then totally changed his life).
Arthur C. Brooks – Harvard social scientist, podcaster, and author who wrote From Strength to Strength (again local here and kindle here) and is especially great for people in the second half of their life.
Great Good Science Center – “Science-Based Insight for a Meaningful Life”. We loved them at the conference but haven’t listened to the podcast yet.
Gretchen Rubin – I found her so relatable, lovely, and informative.

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Patty
1 month ago

I can feel your enthusiasm for this topic and I LOVE IT. I also love that you consider it a hobby, because I never really thought of it that way. I thought I was just in a never-ending space of not being okay. But the truth is that I am okay, and I want to know WHY I am when I am and why I’m not when I’m not!
I would also recommend Dr. Laurie Santos podcast, The Happiness Lab. She’s a professor at Yale and started the extremely popular course, “The Science of Happiness” which is available for free (for no credit) through Coursera. I went through it during 2020 and it was really great.

Ale
1 month ago
Reply to  Patty

I second the recommendation for Happiness Lab!

Sophie
1 month ago

I’m glad that you’re going to be more critical of the effect social media has on people, given it’s at the centre of your entire business model, but I’d suggest you take that same lens of healthy scepticism to your unreserved endorsement of faith as a pillar of happiness. I understand you’ve framed it as “spirituality” but the hard truth is that religion has done a lot of damage to a lot of people — including kids — over the years, me included.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophie

I have a strong faith and I actually don’t believe in “God”.
To me, it’s an energy connection that links all living things.
Religion is a whole ‘nuther kettle of fish, indeed.

Roberta Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

I’m with you, Rusty, except I refer to that energy as “God”.

Lane
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophie

I do agree about religion, but it seems spiritually could be related to being connected to something greater than ourselves like our planet. People attend church to serve God, at least that’s what they are told. We can do the same for the earth. Honestly, I know so many religious people who don’t care about the planet. The planet connects us all, provides all all we need and have. It’s even more tangible than anything religious out there. Perhaps taking the time to reflect, meditate could also go in that category. I’m extremely cautious and against about anything that is cult like, so that includes religions, and all sects that have answers for everything.

Sarah
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophie

I’m a Christian and acknowledge and am so sad about the past and current hurts that Christian people have caused. I believe that if people really read and thought for themselves and had an intimate relationship with God, who I believe deeply deeply loves me and every single person, no matter what, I think we would see less hurtful actions from people.
Every day that I start from this perspective I am a happier, more peaceful person, that is more generous to people that may fall under “enemy”

Sarah
1 month ago
Reply to  Sophie

Also so sorry for how you have been hurt by a religious institution. I hope you find regular healing. I know I need that regularly 🙋🏾‍♀️

Dash
1 month ago

I wonder how you are defining “centrist.”

Jen
1 month ago
Reply to  Dash

This is a hard-left blog, so make of that what you will.

Jenni
1 month ago

This was a very interesting read and I appreciate you taking the time to share your insights. I also think that it is relevant as a designer to think about these things because often people want to design because they want to feel happier, and while some design choices can help with that, some things have nothing to do with design. I will be thinking more this week about how to improve my life by stripping away vs. adding, and how to add a joy budget for our own family. We tithe, but have never considered giving each of our children part of that tithe to decide where they want it to go.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Jenni

Jenni, ypur comment was so eloquently put.😊

Trueblue
1 month ago
Reply to  Jenni

I give my grandson three new 5 dollar bills each month. one to save, one to spend and one to share. When he was preschool he gave $60 to Heifer International one year. It’s not the amount of money, it’s the concept. He will soon need a raise.

Kap
1 month ago

The conference sounds great and I’m glad you were able to experience it. I understand that you mean well but I wanted to caution you against thinking that centrism is more objective/better in some way. I think that viewpoint could be potentially dangerous. The Civil Rights movement and other important movements in the US (labor rights, LGBTQIA+, immigrants rights etc) have not been led by “centrists” but marginalized populations and activists on the ground committed to radical social change. At a time when reproductive rights are under threat and we’ve witnessed multiple white supremacists terrorizing BIPOC populations, we need to be careful about whataboutery and conceding to the right-wing. There is no middle ground, nor should we fetishize one.

Kj
1 month ago
Reply to  Kap

“Arthur C. Brooks is a conservative Catholic.” Some conservative catholic basic beliefs: abortions are intrinsically evil, there are only two sexes male and female (there is no such thing as a transgender person), marriage is only between a man and a woman, homosexual acts are always violations of divine and natural law. and any type of contraception is morally evil.

Colleen
1 month ago
Reply to  Kj

I like Arthur Brooks’s writing but I have spent my life struggling against the Catholicism I was raised with. Just this spring, I started attending a historic Episcopalian church in my new hometown and I think I have found my people. I wish I had looked sooner in my life, but here at age 51– as a feminist mother of a gay daughter and staunch liberal—it feels good to have a space and institution that matches my ethical and political views.

Thanks, Emily, for using your platform to provoke thought and not just design. Your sincerity and candor is always appreciated!

Kj
1 month ago
Reply to  Colleen

I was also raised Catholic and have gone to Episcopalian services as an adult. The form feels familiar, kind of “catholic lite” but without the damaging church views. I think ultimately I’m not 100% in agreement (nor 100% disagreement) with “We believe in following the teachings of Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection saved the world” so going to church feels a little phony for me, more about my feeling of community than my believing.

Anon
1 month ago

So, about the four pillars and the faith one, what do you do if you have no background in faith to lean back on / into? You mention “going back to church,” but what about for folks who have no prior spiritual basis? Picture this: you grow up in a household that says grace at Thanksgiving but otherwise is completely non-religious/non-spiritual. What then? What if anything spiritual just makes your inner self feel like you’re faking it? What if none of your friends have spiritual beliefs either? (No friends’/family’s beliefs to springboard into or piggyback onto.) I’ve been to churches and Bible studies, I’ve read about other religions, crystals, energy… What if there are no natural spiritual underpinnings in your life to lean into?

Lisa
1 month ago
Reply to  Anon

This is obviously a deeply personal question but I think A. faith can mean whatever you want it to mean to you and absolutely does not have to be religion-based. For me it is more something like a wonder at life and a believe in the ability of people to do good and the miracle of how we make sense of our world and ourselves (though I certainly also struggle with that) and you get to define what that means to you and B. it is important to remember that these kinds of things are based on averages and majorities – as in “on average a majority of people find faith to be an important part in their happiness” and this might be true for you or it might be something completely different and just because faith isn’t an important part of your life doesn’t mean your life will lack happiness! (I think this is often a problem with how this kind of research is presentend e.g. also for stuff like (I’m paraphrasing here obviously) “people who had a loving home find it easier to love others and be happy when they grow up” yes thats fabulous and importatnt to… Read more »

blue (formerly anon)
1 month ago
Reply to  Lisa

Lisa, I thought you gave a thoughtful reply. I agree with your “B point” that because somethings work for some/many/most doesn’t mean they will or won’t work for someone else. I wish more people would frame things the way you did.

Lisa
1 month ago

blue, thank you so much for your kind reply 🥰 happy I could help a little!

blue (formerly anon)
1 month ago
Reply to  Lisa

Hi Lisa, I’m not the original poster that you replied to. (To avoid this very confusion I switched my name and used “former” like the rock star formerly known as prince 😉 because I’d been commenting for years as anon (lower case) and didn’t want there to be questions from the moderators.) I just really appreciated what you said and thought you should know.

Colleen
1 month ago
Reply to  Lisa

I would say, just go start visiting places. Sit in services and see how they feel. The good ones will welcome you without judgment.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Anon

You can have ‘faith’ in the good, the dedicated, the honest, the kind.
IMHO, it doesn’t mean religion in any way.

Susan from FOAS
1 month ago
Reply to  Anon

I think your question, “What if there are no natural spiritual underpinnings in your life to lean into?” leads to the well known phrase, “a leap of faith.” For some people, faith is innate, for others it requires a leap into the unknown and for still others, like me, it is a conscious decision to choose faith as a pathway to follow in life. I was agnostic for many years, but found myself envying people who had faith to rely on in hard times. My sister and I talked about finding a church for ourselves and our girls, but we only did it after she was diagnosed with cancer. The first church we tried was a Progressive Christian church, which follows the teachings of Jesus, but believes that all faiths are valid. As the Dalai Lama says “we are all on the same path,” regardless of our official faith. When my new pastor came calling, I told him that I did not know if I could believe in the Bible literally. He laughed out loud, “Of course not! It’s all just a metaphor!” That works for me. And it allows me to appreciate and learn from other faiths, which sometimes… Read more »

Sara
1 month ago

Thank you, Emily! I think you model real *seeking* in the truest sense—resisting groupthink, asking the hard questions, trying for honest self-awareness when the rewards go so easily to a kind of smug moral triumphalism. I agree that Brooks’s work is especially compelling, and I think the lesson may be to look for some the world’s enduring wisdom traditions for resources—maybe especially the ones that seem “outmoded.” Those traditions are big, big tents, including all manner of politics, but most of all they invite us to first principles: What is a human being? How should we live? What do we owe each other? All of which have to do with finding real happiness, not just the subjective experience of pleasure. Keep doing your thing here.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Sara

Sara!! So. Well. Said.

Lisa
1 month ago

It sounds like you had a really fun weekend! Thank you for sharing your process so openly, vulnerably and critically – I always find it super fun to see how we as humans make sense of our lifes! I honestly probably wouldn’t have been able to got to the conference out of my own prejudices and uncomfortableness (thats not a word but it should be!) with the topic although some of the talks sound truly interesting and insightful! For me talks about individual happiness often sit too close to thoughts of self-management (to keep yourself happy and fit for the labour market) and that leave out – I don’t think you do here, but I find it important to reiterate nonetheless – that for people facing structural discrimination finding happiness can be harder than for folks in more privileged positions (though of course not impossible). And that in those positions it is not your individual failing for “not working hard enough to be happy”, but the result of a structural disatvantege and that working to be happy should always include, for everyone, to work to make structural changes that allow everyone equal opportnunities at health, happiness, security and comfort. There… Read more »

Elsie
1 month ago

I just have to share that I love ALL of this!  And I agree on so many levels.  The last few years I’ve had time to think so deeply and also talk (in person – connecting with real humans) about really deep issues. I feel as though my liberal friends would be mad at me for what they would consider my “conservative view points”. My conversation friends would be mad at me for my liberal views. I dont feel either “camp” would be happy with me. I am pro choice and so many other things but sometimes my liberal friends dont even like me having conversations where I question or process my views because it doesnt feel absolute enough to them. I feel as though I’ve missed conversations where people can “explore” and think through some of the non black and white issues. Theres so much nuance and I feel that the detriment of liberals is that they dont like nuance nor do they leave space for that. So many times my husband and I said I wish there were people who we could just have rational conversations – so many times those conversations are seen as “middle ground.” Are… Read more »

Lane
1 month ago
Reply to  Elsie

I have similar experiences. It seems no one really cares about solving problems, and neither side is empathic toward the other. I’m pretty liberal, but I also see why most conservatives are so defensive and scared.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago

Crikey! THIS IS MY JAM!!!🤗 💓💓💓 Needless to say, then, that ALL of this speaks to me. As far as the “four pillars”, most “faiths” have similar ‘pillars’ which is no surprise either. You wrote, “When businesses flip the script and give a shit I think maybe I do want to grow my business, that there are good models out there that have purpose when other days the social media world makes me wonder what good growing would actually create.” 💥 Growing your business to be positive change, to make a difference and to lead with positivity in your community, society and globally (since you are, in fact, a global entity) can truly make a difference. Truly.💥 Not a single day goes by, where I do not pinch myself for the generosity, kindness and trust YOU had in ME to make over Sienna’s room!!! 🥰 That one change has had an enormous rippling effect, which sees me shifting goods from wealthy ‘helpers’ donating fridges, curtains, beds, etc. while I match the items with who needs them most! Another off-shoot, is a potential partnership with a fresh food business who is looking at donating freshly made soups (SOUP, Emily!) and salads… Read more »

MKP
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Rusty, that is incredible. Emily’s outreach changes your mentee’s life for the better and gave you a meaningful and empowering way of serving as well. And to hear that the ripple effect is continuing is just so fabulous. Thanks for sharing this. It’s good to be reminded that it does matter to try, even when it feels like nothing we do can make real change.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago

After reading the constructive criticisms and thought provoking commrnts, I’m so happy to see how respectful this ‘conversation’ is. I feel compelled to add that, even in the depths of my horrendous life of extreme isolation delivered via domestic abuse and coercive control … I could still find shards of happiness. It all depends on fine-tuning right down to the little, tiny things in the every day. For real. A perfectly ripe piece of fruit, the wagging tail of a dog, watching the micro-wotld of insects going about their busy work within a square foot of space, a break in a cloud and the azure blue of the sky peeking through… No. I’m not Pollyanna, thp8ugh perhaps I have Pollyanna-esque tendencies as a coping mechanism(?). Happiness can be found if you tune in, against the odds. Whatever the odds. ( The “Life is Beautiful” movie springs to mind). A key, fundamental tool that helped me survive decades of abuse and a final, complete loss of agency, was journaling. I always finished my daily entry with at least 2 gratitudes… sometimes this was really, really, really hard, but if I drilled down to the minutae, I always found them. With ,ove,… Read more »

Roberta Davis
1 month ago

That sounds very worthwhile! We need to step back and think about things in a different light every once in a while! For me, I’ve been thinking about meaning and joy. My studies of Iyengar yoga (and the philosophy of it) have helped me a lot in recent years, and in my yoga classes, I have had exposure to people of Buddhist and Hindu faith. They bring a different perspective and the whole thing has caused me to think about life, myself, and the universe differently. So, good for you guys for searching for the meaning! I also appreciate your effort to see things in a balanced way.

Samantha
1 month ago

Hi Emily, I feel like you address privilege and self indulgence (same, girl, same) so much more directly and thoughtfully in this post than in your post offer the goop article. I really admire you putting yourself out here in a vulnerable way. I think Brene would be proud. 🙂 Thank you for this post and I hope to run into you at this conference next year! Xx, Sam

Sara
1 month ago

I am so onboard for this, and glad the science of positive psychology and wellbeing is getting public attention it’s deses! but as an academic and scientist who studies social media and it’s effects, I’m really sorry to hear they were taking that Haidt piece to heart. He has done great work in the past. But this is NOT his area of research and has grossly overstated those links and claims. Everyone in my field was livid it got so much coverage as there is ALOT of data to the contrary and a lot that says there are no effects at all. It’s just … messy and pretending it isn’t doesn’t help anyone, researchers or parents. Not that these conversations and concerns are not important —they are and that’s why I study it!— but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water based on that assessment. I’ll go to the mat for the kids and teens who find the community, acceptance, and strength in themselves through online communities. It’s vital.

Ellie
1 month ago
Reply to  Sara

I’d love to read more about this perspective on social media, Sara, if you had any links? I’m sure I’m far from being the only parent feeling huge guilt about the total constant that social media became for their teenager as they grew up through the pandemic.

Sara
1 month ago
Reply to  Ellie

I hear you Ellie, and you are definitely not alone! I just wrote a massive reply/essay … and then my browser tab crashed 🙁 BUT, I love to talk about this area of work and will happily share what I know! If anyone wants to reach out/ find out more (while I gear up to re-write it), you can find more about my work on my Google Scholar page or website by searching for Sara M Grady at Michigan State University.
In the short term though: like any relationships your kids have, being informed, having a vested interest in their world, and setting realistic boundaries is a hugely valuable thing. Instagram can be deep conversations with a BFF, or inspirational life affirming content that help kids build their self image and confidence , or it can be a catty rat race of bullying. Just like non-digital spaces, helping kids see these different kinds of content and relationships, make informed choices about their diets and what they expose themselves to (and choose to share it’s the world), and modeling when to turn it off and set boundaries around use is almost always a great thing!

Ellie
1 month ago
Reply to  Sara

Thank you so much for your reply, Sara! I’m off to check out your work.

emily jane
1 month ago

Thank you Em -just, thank you…

Lane
1 month ago

I love this. I’ve been following some content on YouTube about infrastructure and urban planning. that could also explain what makes our lives in North America less happy and more difficult than those living elsewhere. The channels I watch are Not Just Bikes and City Beautiful. It’s as much about urban life as it is about suburbia.

Lane
1 month ago
Reply to  Lane

I think that’s something we all could connect over. Investing in the community and finding a greater purpose.

1 month ago
Reply to  Lane

Lane, Yes! I’ve been in Mexico for over a month while my husband is getting some medical treatment. When we have spare time we take small trips to other villages and beach towns, and just today I said “Man I love this town square” EVERY village has one and it’s everything. It’s community.

Sarah
1 month ago

Grateful you’re a boss that wants to lean into service and inspiring employees. I hope my next employers embraces these! Or maybe I can just become one in the future.

Also highly encourage taking a break if you have the privilege to do so. I am so grateful to have given myself a sabbatical. And proud that this makes me like Brene 🤣🤣🤣🤣 #enneagramOne choosing rest ❤️

Kelly
1 month ago

I’m a volunteer for The International Association of Human Values where I teach a SKY Happiness course (SKY is a breath based meditation). One of the premises is that we here in the west are conditioned to ‘pursue’ happiness. It’s written in our constitution, the DNA of our psyche – the right to pursue happiness. The problem with that is that we are always pursuing or chasing happiness, putting our happiness off until our next accomplishment. Instead, living life as an Expression of Happiness allows us to be happy in the present moment. Dr. Emma Seppala is a happiness researcher from Yale whose instagram is @thehappinesstrack for those who want to learn more. <3

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Kelly

Kelly, this makes do much sense to me.My personal perspective is CONTENTMENT, not happiness, because I see contentment as being goodwith what isand happiness as ‘the chase’ … remembering that even if you win the rat race, that still makes you a rat!🐀

1 month ago

Thank you for your recap, Emily! I love this stuff. That said, I did cringe hearing that a vodka company was the underwriter. Drinking alcohol is (scientifically, in very proven, physiological ways) like pouring gasoline on depression and anxiety, not to mention other mental health issues. Still, I love how you engage life with an open mind. For the few warning against “centrism” in the comments, another perspective: I am queer and I am not wealthy. Yet, I feel completely shamed and shunned by so-called liberal, progressive narratives in the United States. (I currently live in Canada and am a college dean in a community focused on holistic health, where issues are not as polarized or conflated as what’s typical in politics and the mass media here.) Here’s to celebrating nuance, shared human-ness, and happiness. Here’s to recognizing that we are ALL still figuring it out.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago

👍

Elizabeth
1 month ago

Can you tell me what it is that makes you feel shamed and shunned? I consider myself a liberal and certainly do not what to make anyone feel that way! If I am I want to know about it!
Thanks,

1 month ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Sure. I feel shamed and shunned for my personal health decisions and my insistence on everyone’s right to informed consent and bodily autonomy. Also for exercising my right to ask questions and investigate from more than one perspective rather than adhering to a monolithic, collectively sanctioned narrative that conflates myriad issues.

Marisa
1 month ago

Ah, so you’re an anti-vaxxer.

Kimberly
1 month ago
Reply to  Marisa

Marisa, your comment was really reductive. I’m very much pro-science and pro-vaccines (first in line for a COVID shot!), but labeling someone “anti-vaxxer” as a pejorative the way you just did to Dana is not going to help us find common ground and heal our divide. People are willing to question and change their views when they feel respected and safe, not when they feel judged and labeled.

Karen
1 month ago

Em, this is something I would love to participate in next time they have the conference (hopefully using your reflections to tighten up the curriculum). Except for raising the registration fee—it would make me happy to hear from the vetted charities and make my own decision on a donation 😊

How much was the conference?

Carrie
1 month ago
Reply to  Karen

The virtual ticket was free! I watched it all online. You can find videos on the Atlantic’s YouTube page.

Susan from FOAS
1 month ago
Reply to  Karen

I am interested in the cost of the actual conference, also.

Suzanne
1 month ago

The Atlantic has published five of the talks on their YouTube channel. Last year, they did the conference exclusively online. You may be able to find those in their YouTube channel, too. Here’s the link.

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDamP-pfOskMSLz1a-QNv_DUgpODS03Kr

Suzanne
1 month ago
Reply to  Suzanne

I found the link to last year’s online conference. Again, only a selection of the talks:
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDamP-pfOskNsI2b1TGqwgRGm8yzCknUG

Sarah
1 month ago

Bravo, Emily! This is such a thoughtful and intellectually honest post. I applaud you for trying to step outside of your bubble. It seems like both liberals and conservatives think they have a monopoly on truth and virtue. Many, many more Americans identify as centrist or moderate, and can see that most political issues are nuanced and complicated, and that good people can hold a variety of different views.

I also appreciate your attempts to recognize the privilege involved in going to happiness conference, but I see “happiness” as just another word for “trying to living a good and meaningful life” and I think that’s accessible to most people regardless of where they fall on the income scale.

Beth
1 month ago
Reply to  Sarah

It is so funny how many of us are writing about the one or two sentences when Emily mentions her centrist lean and her derision of liberals. But putting progressives and the far right together in the same sentence makes my stomach drop. Progressives are literally fighting for rights on behalf of our population who does not have fair and equal rights. The far right are literally trying to homogenize and marginalize. However uncomfortable people feel about progressive values, I would assume that history will play out in their favor. I myself align my values with liberals and am married to a centrist, and we talk all the time. 100% of the time when he finally understands what defunding the police actually means or when he hears why Trans rights matter or why we need more social nets for people in difficult situations, he us totally on board. We can argue about how progressives come across when speaking. But putting them in the same sentence with far right? It’s just not the same!

Marisa
1 month ago
Reply to  Beth

Yes, Beth. Not to mention the fact that almost all political violence, hate crimes, and mass shootings are committed by the far right. Absolutely not the same.

Jen
1 month ago
Reply to  Sarah

Privilege in America is so strange for a European – we have 20 days vacation in a job as well as maternity leave and sick pay.
It’s mind-boggling why and when America diverged

Sariah
1 month ago

This made me love you even more than l already did! Big fan of The Atlantic and Arthur Brooks’s articles. And l can’t wait to read Brian’s novel! I bet it’s going to be funny.

1 month ago

Sounds like a blast! I for sure could use more happiness in my life.

MJ
1 month ago

Emily. All I can say is thank you for this thoughtful post. I loved it and have spent all afternoon reading some of the links you added. It just made me feel good.

Lana
1 month ago

Emily, just wanted to say that I think this post is so well written. Content aside (which I found really intersting and totally up my alley) I’m just so impressed with how well you’re able to articulate and communicate your ideas… A lot of really meaty stuff here, and you nailed it. Thanks 🙂

Angela
1 month ago

I love stuff like this, and I have a good idea! Instead of suggesting that the Atlantic RAISE prices, why not urge them to offer scholarships to make sure there’s a good representation of lower income and hourly employees at the next conference? I LOVE the idea of a happiness conference, but I’d love to attend one that included convos about self-help PLUS ways to address happiness as a community/country. (I mean…the data says that money CAN buy happiness up to a certain amount, because things like healthcare and stable homes make us happy.) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking of our own happiness (I’m as obsessed with you are with this stuff!) but I think happiness is a societal issue too, and we can’t have a convo about happiness without one about economic equality. (For example…I just googled to see if the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay is unionized and I found out that workers are trying to unionize for better [eg happier!] working conditions RIGHT NOW, but that the hotel is aggressively fighting the efforts….YIKES, Atlantic!) So heck yeah, I think we can drink $22 martinis and attend Wellness Moments by the ocean, but I… Read more »

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Angela

Angela! … Yessss!!!!!

Reanna
1 month ago

I’m glad that you’ve gotten comfortable sharing these experiences, pointing out the ironies, AND detailing the positives. It’s informative; I can take it or leave it, just as I can with design advice. Thanks for an interesting glimpse into the conference!

Carol
1 month ago

I commend you for being honest about everything from the “wealth” at the conference to your faith. Contrary to what society tells us we are all entitled to our beliefs, what we choose as a hobby and how we spend our discretionary income. Your frankness and ability to see many parts of the equation was a joy to read.

Jen
1 month ago

I read The Atlantic cover to cover every month, too! And I love Arthur Brooks. It’s always fun to find someone else who reads a paper magazine! Feels so Old School!

Nicki
1 month ago

Seems like people, as they age, become more conservative and bounce back into religion (either the one they grew up with or a different version). I turned sixty this year and this has not been the case for me, but I do see it often in others.

JR
1 month ago
Reply to  Nicki

They know they are going to meet their MAKER shortly. He is the only one to JUDGE.
If the “Ten Commandments” was on every persons ‘to-do-list’ everyday – can you imagine
what our world would be like? Could defund the police because there would not be any
need for them etc. Living a good life, wouldn’t happiness be the by-product consumed by all?
Know faith, know happiness – no faith, no happiness. (Try it Nicki, you may like it!)
.

Beth
1 month ago
Reply to  JR

So interesting. I am an atheist or agnostic Jew. I 100% live by the 10 commandments, but not purposefully. It is just how i live my life. But so many people who describe themselves as following a religion do not live with kindness and simplicity. Whether people need to follow someone else’s rules,or their own, is up to them. I don’t need a book to tell me right and wrong, I guess!

C C
1 month ago

Thanks so much for this thoughtful, interesting post. I’m wondering if you have read Gretchen Rubin’s ‘happiness project’ book? I loved how she spent some time exploring why searching for happiness is not a selfish project (b/c happiness also makes you kinder, etc). Especially when happiness is joyful contentment rather than a constant striving for more, more, more – it’s absolutely a force for good in the world. This earth is often terrible but there is beauty and joy, too, and we do no one any favours by pretending this isn’t so. I’m sorry that you feel (and I can see why) that you have to semi-apologise for doing this.

Abigail
1 month ago

Wow, I’m excited to do lots of follow up reading from the experts you heard here! Emily – would you ever consider compiling a list of your favorite parenting books since you’re such a heavy consumer? I’ve loved following your journey as a parent, and as a new mom myself, I would love to pick up some of your recommended reads!

Laura
1 month ago

Haven’t even finished reading yet, but good for you Em! I am sorry you feel you have to justify your attendance (at length, because people will take you to task for it). I think it’s great and anything you can learn and pass onto your dear and devoted readers is appreciated <3

Stacey Pray
1 month ago

Excellent article Emily!

iLa
1 month ago

Thanks for telling about this conference, your take-outs, and tips. I feel in line with what your write and it comes exactly when I needed. Thanks for expanding on this sort of themes too.

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