Whenever I’m talking to someone I’ve never met before, I can explain the subject of my book and say, “I ask everyone I meet – do you have any tips, rules to live by, thoughts, or great resources about happiness?”
Everyone has tremendously interesting things to say about happiness. Some have a long list of thoughtful principles. Some deny that happiness is real. Some say they don’t follow any rules – but then realize that they do, once we talk for a bit. Each answer is interesting for its own reasons.
It’s a great help to hear so many viewpoints, of course. And people also seem to enjoy being cast in the role of expert.
It’s also very nice to have a strategy – without resorting to a gimmick or seeming nosy – to ask a question that goes right to the core; because even with someone sympathetic and engaging, it can be difficult to identify common ground for a meaningful conversation.
How do you break through the superficialities: what do you do, where do you live, how did you spend the summer, etc.? E. M. Forster wrote, “Only connect.” But how to connect?
Most people can’t use the I’m-writing-a-book-about-happiness strategy for connecting with a new acquaintance, obviously. But I imagine you could achieve get the same outcome by explaining you’re taking an informal poll on a particular question: “Are people today better or worse parents than the generation who were our parents?” “What’s more important to a satisfying life, passion or balance?” “Are the qualities of conformity and conventionality actually very laudable?” “What would your life be like if you still lived in your home town?” or whatever.
Posing such a question to many different people allows you to connect on a deeper level with others, to gain insight into an interesting question, and to make social interactions easier and more fun.
Surely that makes for more happiness.