I visited my family in the Lower 48 last month, and wow, this introvert sure has missed being around people. I still need alone time, of course—and I sure don’t miss the heat—but I do miss the kinship and connections.
Also, it’s hard.
It seems like some of us have misplaced our grab bag of social skills over the past year. We naturally long for get-togethers and storytelling—people are social beings that depend on each other—yet the pandemic seems to have reduced our social endurance. I notice now how often folks (including myself) make assumptions, get our feelings hurt, or erupt or walk away rather than push through the hard conversations. Curiosity and assuming innocence are some joints that need some oil.
It makes sense. I have a friend and colleague who says the pandemic turned her into an introvert—and that’s saying something from a full-on, no-stop extrovert. Her self-proclaimed turn to quietude and solitude means something. Maybe we just need to get the hang of it again.
Laurie Santos, a happiness researcher at Yale and host of the Happiness Lab podcast, says that happiness requires social engagement, in addition to gratitude, being in the moment, being kind, and getting enough rest and exercise.
A good deal of this recipe for joy and contentment requires being with people in a present way and with kindness—and, you know, without looking at our phones and devices.
How do we return to a way of being with each other that lifts up everyone’s happiness and connection, especially when in a time and society defined by isolation and division? How do you connect for real when addicted to the tags, notifications, and “likes” that online social platforms and environments have manipulated us into thinking matter more than actual people and living things?
Arthur Brooks, a professor and researcher with Harvard Business School and an Atlantic columnist, talked about the pursuit of happiness in an virtual event of the same name in May. He described the macronutrients of happiness as being enjoyment, satisfaction and purpose; the ingredients being genetics, circumstances and habits; and the dishes being faith (life philosophy or spirituality, something bigger than self), family (kinship), friendship (intimacy) and work (earning success and helping others).
He noted that happiness and unhappiness are not opposites and that each one lights up different parts of the brain.
Not surprising, he emphasized that money (beyond a certain amount), power, pleasure and fame do not bring happiness, yet those are the things sold to us as “the American Dream.” To be sure, very few become rich and gain power, and the struggle to attain that comes at the expense of health and happiness.
We should all think about that. What if we created economies of care that heed the happiness research and what so many wise people and common sense told us long before Ivy league professors studied it?
While we mull on that together, we can also look to the work we do in our communities and professional lives as part of our individual success and path to helping others. I’m grateful that my work with Trustees allows me to stand with so many others in protecting places that nourish and sustain communities of people and animals, the land and water, plants and ecosystems.
We can all do some of that together this weekend, anytime between July 16 and 18, by joining the Northern Center’s Run for the Refuge. For the second year in a row, this fun “run” is a virtual event that allows you to stay OFF your screen. Instead, you can get all the rest you need before heading out with your friends and loved ones to walk, run, paddle, bike or do whatever you want, wherever you want, to get active while celebrating and showing gratitude to an amazing and sacred place with a purpose so much greater than words can convey.
Now that sounds like something that checks off all the happiness boxes!
Vicki Clark, executive director
PS. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue fighting to protect Alaska’s land, water, air, wildlife and people!